Guest Post by Brian Lynch
Founded in 2008 by friends William Stallwood and Dain Saint, Cipher Prime was originally a design company. It still is. But unlike other companies in their field, they have a secret weapon – they also make kick-ass games.
Their critical darling, Auditorium, was initially developed as a calling card for their design chops, but somewhere after the early shoot-’em-up stages, it became entirely another game. They followed it up with 2010’s Fractal, which was nominated for an IndieCade award, as well as netting their studio a MTV Germany Games nomination in the “Working Class Hero” category for Indie game developers. Their success and subsequent cache with the indie game community is pretty strong.
That’s why the fan criticism of their next effort, Pulse, is so surprising – it runs the gamut from general disappointment to questioning the very direction of their company.
Why all the ire? The Cipher Prime team announced that Pulse was going to be an iPad game (they have since changed their stance, contemplating an eventual Mac/PC port). None of these outraged fans have even played the game; Geekadelphia counts itself among the lucky few to do so.
The game is deceptively simple, yet incredibly immersive. There are a series of concentric circles with dots that appear in time with the music, mimicking the flow of eighth and sixteenth notes. As the song plays, a pulse is sent out through the circles, and the player attempts to touch each of the dots before the pulse reaches them. It’s not long before eight or nine dots are scattered on screen, and one’s hands are doing the herky-jerky trying to hit all of them. Yes, hands – you’ll need to use both of them.
There’s good reason the game was developed with the iPad (and possibly, Android tablets) in mind; it needs to be done on a large screen, with multiple tactile inputs. The Mac/PC ports will suffer, though; an experience like that can’t easily be duplicated with a mouse.
The story of Pulse began one early morning at this past year’s IndieCade; the way content designer Kerry Gilbert tells it, “I was at breakfast with Will, and he was telling me about this idea he had the night before, and started drawing a circle on a napkin; and about three days later, we finished Pulse.”
Realizing the limitations of the Flash engine they were using, the Cipher team took the next three months to learn UNITY, a separate programming engine, and re-create Pulse within that engine. It wasn’t without difficulty, though; Pulse was (and remains) a 2-D game, and as UNITY is a 3-d engine, they had to take different, creative approaches to handle simple issues. You’d never know, though. Pulse is a seamless experience.
Will hopes people get that, though; sometimes it’s hard to see past initial criticism and opinions, but “We’re just trying to make games,” he said. “We wanted to make an iPad game, and hopefully, it does well. Then we’ll come back and do games for other platforms, building on our success.” It’s part of the reason why they switched to the Unity engine; it allows them a shorter period of development time, and a larger array of platforms to develop for.
From there, who knows?