Based in Grand Rapids, MI
Thursday March 31, 2016
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Journey of 1000 Stars is essential arcade zen. Bounce on clouds, collect stars, and don't fall down. Collect your companions as you approach 50 stars, then your journey truly begins.
In the tradition of Flappy Bird there is no difficulty curve to crash into. After 50 stars the game doesn't get any harder, it just stays hard. Scale this cliff then pick your way carefully along its edge toward 1000. Stay calm. Stay attentive. Stay alive.
Daily statistics report your efforts, your triumphs, and your skill, to help you on the long, long journey to 1000*.
1000 Stars is a semi-sequel to Cumulo Nimbers, the 2012 party favourite developed for the Toronto International Film Festival ComicsVsGames event and then exhibited around the world.
* The current human record is 99 stars, however testing by artificial intelligence has verified that 1000 stars can be collected reliably by a player of sufficient skill. A score of 15 is pretty good, and anything above 30 is world class.
In 2014, Farbs (creator of Captain Forever and other indie classics) boarded a 12 hour flight, only to discover there was no seat-back entertainment. In protest he resolved to play Flappy Bird for the entire flight, with no entertainment other than twitter breaks to announce high scores. It was... pretty fun actually. His stated goal was 100 points, but his secret goal was 1,000. He scored 251. A month and a half later he was still playing, and on 27 April 2014 he breezed past his previous high score and hit 1,059. The game itself took around 20 minutes. Perhaps it wasn't so great an achievement, but it felt absolutely amazing. Farbs wanted to share that, wanted other people to have that experience. After a while, in games like this, it is much less about what's happening in the hardware, and much more about what's happening in your wetware. It's about your hands and your head. Farbs thinks that's pretty cool. So that's what Journey of 1000 Stars is about.
- Adorable and insanely challenging!
- Confettibomb high score dance party!
- "Count In" - safely resume where you left off!
- Distraction-free mode!
- Daily play and skill estimation records!
- Solo-play sequel to party favourite Cumulo Nimblers!
Journey of 1000 Stars (trailer) YouTube
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About This Next Bit
The following sections of this press kit are, uh, a bit long. And rambly. And it is mostly written in the first person. There's a lot I wanted to write about Journey of 1000 Stars, and this seemed as good a place as any to write it. If you want to read this like a regular presskit however that's fine too, just scroll down to the end. Otherwise, read on!
About Capped Difficulty
I love that Flappy Bird has no difficulty curve. You learn the game in the first few seconds, and then bam, you're playing it. "It" is deceptively difficult from go to whoa. If you're playing Flappy Bird then you're playing something difficult, not just waiting for the difficulty curve to meet and exceed your skill. It's wonderful! Journey of 1000 Stars compromises on this a little, but I think it's a good compromise. From 50 stars onward the game doesn't become any more difficult. This gives the player a few minutes to learn the game and meet the four companions, after which the mastery game begins. Whereas Flappy Bird played up its difficulty wall for laughs, 1000 Stars pretends to be a regular game with an ever-growing difficulty curve, and encourages progression even throughout the early stages by way of the high score celebration feedback.
I suck at knitting. However, I suck a lot less than when I first started, and I know that with enough practice I could reach a level of knitting mastery where I made effectively no mistakes. Right now I have a roughly 2% chance of making a mistake with each stitch. At some point during my Flappy Flight, I had roughly the same chance of hitting each pipe. Can you see where this is going? I figured if you can effectively master knitting then you could equally master Flappy Bird. That's what gave me the confidence to pursue my Flappy Bird high score dreams.
There are really three parts to learning a game like this. The first is learning the rules and how they interact. The second is developing and training yourself to use strategies within the game. The third, and most interesting, is training yourself to be and remain attentive. That's the hard part. During my time with Flappy Bird I found varying levels of success through defocusing my eyes, watching different parts of the screen, listening to music, and conscious breathing. In fact, when I finally reached 1,000 I was listening to and occasionally glancing at a documentary. And between 700 and 1,000 I was very, very aware of my breathing. Alcohol and caffeine were no help at all. I suppose my point here is that after a while a game like this is much less about what's happening in the hardware, and much more about what's happening in your wetware. It's about your hands and your head. I think that's pretty cool.
About Monkey Magic
Cumulo Nimblers is a game about four companions gamboling atop the clouds. When I started to add detail to the characters it seemed obvious that they should suggest Tripitaka, Monkey, Pigsy, and Sandy, the four main characters of the classical Chinese novel Journey to the West. Not that I read much classical Chinese literature. No, I knew them from Monkey Magic, the Japanese TV adaptation dubbed into English in the UK and broadcast across Australia in the 1980s. I loved that show, though I suspect now I'd discover it to be racially offensive. Damn.
About High Score Explosions
Most of my friends snowboard, and the unfortunate few who don't, ski. We're not amazing but we have fun. Some years ago we started calling ourselves 5P, which stands for the Piper Park Personal Progression Posse. It's a joke; Piper Park is the smallest terrain park on the mountain, and Personal Progression is something a dude in a snowboarding video kept banging on about. Nearly ten years later, we still talk about a day on the snow in terms of whether we progressed (personally). That's why Journey of 1000 Stars has high score confetti bomb explosions into super party dance mode. Sure there are leaderboards, but that's only out of obligation. Really, 1000 Stars is about Personal Progression.
