On mothering, and throwing your babies at the wall: how game jams inspired Offspring Fling
Kyle Pulver didn’t set out to make a game about throwing your children into walls; it just kind of happened. He was participating in a game jam where the theme was “motherhood.” The idea of carrying children followed, and the game’s mechanics took shape around that idea.
“I was just interested in the idea of picking them up and carrying them around,” he said.
That’s not enough for a game however, but the ideas flowed from there. “I thought I could make a lot of neat level designs out of the idea that when you pick up your kids you become heavier, which makes your jump height decrease, and it also makes your character taller which makes you unable to squeeze into small spaces,” Pulver explained. “As I played around with the idea, I started thinking of how awesome it would be if I could actually throw the baby around the level… and then the rest is history!” By the end of the game jam he had created a playable prototype, and seven or eight of those original 15 levels made it into the final version of the game.
The $7.99 game is available for the PC or Mac. The game is DRM free, which is always a welcome touch.
Offspring Fling is charming. The levels may look simplistic and cutesy, but the game is fast-paced and engaging. You must display focus and hustle to gather your children, get them to the exit, and ensure that all members of your family survive. Knowing where and when it’s safe to throw your children is key. Timing is also a strong element in the game. You earn flowers by beating the levels, but you earn golden flowers by doing so in a set amount of time. You compete against your own ghost replays to learn from your mistakes and perfect your run through each level. The time-based challenges are a subtle but effective way of increasing the game’s replay value.
Pulver was influenced by 16-bit platformers in both the design and aesthetics of the game—the faux-SNES box used to promote the game is proof of that—but getting a game on modern consoles is challenging for smaller developers. “I’m just one guy making a game, so PC and Mac just make the most sense because there is so little friction,” he explained. “It’s as easy as setting up a website and a payment system and you’re selling a game. There’s no need for an ESRB rating, or content curation, or crazy technical hurdles of getting a game to run on a console.”
So why isn’t the game on Steam? Jonathan Blow talked about good games slipping through the cracks, and it seems that is what happened here: Although every writer and indie developer I know was buzzing about Offspring Fling after launch, Steam didn’t bite when the game was in production. “I would LOVE for the game to be on Steam!” Pulver told the Penny Arcade Report. “It turns out it’s very hard to get a game on Steam… I contacted them awhile back, but unfortunately they weren’t interested in the game. I’m hoping that with enough public support though I can change their minds! A lot of people have said they want the game on Steam, so now I just need to convince the Steam Overlords of that.”
A design process born from game jams
Pulver has a system for game design when he participates in game jams, and the first thing he does when he imagines a concept is to draw a mockup of the game and get it moving. “I need to see the player character moving and animating in order to stay excited about the game,” he explained. “For me, the aesthetics of the game can inspire the design just as much as the design can inspire the aesthetic, so I like to develop them both at an equal pace.”
After the concept for Offspring Fling was in place, it was just a matter of perfecting the character design and creating the game’s content. The levels are well-designed and fun to play, which is quite a feat, considering how many of the levels were created in such a short amount of time. Pulver brainstorms basic ideas for levels, quickly sketches them in the design tools, and then either adjusts the game’s design until it works or throws it out and moves onto the next idea. The trick, he maintains, is to be constantly in motion during development, and not be afraid to reject concepts that don’t work.
“What’s crazy is that a pretty big chunk of the game’s levels, maybe 80 percent or so, were created in just a single weekend,” he said. He was suffering from a “pretty severe mental block,” so he took part in a local game jam and forced himself to make level after level in a grueling 48 hour long design session. “I ended up making most of the game’s levels right there. I spent some time after that weekend cleaning them up and adding art, and putting them into an order that made sense to me. Also, a fair amount of the levels created that weekend were thrown out, but without creating those crappy levels I wouldn’t have discovered the really good ones.”
Still, the game does look rather cute and fluffy, which doesn’t seem to match the relentless pace and cleverness of the puzzles. “I guess it just made sense to me to make something super cute looking for a game about throwing babies around,” he explained. “It has to look cute and playful, otherwise the idea of throwing babies just becomes really disturbing or illegal.”