The Needles

The Needles: Beakiez: Casual Gets Hardcore

Andy Chalk | 4 May 2010 21:00
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The schism between casual and hardcore gamers is fun to watch. The hardcore crowd takes every opportunity to proclaim loudly and long that it's above the concerns of the casual rabble, while the casuals pretend that they don't even notice and continue to insist that they're not actually gamers at all. Both sides seem intent upon maintaining those distinctions, yet the lines are becoming increasingly blurred in the games themselves. What really sets Diablo apart from Fate? Is a man who sinks the equivalent of 90 uninterrupted days into "beating" Bejeweled not worthy of our respect? And what happens when a "bubble pop" game featuring cute little birdies forces players to let those birdies suffer a horrible death while they duke it out for the top spot and bragging rights against gamers all over the world?

What happens is Beakiez, a new game being developed by a far-flung team calling itself opGames. On the surface, it looks like a fairly conventional casual game, a kid-friendly endeavor in which a cartoon lizard pops brightly-colored bubbles in order to free the helpless beakiez trapped inside. Scratch the surface, though, and you'll find something a wee bit darker underneath.

"I pushed to make it so that when the little baby beakiez run out of air in the bubbles, they croak and their stiff bodies lay still in the bubble until you pop it, which then yields a puff of feathers," explained Dave Taylor, the game's producer. That's right, those darling wee beakiez are trapped without oxygen, and if you don't get to them in time - a very short amount of time, in some cases - they die. They don't just fall over, or go to sleep, or disappear, they die.

How did such an upbeat, primary-colored game end up with that kind of grim streak? Before he became involved with Beakiez, the aforementioned Mr. Taylor, in case the name didn't ring any bells, made his bones as one of the programmers on the original Doom games and the producer of the mid-90s side-scroller Abuse. And while you won't find any shotguns or undead space marines in this project, his sensibilities nonetheless shine through.

"Beakiez was already adorable when I came on board last year," he said. "I am definitely into dark, violent games, but I find these days I also enjoy designing funny and twisted games. I pushed on the team to make it so that when Mealie eats the fruit, he gets gas, and then he farts more bubbles."

Did I mention that part? All these popping bubbles are actually fart bubbles. Lizard fart bubbles, to be precise. That may or may not be cute, depending on how you feel about that sort of thing, but it is the lynchpin for the mechanic that makes the game so interesting: Mealie - that's the lizard - has to eat to get through the game, but time spent eating is also time spent letting beakiez die.

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