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Any attempt to google “breakout game” will certainly be rewarded with a massive number of links to downloadable demos. This proliferation of Breakout clones is probably due to the speed with which a novice programmer can cobble together a Breakout prototype. I’d like to say most of these games are fun to play, but the truth is the novelty has long worn off classic Breakout-style game mechanics, thus innovation and differentiation have become critical in pulling off a contemporary Breakout-style game.
Below I highlight some of the more recent features to appear in the genre, along with a game or two you can download to see the feature in action:
Extensive motion on majority of game objects – today’s Breakout-style games are often very dynamic, presenting the player with a large amount of animation. From blocks that simply oscillate back and forth or move between pre-described coordinates, to “smart” objects that interactively respond to the game play environment and player. See Ricochet:Lost Worlds for a good example of motion (http://www.ricochetlostworlds.com/).
High-fidelity physics/motion simulation – the higher speed of contemporary CPUs allows developers to invest more processing cycles towards providing quality physics simulation for all objects, not just the ball. See BreakQuest and the DynaMo motion library (http://home.iae.nl/users/starcat/dynamo) for further information.
Particle effects – with the advent of graphics accelerators and powerful CPUs, particle effects have come into their own. Sparks, glows, and particle fountains bring previously static levels to life. In particular, “ball-trails” have made perceiving the ball’s motion much easier. LEGO Bricktopia uses ball trails and background texture perturbance to make the ball’s position as obvious as possible. (http://www.largeanimal.com/games/deluxe/lego-bricktopia). And then there is Plasma Pong (http://www.plasmapong.com/). While not actually a Breakout-style game (it’s Pong…) it does use particle effects, in the form of an impressive fluid dynamics simulation.
Moving beyond blocks – some games (notably BreakQuest: http://www.nurium.com/) get rid of blocks and replace them with extremely dynamic target objects. The result is a considerable increase in play variety. You will also find a large variety of target objects in Magic Ball 3 (http://www.alawar.com/games/magic-ball-3/).
Narrative and multi-level objectives – motivational prose for Breakout-style games has come a long way since “SMASH! POW! CRUNCH! A brick wall appears at the top of the screen…” Take a look at Funkiball Adventure (http://www.funkitron.com/games/funkiballadventure). Who would have thought that you’d one day be searching for stolen artwork on a Breakout level…?
Humor – games such as Jardinains 2 imbue Breakout-style play with much more humor and character than one would expect from a wall of impassive blocks (http://www.jardinains.com/). Be sure to play with the sound on.
Paddle bump – Funkiball Adventure was the first Breakout-style game to “break” the bounds of the bottom of the screen by allowing you to “bump” your paddle, raising it a small amount in order to strike the ball sooner and with increased force. Besides enabling super powered hits and splash damage to block formations, this simple control modification greatly increases your ability to manipulate the ball’s trajectory (http://www.funkitron.com/games/funkiballadventure).
Paddle construction – LEGO Bricktopia is the first game I’m aware of to let players significantly modify the structure of the paddle, in this case, by stacking it with LEGO blocks (http://www.largeanimal.com/games/deluxe/lego-bricktopia).
Advanced trajectory controllers – the game Paper Ball makes extensive use of trajectory controllers to direct the ball on circuitous courses through its levels (http://www.e-giraffa.com/).
3D graphics – while contemporary Breakout-style games with 3D graphics engines restrict the ball to 2D motion, most allow stacks of target objects to extend beyond that 2D plane. In some ways this simply creates a variation on multi-hit blocks, as eliminating the lowest row of blocks simply causes the stack to descend. Magic Ball 3 applies actual physics, which allows 3D objects to tumble and roll, disturbing other objects on the level and creating unpredictable chaos.