When someone plays a lot of video games, they start to recognize how game design molds itself around the mechanics of the game itself. A world will be constructed very differently if the player can jump versus if the player is unable to overcome gravity. There are notably more ledges and gaps in the world constructed for the former. Certain games like to take these expectations and develop alternative solutions to design problems. The 3D Legend of Zelda games, for example, don’t have a jump button but have plenty of ledges and gaps. Link is capable of handling those obstacles on his own, and it frees up the players mind to concentrate on other things.
At PAX East, I caught up with Rami Ismail, developer at indie studio Vlambeer, to talk about their game Super Crate Box. At first glance, SCB seems like a typical single-screen shooter. You’re a small character with guns that are very good at demolishing the enemies lurching towards you. Super Crate Box differs, though, because you don’t get any points for killing enemies. Rather, you get points for collecting crates which, in turn, change your weapon. Vlambeer wanted to create a simple arcade game that would keep the player moving, which lead to the development of the crate mechanic.
Super Crate Box had a rough development cycle. “That was a disaster,” Rami told me. “Jan Willem, the designer at Vlambeer, had tried to make a good platform shooter for 4 years… He got sort of upset and just threw everything out, keeping only one screen and a jumping character. Then he came up with the crate mechanic and that’s where it all started.” After the initial spark of inspiration, Vlambeer worked for the next 6 months turning Super Crate Box into what you see today.
A game that requires the player to swap out guns constantly needs to have a spectacular array of armaments at the player’s disposal. Luckily, Super Crate Box has such an inventory. Not everything made the cut, however. “We wanted the game to be sort of transparent, so we took out everything that wasn’t distinctive enough.” An Uzi is too similar to a machine gun, for example. “The weapons can’t be the same thing, and they have to be archetypes. This is a pistol, this is a revolver, these are dual pistols, this gun can kill you, and so on.” Vlambeer strikes a tough balance between variety and keeping weapons unique.
At the Vlambeer booth, Super Crate Box was setup on a few devices. There were PC and mobile platforms, but the one that caught my eye was an iPad hooked up to Ion’s iCade. An iCade is an iPod dock set up to look like a mini-arcade cabinet complete with buttons and a joystick. During our interview, an attendee was setting the day’s record high score on the device, and it was a sight to behold. He racked up well over 250 crates without dying, but Rami told me that doesn’t even touch the highest scores. “The highest score we’ve seen is five-thousand and something,” he told me. “There are higher scores on the leaderboard, but we haven’t verified them. This guy sent us a sped up video of his playthrough.” I’m lucky to get 10 crates before dying; these guys are incredible.
Before wrapping up the interview, I asked Rami about other Vlambeer projects people should look for. “At this point we’re working on Ridiculous Fishing, which is a fishing game about fishing with shotguns. We have GUN GODZ, a first-person shooter that’s a throwback to Wolfenstein but plays like Quake. The other interesting one at the moment is LUFTRAUSER, which is an airplane dogfighting game. The controls make even the worst player feel like the biggest ace fighter pilot in the world. Every game we make tries to be something really special.” Looking at their portfolio, it’s hard to argue with that.
Super Crate Box can be found on iOS, PC and Mac. PC and Mac versions are free on the game’s website, and the iOS version is $2 in the app store. A shooter game where the primary objective is to collect crates. Who knew such a simple idea could be so addictive?
Written by Erich “H2O mystakin” Sherman. Erich is the PMS|H2O Editorial Director. Keep track of him and his shenanigans on Twitter!