Breaking Out

BREAKSOUTImagine if you changed one element of a game you love, suddenly the familiar becomes unfamiliar and new, for example; if a change was made to Angry Birds, and there was now friendly fire causing the player to take out other birds each time they shot a bird backwards, or the game was changed to be competitive and it was now a race to see which player could obliterate the most pigs. The game BREAKSOUT by Pippin Barr does this to great effect, taking an very old familiar game and making small changes to turn it on its head.

Game design can be a very exploratory process, having tried my hand a designing my first few games I’ve noticed that the core idea at the beginning of development can often be worlds away from what the final product becomes. None of this iteration is useless however; other ideas can surface along the way and give birth to something truly special. After reading Chris Priestman’s article on BREAKSOUT I was intrigued and took the time to play BREAKSOUT, I was surprised how much of a difference changing one element of a simple game like Breakout could make.

I recall playing the “BREAK IN” version, the 7th on a list of 36, the changes to the game were an added opening in the upper boundary and points were no longer awarded by breaking bricks but by passing through this new opening. Suddenly Breakout became a game about slowly chipping away at a barrier in to break in, I wanted to know what was on the other side of this gap, was I breaking into a safe to steal its contents? Was I breaking in to a gaol to free a compatriot? Or was this an enemy stronghold I needed to smash down the walls of? As Priestman said in his article;

“Games are fragile. In a lot of cases, changing a single element can turn a game from interesting to dull, from beautiful to offensive, even from a game to not-a-game.”

Having played all 36 modified versions of Breakout I went on to read Barr’s development blogs about the game, all posted during development, I learned as a result that the entire idea for BREAKSOUT had come from a failed attempt at the 2015 Mediterranean Game Jam.

“So in brief, falling apart at a game jam in the context of working on Breakout led me to think a lot about Breakout afterwards (much of it in the ‘why?! why?!’ sense of self-berating) and ultimately to see that Breakout could be quite a strangely versatile way of examining games more generally, that obsessing (through design) over a single game could actually ‘say’ quite a large potential range of things about game design.”

BREAKSOUT became not just a game to waste a few minutes on in your lunch break, but a way of examining game design itself, most new developers would benefit from looking at BREAKSOUT if not creating something similar themselves as a way of gaining a greater understanding of the fragility of design, and learning that sometimes the smallest changes can make the biggest difference.

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