Even outside of Backabit, Tim and I work at the same company.
The afternoon of January 20, he came by my cube and said “check out the app store today.” Our coworker (and awesome artist/designer) Calvin Ross Carl captured my surprise (appropriately, with his iPhone 4).
When I made the original Ramps, I didn’t give much thought to its visual style. It was basically a glorified tech demo, an outlet for the skills I was learning from Keith Peters’ Foundation ActionScript Animation book (which has since been succeeded by an ActionScript 3 edition). I look at the game fondly as the spirited product of an enthusiastic student (albeit one who was way too excited that Flash had support for gradients and bitmap effects).
I’m fascinated by the recent resurgence of pixel art and retro gaming, particularly in wonderful games like The Incident and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. Nostalgia is certainly a part of the appeal, but a deeper design principle is also at play. I believe the limitations of low-resolution artwork forced the game makers to be extremely selective, resulting in visuals refined in simplicity and character. For example, Shigeru Miyamoto credits dismally low pixel resolutions as the cause for Mario’s distinctive cap and mustache:
The technology of the time really dictated how we did character design. If I gave Mario a lot of hair you have to animate it or it doesn’t look right. By giving him a hat we didn’t have to worry about that. We also didn’t have to draw his eyebrows, his forehead or any of these other things. It was just a really useful tool to help us emphasize what we were trying to do on this small screen.
In designing Ramps for iOS, my goal was (and continues to be) to capture that same focus and restraint while embracing the richness of contemporary displays. I admit the ambitiousness of this challenge, but it’s hard to regret something so fun to pursue.
I honestly didn’t know how well the original game’s piranha enemy would translate to the minimalism of Ramps’ new direction, especially since it relied so heavily on a metallic appearance. I decided to capture the translation from start to finish for posterity, sped up for your convenience and enjoyment. I hope you dig it!
Tyler and I are super excited! Ramps entered into the Top 10 on the App Store last night (currently perched at #8 overall), so we are feeling extra invigorated to keep pushing forward with our upcoming 1.1 update.
Check out the video below to get an inside look at what level design for Ramps is like, and to see just how fast we can move when we’re motivated.
Wow, what a wild ride this has been! Between getting featured by Apple in New and Noteworthy the last two weeks, and working with the press to get their unbiased take (and by the way, they LOVE Ramps!), it’s nice to finally dive back in to working on the game without any reservations.
I’m so excited that we now have our own blog! Make sure you give some mad props to Tyler for doing a fantastic job with all of our web work. I’m blown away with how spectacular this thing looks. If you haven’t seen the Ramps website yet, check that out too. Make sure you use Chrome or Safari also, as there’s little surprises for you to discover there as well.
We’ve been hard at work on version 1.1, which is going to be our first major update to Ramps. I don’t want to spoil any surprises just get, but I will say that it’s going to have a TON of new content, and some new gameplay elements that are going to make it seem like you’re playing an entirely new game! So when do you get it? Well, sooner than you think! But in the meantime, make sure you’ve completed both Worlds 1 and 2. You’re going to have to earn this awesome new stuff!
But while we’re working on that, we’ve also been working on making improvements to the game as it stands now. Some users on older devices have had some crashes. Not very many of you, but we want to make Ramps fun and playable for everyone. We’ve submitted an update to Apple this evening (1.0.2) that should help those of you on older devices that are getting some crashes. See, the whole reason it happens is those devices don’t have as much memory, and we’re using really high resolution artwork so we’re really trying to push the graphical limits of even the newer hardware.
If you get a weird crashing issue, reboot your device. It will fix it. Seriously.
This works for other games and apps too, not just ours. So in the future of stuff is wigging out for you on your phone or iPod Touch, just give that guy a fresh reboot and chances are your crashing problem will be fixed.
I’m not satisfied with that as a solution though, as I know most people who play Ramps aren’t going to read this post, so in our new update, we’ve reduced the amount of memory Ramps uses on older devices by 20%. That should make this problem a lot more tolerable, and maybe even get rid of it altogether.
We’ve made a number of other improvements to Ramps also in 1.0.2 that I give a sneak-peek of in the video. Here’s the full release notes in-case you’re interested. We’ve addressed some things that a lot of people brought to our attention.
We’re waiting for Apple to approve this update, so hopefully you will all see it drop sometime next week.
NEW IN 1.0.2:
0) Improved memory utilization for older devices. This means less crashes! We’re constantly fine-tuning our little app to make it the best we can. If you get a crash, don’t panic! Send us an e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll help you out. Promise!
1) You spoke, and we listened! When you complete a level, the screen now fades to gray instead of white. Now you can play Ramps without going blind!
2) You can now drag a ramp to the edge of the screen to scroll a level. If you drag a Ramp to the edge of the screen (within 25% of the edge) while in a level that is scrollable, the level will scroll until you either move the ramp away from the *hot* region, or let go of the ramp.
3) You can now tap to skip the pre-roll when a level starts (GO! text, animated arrow, letterboxing with scrolling).
4) You can now use your own music from the iPod app or other apps via multitasking.
5) We’re now supporting landscape left orientation, so flip that bad boy around and play Ramps like a Backabat!
BORING BUG FIXES
0) If a ball had touched a Ramp, the Ramp would always remember the ball had touched it, even if a ball died. (until you restarted a level or started a new one). This made it kinda hard to beat the challenge where you beat a level without using every Ramp.
We love our game and we love that you guys all enjoy playing it as much as we do. We’re going to keep working to make Ramps better and adding more content as long as you guys keep playing it and telling us how we should improve it. Stay tuned, we have lots more cool stuff to share with you. Not just with updates to Ramps, but with our marketing learnings as well!