About Trapping You
This section is an admission of guilt. This game tries to trap you. At the end of each game, most titles would present you with a Game Over screen and prompt you to Play Again. This is a natural exit point, and when you first play the game you see it every few seconds. Of course, I don't want you to exit. I want you to keep playing, which is why 1000 Stars doesn't have a Play Again button. It also has no exit button or in fact any new button at all on the Game Over screen. Unless you hit Pause, any input will fling into your next game, and the absence of input for 3 seconds will do exactly the same. When someone shows you 1000 Stars in a bar I want you to keep playing, well past your first fall, until you get it. I also like that it is a series of games flowing together within a single session. It's not about how well you do in each attempt, it's about how well you do across the time you spend with it. That's what I tell myself to help me get to sleep, anyway.
Can the game be won? Yes! I think so. I haven't collected all 1,000 stars yet, and at time of writing have only managed 112, but I'm still quite confident about this. You see, I've watched all 1,000 stars be collected. By a machine. Mid way through development I was worried that the game might be unwinnable, so I wrote an AI to play the game for me. Though I didn't do anything very technically clever, the AI was a brilliant player, and using no more information that is available to a human it reliably scored over 1,000 points. Frankly, it was mesmerizing. I'll release a video some day.
When you collect a star you become temporarily invulnerable. That's what the little yellow glow is telling you. Nobody can head-stomp you back to the ground until you reach the apex of your jump, so you can knock companions above you up beyond the clouds and out of your way for a little while.
Please don't call 1000 Stars "8-bit". No 8-bit games looked like this. It's clearly inspired by the 16-bit era. Ta.
Journey of 1000 Stars features tracks from the album Impostor Nostalgia by Big Giant Circles. Specifically, it includes the tracks:
- You Can Have Mine
- HappiNESs (featuring Disasterpeace)
- flashygoodness - Fight the Current (Flashy Mix)
About Visual Art
Journey of 1000 Stars features art created for Cumulo Nimblers by John Martz (upscaled and probably horribly broken by Farbs), and a gorgeous title illustration by Heather Penn.
About Counting In
Journey of 1000 Stars features a nice count-in system for when you unpause your game. This means you don't need to collect all 1000 stars in one sitting. You can suspend the app, resume later, and use the three seconds of slow motion count-in time to slip back into the game.
Tripitaka is a small green monk. At 1 star Tripitaka gains a mount, represented by a rainbow pooping green blob because yay why not. In 1000 Stars, you are Tripitaka. Tripitaka can move slightly faster than Monkey, Pigsy, and Sandy, even though really Monkey is much cooler and should be the fastest.
Monkey is orange and wears a metal headband. Monkey appears at 2 stars. Monkey is also known as Great Sage, Equal of Heaven. Monkey is your first disciple, but after following you up to the fifth star he decides to start chasing the stars himself.
Pigsy is pink with a cute snout and little ears that flap in the breeze. Pigsy appears at 10 stars. Pigsy and monkey squabble over every star, though Monkey slightly faster.
Sandy is blue and has a necklace of skulls. Sandy appears at 50 stars. Sandy is an idiot. If you turned your screen to face directly away from you, then the star would be located exactly where Sandy is otherwise trying to get to. Before this tweak Sandy would just chase the star along with Monkey and Pigsy, and you could safely set up camp on the other side of the screen. It was a bit boring. Now if you try that you'll find Sandy bumbling around all over your space.
About Leaderboard Limits
Online leaderboards are often flooded with fake scores, and in most cases there's no way to prevent them. This is why the maximum score in 1000 Stars is 7073507107734, which if typed into a calculator and read upside down says "HELLO I LOSE LOL". Nobody is going to legitimately reach this score because that would take hundreds of thousands of years (without falling down). So now if you cheat you either admit defeat in calculator speak, or you don't get the highest score.
About Distraction-Free Mode
On my Flappy flight I discovered I could make Flappy Bird less stressful by taping a piece of paper over the score display. That was cool. For Journey of 1000 Stars I experimented with having no score display, but then there was no feedback about how to increase your score. Also I really like the way the score counter hops up every time you gain a point. So, to cater for new players and those who want a more relaxed experience I added distraction-free mode. This hides both the score display and the buttons, the former to reduce score stress, and the latter because someone asked for it. I play about half my games with DF mode on.
Farbs Jr is three and a half, which means I watch a lot of low budget animation. I noticed that the production values always seem much higher when the characters blink. Journey of 1000 Stars is my first game to feature blinking, and I'm rather proud to have it in there. Trip blinks half as often as the others, which is apparently a way to appear more intelligent.
About Enjoying Losing
In a score attack game nearly every time you play you will fail. Either you learn to enjoy that, or you quit in frustration. If you can't see high (but not highest) scores as a triumph then you're in trouble. I find it helps to think of each session as a step toward mastery, regardless of what scores I achieve.
