Whitaker Trebella, now operating under the company name of Fixpoint Productions for his game and music work, is releasing his second full-fledged game, Pivvot. The development of the game was quite like how it plays: a long and winding path that was fraught with obstacles, but with success waiting at the end.
It makes sense because he definitely doesn’t take the easy path through life: he’s a music teacher who also does music for a wide variety of iOS games, becoming one of the most prominent composers on the platform. He was self-started, too – music submissions for Tilt to Live eventually turned into greater attention and more work to start making music for games. Then, he decided to learn how to program in order to make his own games, and he created Polymer, which didn’t make him rich but made significant income for him, was extremely successful for a first release, and was a critical success to boot. He even got married to the love of his life, changing his last name from Blackall to Trebella, a combination combined from his and his wife Dana’s last names. So, what comes next?
That was the one thing he just couldn’t figure out.Trebella says that “I struggled for quite awhile with what kind of game I would like to make next. I probably had at least 20 totally different ideas running around in my head, fighting for attention. I sketched out a bunch on paper, prototyped a few on the device, and showed various people a couple of the ideas I had. I really didn’t know what I wanted to do for a long time after releasing Polymer.”
There was one idea that he worked sporadically on at the time, he just never felt all that motivated to work on it because he was struggling to make it work. A talk that Rami Ismail gave, one that wound up influencing fellow Chicago developers such as Dan FitzGerald and Lisa Bromeil of Dog Sled Saga, only helped to sway him toward ditching his idea when he got up to ask about it. His question about whether he should keep pushing with his idea (one he still might pursue in the future) was long-winded, and not exuding much confidence that the idea had a future. “I thought it had potential but it just never struck me. I never had that drive to finish it that I had with Polymer. And because it was a complex idea, it wasn’t even fun to play in the early stages. Eventually, I just scrapped it altogether.”
So it was back to the drawing board. After scrapping his original idea for his second game, he says “I started making a bunch of prototypes. Out of the many prototypes, I decided on one that eventually led to the creation of Pivvot.”Terry Cavanagh’s Super Hexagon “very much so” influenced Pivvot during its creation. “I just really love the simplistic nature of Super Hexagon‘s gameplay. While it is a VERY hard game, it is VERY easy to understand what to do and how to do it. I wanted to get that same sort of feeling with Pivvot. Someone said to me recently that they enjoyed Pivvot because they knew what to do right away without even playing it. It’s back-to-basics gameplay. I was tempted a number of times to add bells and whistles but I kept thinking back to how awesome Super Hexagon is and how it focuses strictly on that one fun mechanic.” He even has talked to Terry Cavanagh and says “He seemed to think the idea was cool!” when he showed a version of the game to him a couple of months ago.
But curiously, it was also the core technology at work with Pivvot that helped convince him that this was the right idea.”I’m working in Unity with the Futile framework. It took me a long time to really understand how to make cool-looking shapes and objects in Futile. Once I figured that out though, it opened up a ton of options. I was able to create cool-looking obstacles, and maybe even more importantly, I was able to create the winding, pulsating path that is the centerpiece of Pivvot‘s gameplay. Once I had a winding path with some obstacles and some basic collision detection, I was able to play the game and actually have fun.”
“Once I was having fun with the prototype, I knew it had potential.”
He felt like he had nailed the core idea of pivoting around a point traveling along a winding path avoiding obstacles all the while, but making it fun was the biggest challenge. “It took an incredible amount of playtesting on my end. I would create an obstacle, then play the game over and over and over with just that obstacle until I either felt really happy with it or found something that annoyed me about it. For example, if I kept dying on one specific part of an obstacle and it started to feel unfair, I would make that part a bit easier; if a certain part of an obstacle pattern was just way too easy, I would tweak it to make it harder; if an obstacle played well but just didn’t look very cool, I would think about how to make it look better.”
Everything with the game’s art is actually generated through code. Pivvot has a very minimalistic look, consisting mostly of lines and geometric shapes. This wasn’t always the case, though: “the obstacles used to have outlines and other details on them. At first, I thought it looked very cool, but the more I played it, the more I realized the extra details really distracted from the minimalistic look of the game. Having said that, I needed to make sure it looked ‘artfully minimalistic’ rather than just ‘flat.’ ”
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