In our latest series of book excerpts, we present a chapter from Ryan Rigney's compendium of iOS games
In Buttonless, author Ryan Rigney takes the reader on a tour that covers more than 65 of the best iPhone and iPad games, telling the never-before-heard tales behind them via over 100 interviews. The book chronicles the adversities that top developers have to overcome, and delivers numerous anecdotes from behind the scenes of the iTunes App Store
Sometimes bewildering Enviro-Bear 2010 isn’t like a lot of the other games in this book.
The controls are intentionally designed to be incredibly arduous, gameplay mechanics aren’t explained to players in any clear way, and the entire thing takes place in a ‘posthuman’ world in which bears drive cars.
You play as the elongated right arm of one such car-driving bear. Yes, you read that correctly: players have control over just one of the bear’s arms, and all tasks (holding down the gas pedal, steering, eating fish, etc.) must be completed using that arm.
Plus, you have to switch between tasks quickly – fending off badgers at one moment, and slamming on the brakes to avoid trees the next.
Although nothing about the world of Enviro-Bear is spelled out explicitly, there is quite a lot of depth.
Clever players will find numerous ways to interact with the environment. For instance, crashing into a large rock will cause a smaller chunk of it to chip off and land in your car. You can then use the rock as a weight on your gas pedal so that you can focus on steering around trees as you seek out food. The ultimate goal is for the bear to eat as much as possible in preparation for winter.
A banner commanding players to ‘Hibernate!’ will appear on the screen when you’ve eaten enough, and you’ll have to search for a cave to safely drive into. The entire thing is nonsensically hilarious, but that’s sort of the point.
Enviro-Bear 2010 began as a response to a challenge: TIGsource.com’s Cockpit Competition. The challenge required developers to create a game centred around cockpits in less than a month. There are plenty of things that developers could do with that concept: you could imagine a space-flight sim, a game about driving trains, or some sort of Air Force training program.
But Justin Smith’s brain operates a little bit differently from yours or mine.
“The original plan was to have squirrels driving a car through a post-apocalyptic wasteland, attacking other squirrel cars to take their nuts,” says Smith.
“You would be able to board the other cars pirate-style and swashbuckle with enemy squirrels. The car would be controlled by multiple rodents, each on a different instrument.”
Apparently, multiple squirrels were too much to deal with in just a single month. Smith had what he describes as a ‘panic attack,’ and refined his somewhat insane game idea into something slightly more reasonable. Only slightly, says Smith. “I thought, ‘what’s easy?’ Bears.”
Smith calls the month that followed a boring process, and wanted to focus more on the post-mortem of the game in our interview. To make a long story short, he managed to finish his game within the deadline, and Enviro-Bear took home TIGSource.com’s first place prize.
Following the release of the PC version, Smith set to work on getting the game compatible with iOS. This took almost exactly one more month.
Once the game was released on the App Store, Smith saw most of his sales within the first month – things dropped off sharply after that. He credits this to a sort of ‘15 minutes of fame’ effect and notes that much of the game’s success is due to “hilarious trolls” on several online forums. “Some of the App-Store reviews people left were comic genius,” says Smith.
He’s not joking about that. I ventured into the App Store to read some of the top user reviews from those who had purchased Enviro-Bear, and I wasn’t disappointed.
“This game is impossible to control and I can never tell what’s going on,” claimed one customer.
“Badgers keep eating my fish and I don’t know what’s happening. This is the greatest game ever made. One million stars.”
“Some games make you realise the actual power of the iPhone, both through their rich interactivity and high-quality graphics. This game combines that with a bear driving a car,” read another. Other reviews were just as humorous.
One reviewer claimed that the game cured his “mega AIDS” and landed him a job as a rocket scientist. Another said that it was a perfect simulation of life in Russia. “It raised my grandmother from the dead,” one review concluded.