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Sticky Balls Pocket PC screenshot

Archive entry by Ste Pickford on Thu, 14 May 2009
Subject: Sticky Balls

Ste Pickford

This is an early screen shot of the Pocket PC version of Sticky Balls we developed at Zed Two (around 2003) but which was never released.

John had always intended the game to work with single touch control when he first designed it, and these touch screen devices seemed like the ideal platform for the game. They were handy, fitted in your pocket, and they had a growing self-publishing / downloadable game market.

This was before Nintendo launched (or even announced) the DS, so I think Pocket PCs were probably the only touch screen gaming devices available.

The machines were very low powered. We couldn't make the balls out of polygons, as there wasn't enough grunt to roll a few polygon spheres around the screen. Instead, the lads working on the project came up with a system to render lots of frames of rotation of the balls used in each particular game, at the size needed, at the start of each game, then the game actually used animated sprites based on these pre-rendered frames. It worked, just about.

The game played really well. It felt fantastic having something like a little pool table in your pocket, and tapping the screen with a stylus to make shots worked brilliantly.

To avoid losing accuracy on smaller balls, or on balls near the edge of the screen, the programmer came up with a neat system whereby tapping on a ball brought up a 'virtual ball' over the top of the screen, that you could used to control the ball you'd selected. It sounded awkward when he described the idea, but worked very well when it was implemented.

As I explained yesterday, this finished game was shelved by Warthog when they took us over, as it was too small-fry for them. They weren't interested in projects that didn't bring in multi millions of dollars - a small trickle of profit from download sales didn't excite them as much as massive loss making projects that had an outside chance of hitting the jackpot one day in the future - so they dropped this in favour of pursuing a PSP version (which was never finished or released either!).

It's a real shame that Zed Two couldn't have kept going through the difficult time we had 2002 / 2003, or that Warthog didn't just let us carry on with what we were already doing when they bought us.

We'd got the idea around then to start doing smaller, simpler, cheaper, more interesting games for download systems and touch screens. It sounds obvious now, but it wasn't obvious at all back then. There wasn't a massive market for small download games at that time, but that's where we saw our future, and we had a great team of people well suited to making those kind of games.

Unfortunately they closed the studio just before the DS took off, then new markets for small download games took off (like XBLA, Steam, as well as indie PC publishing), then the iPhone came along, and Wii Ware and DSi Ware and PlayStation Network etc. Zed Two was ideally placed to take full advantage of all these changes in the video game market, but instead John and I were made redundant, and the studio closed, and all the staff put on doomed, big-budget PS2 license games. We were working from home with no money as all these changes were happening in the games industry with no way to take advantage of them, or get our games on any of these new platforms.

Oh well. Onward and upward!

 

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