The Beauty of Flight Control

On May 21, 2009, in Design, by Steffen Itterheim

Flight Control is for the iPhone what Geometry Wars was to Xbox Live Arcade. A simple game with a single game mode which simply gets progressively more intensive and difficult. Easy to learn and hard to master at it’s best. Both have been megasellers.

What makes these games so special?

“It’s really simple. Try it!”

Both games can get you hooked by someone handing you the controller, or watching someone play it and wanting to try it yourself. Anyone can pick up the game and play it with a minimum amount of experience or knowledge. You directly see your actions on screen. The feedback is immediate.

Both games start very slowly and only after some time, typically 1-2 minutes, the game picks up pace noticeably. A slow start makes for a warmthy welcome, a feeling of beeing in control and gratification. Little does the player know that he is going to be overwhelmed pretty quickly, and lose. The challenge of these games then lies in pushing that imaginary boundary of one’s own skills just a bit further. And by playing repeatedly, even short sessions over a longer period of time, you DO get better and even if you don’t, sometimes you just have that lucky break. Usually success is recorded as highscore only that in these games, the highscore serves the purpose of being the reward of getting further, having survived longer – not necessarily playing more efficiently.

In addition, each new game plays differently. There is a certain amount of randomness, keeping you on edge (especially with the constant pressure) – even though the game elements are limited, the combination and timing of their appearance help to emerge new game situations all the time. Equal to both games is the feeling of what i would call “near death experience” – you almost “died” or lost the game but somehow managed to scrape by, just barely so, giving you a slight adrenaline rush.

And finally equal to both games is the desire to optimize. To become more effective. To plan ahead. “What would i do if this situation i just died in happens again?” You ask yourself questions like wether it is possible to plan your flight routes more effectively, or wether a certain turn-turn can help you escape a particularly annoying enemy combination. But there is no one best solution to any problem – you have to come up with your solutions, adapted to the current situation, and sometimes it just doesn’t work out. That just happens to anyone, however, even the best – which can be encouraging. Though most players will hit a wall after 3-4 minutes at most, there is enough room for really good players to make absurdly large scores – adding more interest to the game because one can only imagine what it must be like to get that far.

Losing in these games typically feels like one’s own mistake. You’ve been too daring, or you’ve just overlooked something quite obvious – if only you had paid more attention. Rarely, if ever, do players blame the game for being unfair – even though at certain situations it can be. It is part of the open-ended game mechanic to become overwhelming and eventually unfair, although never quite so unfair that it becomes absolutely impossible. Always can you trace back a few steps and see the mistakes you’ve made before. A wrong turn, or a wrong path.

And not to forget: both games introduced relatively new control concepts and all of the action played on a single screen – much like most early arcade games.

There are other cool games like Trials 2 which share some of these features and are equally addictive. Only that Trials caters more to a hardcore audience because the game is balanced towards micro-optimization and most levels are simply too hard to learn (let alone master) for the average player. Still, of the three, it is the coolest to just look over one’s shoulders and watch. I hope they are going to make a console version someday.

Tagged with:  

Why to not not start a startup

On May 10, 2009, in Good Advice, by Steffen Itterheim

For startup founders Paul Graham’s essay “Why to not not start a startup” is probably the most inspiring and encouraging post ever written.

Here are just a few quotes to “get you started”…

If you’re smart enough to worry that you might not be smart enough to start a startup, you probably are.

How do you tell if you’re independent-minded enough to start a startup? If you’d bristle at the suggestion that you aren’t, then you probably are.

You don’t need to know anything about business to start a startup. The initial focus should be the product. All you need to know in this phase is how to build things people want. If you succeed, you’ll have to think about how to make money from it. But this is so easy you can pick it up on the fly.

One reason people who’ve been out in the world for a year or two make better founders than people straight from college is that they know what they’re avoiding. If their startup fails, they’ll have to get a job, and they know how much jobs suck.

This leads us to the last and probably most powerful reason people get regular jobs: it’s the default thing to do. Defaults are enormously powerful, precisely because they operate without any conscious choice.

I wouldn’t be surprised if one day people look back on what we consider a normal job in the same way. How grim it would be to commute every day to a cubicle in some soulless office complex, and be told what to do by someone you had to acknowledge as a boss—someone who could call you into their office and say “take a seat,” and you’d sit! Imagine having to ask permission to release software to users. Imagine being sad on Sunday afternoons because the weekend was almost over, and tomorrow you’d have to get up and go to work. How did they stand it?

Which, obviously, turns into the follow-up question: if your startup succeeds, will you become that kind of boss everyone says makes dumb decisions, is prone to run the company into the ground, doesn’t know what he’s doing, and on and on and on … ?

Tagged with:  

I’m leaving EA Phenomic …

On May 9, 2009, in Announcements, by Steffen Itterheim

As of September 1st 2009 i will no longer be officially employed by Electronic Arts’ Phenomic studio. As a matter of fact, due to remaining holidays and my sabbatical my last day will be in about 5 weeks already: June 11th 2009.

My decision rests on these 3 pillars:

  • A change that is happening
  • An opportunity that is opening up
  • A realization: i need to take control and be in control of my life and my work

At this moment i can only talk about the latter and i’m being purposefully unspecific.

I want to work with a small and dedicated Team using Agile Development processes in order to fullfill my life’s dream to create innovative and fun games in collaboration with all team members with a focus on commercial viability just as much as creativity and risk taking while having fun doing so, growing personally from it and eventually making friends along the way. This will work best for games which have a short development cycle of no more than 6 months. I am willing to sacrifice a significant part of my salary to fulfill this dream.

Alternatively i will also be looking to lead a Team or Department in a company in need of strong Leadership. I want to foster my Leadership abilities, those that focus on servant Leadership, empowering the Team, mentoring and training, setting them up for success, guiding, directing and orchestrating while at the same time implementing, preaching, practicing and living Agile Development methods. I want to be a role model and a voice for the Team. I am approachable and i will participate. The Team will be my family.

However, since i am also working on an opportunity to come true i will be taking some time out. I expect around 6 months so if the opportunity i am talking about isn’t proving fruitful i will be back on the job market in 2010. That long i hope to sustain myself and will work on something of my own, preparing for said opportunity (i’m really wiggling it under your noses, am i?) while in the meantime getting in touch with everyone i know or knew, possibly and hopefully even making new acquaintances.

Stay tuned.

Tagged with:  
Page 1 of 3123