Most of you probably know me as a board game designer. But I actually got my start making small Flash games. Back then I basically did it all: design, programming, and even art, for better or worse.
With Adobe ending support of Flash at the end of this year, I decided it was time to take a moment to look back on this stage of my life and the games I created during it. I hope some of you will play or replay those games one more time before they’re lost from this world, likely forever.
Play Arachnophilia (mouse or touch screen strongly recommended).
The first game I released was Arachnophilia, a spider web simulation game. I came up with the idea one night when I was putting off applying for grad school. I took some notes, started getting excited, then put it aside, promising myself I wouldn’t actually develop the game until I got my applications in.
The trick worked! I was motivated to get my applications in, then immediately started working on the game.
The inspiration for the game came from the idea that it would be fun to create a web structure using simple physics. It seemed like a theme that hadn’t been explored before but that most people would be able to intuitively grasp and enjoy. I’ve always been inspired by themes from nature, and this fit that pattern perfectly.
Additionally, fresh out of undergrad and getting ready for grad school, I was excited to build a game around the graph data structure, still one of my favorites.
I built Arachnophilia in an amazingly fast six months. Looking back, I have no idea how I did it. In addition to working a part time job and doing research in a lab at Berkeley, I spent all my free time working on this game. During development I also took my first solo backpacking trip (which was a colossal failure) and had to rush the game out before a couple of friends and I took off for a road trip to Alaska. I can barely even recognize the person who did all that now.
When I started building Arachnophilia, I really didn’t know what I was doing. I’d made some small games before, especially on my calculator in high school, but I’d never released a game and was tackling a lot of challenges for the first time. But I didn’t let that stop me. I just plowed forward without worrying about it and somehow every major obstacle was overcome.
I built Arachnophilia from the geometry up. It’s something few would do, but it seemed like the natural thing to do. I started with points, defined lines, circles, etc. It was probably a lot more work than using an existing framework, but it meant I knew the code inside and out. Given that the game is unlike any other, I’m not sure how easily any framework would have fit it anyway.
So how do you even play the game? Arachnopilia is a spider web simulator. You’re a little spider. If you click on the web or a nearby branch, you’ll run there. If you drag your mouse, you’ll run to the first point you clicked, then hop to the second, adding another strand to your web as you go.
Meanwhile, insects will fly at your web. If one hits your web, it will get stuck, but it will also weaken that part of the web. If enough weaken your web, it will break and all the contained insects will fly free.
Building your web takes webbing, and your spider’s health meter is always going down. But if you click on a bug you caught, your spider will run over to it and eat it, recharging webbing and health.
You lose if your health goes down to zero. If your web breaks too much, you won’t be able to catch food, so you won’t be able to eat. You’ll have to slowly wait as your spider starves to death. (I always loved that little morbid feature of the game.)
As the game progresses, you’ll encounter new insects. They start simple, with flies, but you’ll soon encounter bees (which do more damage to your web and hurt you when you eat them), fireflies (which attract a barrage of moths to your web when they get stuck), and dragonflies (which supercharge your spider when you eat them). The final boss is a bat which is extremely difficult to catch.
I tried to make it so you’d eventually lose the game no matter what, kind of like Tetris infinitely speeding up. It turns out I didn’t make the difficulty ramp steep enough, though, and some players figured out how to make webs that were so efficient that you could never lose.
I was really happy with how Arachnophilia turned out, and I think many other people were too. The game never won any awards or anything, but many, many people played it, and some seemed to love it. It was pretty rewarding seeing people play enough to figure out how to exploit flaws in the game system that even I didn’t know were there.
For years I checked the Kongregate page for the game every day to see how many total plays it had. Every day it would creep up a little higher, and one day it hit that magic one million plays (it’s currently at 1,191,156). That’s more than I ever could have imagined… when I decided to dedicate a lot of my time to making the game, my hope was that the play time of all players combined would equal the time I put into it. I think that in the end that was surpassed by multiple orders of magnitude.
While I think Corporate America and Birds of a Feather were ultimately better games, Arachnophilia was my proudest accomplishment for many years. Looking back on it today I still think I did a great job and I don’t think I’d change much if I were to do it again today. (Except I’d make the animals in the game based on actual species instead of stereotypes.)
It saddens me to know that Arachnophilia isn’t long for this world, but I suppose all things must pass. I hope you play it one last time, and enjoy it like you’re experiencing it with fresh eyes.