The gameplay elements of Journey of 1000 Stars run at 300FPS. Phwoar. I find this results in a more solid feeling game than only updating once per screen refresh.
About Wind Movement
The characters' horizontal motion isn't modeled with acceleration, but with drag. This means they don't actively move left or right. Instead, each character is blown back and forth by their own little gusts of wind. I just realised now that these two systems are mathematically equivalent, so maybe that wasn't the best use of my time, but now I know how to model an acceleration/drag system with a terminal velocity parameter instead of just fiddling with drag and acceleration and hoping for the best. Yay learning!
About Thumb Pain
If your thumbs start to hurt, try pressing the screen with different areas of thumb skin, or with your fingers, or stop playing for a while. Once you recover, try not to press so hard.
About Mountain Biking
While mountain biking you need to look ahead. If you focus on the rocks underneath your tyres you won't be prepared for the boulder up ahead. Similarly, I find its best not to look at your character in 1000 Stars. Heck, you shouldn't even need to. My advice here is: KNOW where you are, LOOK where you're going.
I love capped difficulty score attack games, but they have a fundamental flaw - high score droughts. High scores are the ultimate statistical outliers, so they can be extremely rare. Motivation in these games comes from knowing that you can and probably will make progress, so playing for weeks without a high score can be extremely demotivating. Journey of 1000 Stars features a skill system to address this. It records and reports an accurate estimation of your daily skill, giving you the tools you need to observe and enjoy your progress. This system kicks in alongside the mastery component of the game, so if you aren't seeing it you probably aren't there yet. Keep trying! You can do it! I believe in you!
You can move left, or right, and your buttons are marked left and right. So the code for this should be trivial right? Uh... no. I mean, yes it's trivial by code standards, but no it's not just two if statements. You see, by giving the player two buttons (each of which incidentally is actually the size of half the screen, despite being rendered much smaller) I permit four states: Nuthin, left, right, and both. Surprisingly, both happens a lot. Different games deal with this in different ways, and when I'm feeling lazy I often just add the two inputs together, so that left is -1, right is 1, and therefore both is 1 - 1 = 0. Since I wanted 1000 Stars to be extremely responsive, this wasn't an acceptable solution. It would mean that if you pressed left slightly before releasing right, you'd be effectively not pressing anything until your right thumb made it off the screen. It's clear that this isn't your intention, so the game shouldn't treat it as such. A common approach here is to store the most recent input and use only that, in which case this works fine. But then what happens if you tap the left button while holding the right? The character would start to move left, but then stop and fall to its death, even though you were holding the right hand button. My solution is something I'm calling a Player Intention Stack. Each time I receive a new input I chuck it on the top of the stack, and each time an input ends I throw it away. The game then performs only the topmost input, thereby instantly handling new inputs but also safely falling back to old ones. It's subtle, but I think it helps.
About Hello Rainbow
"Hello Rainbow" was supposed to be the name of this game, but due to some Douglas Adams grade bureaucratic up-muckery it is now impossible for any mobile game to be named Hello Rainbow, and I had to come up with a new title. Adam Saltsman (from Finji) suggested "1000 Stars", which I instantly dismissed and then sheepishly returned to with a few extra words tacked on. After reading a Touch Arcade piece describing this game with no name, wherein they didn't notice the almost impossibly high 1000 star goal that is the whole point of this game, I figured I should push that aspect right out in front. Oh, and "Hello Rainbow" was going to be the name because it has a nice ring to it and hints subtly at Rainbow Islands. The less subtle part was the subtitle: The Story of Cumulo Nimblers 2, a reference to Rainbow Islands: The Story of Bubble Bobble 2. It's a shame to lose that, but hey at least now it's written here.
About Time I Shared Some More Tips
It is rather, isn't it? Here are my top tips:
- Ignore the stars, at least after the first 5. You'll bounce into plenty of stars by accident, so really you should just focus on not falling down. If you fall you get no more stars. Don't fall.
- Get high and stay high. High on the screen, that is. I haven't tried this game stoned, but if you do feel free to let me know how it goes.
- Sit upright. I suspect the motion prediction parts of our brains work better when simulated gravity aligns with perceived gravity.
- Inhale deeply, and exhale deeply, before you start. And maybe again every 10 stars if you like that kind of thing.
- Try playing at different times of the day, and in different settings. Early evening seems to work well for me.
- Play daily.
Reborn in 2014, Finji was originally founded by Adam and Rebekah Saltsman in 2006. Our mission is to make new games and create new opportunities. Finji's internal development teams build original games for mobile, desktop and console, in addition to 'publishing' games by other independent developers. We are based in Grand Rapids, Michigan, but collaborate with talented individuals from all over the place. We are passionate game makers who sometimes work odd hours, but we practice inclusive team policies that support good quality of life (no crunch), and provide significant revenue shares for all team members.
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Journey of 1000 Stars Credits
Code + Design
Original Visual Design and Pixel Art