Sphero Exile: Creating Sphero's First Arcade-Style App
30 Oct 2012
You can do more with Sphero than just drive. Simply pick Sphero up in your hand and it becomes a controller for advanced on-screen gameplay. With 360Ëš movement and unobstructed visual action, Sphero is the perfect controller for reinventing classic shoot ‘em up arcade-style games. This is the story of the making of Sphero Exile, from the original hack to what’s next.
Shoot ‘em ups have been a gaming hallmark since, well, the beginning of games. We’ve enjoyed the originals like Spacewar!, Galaxian, Space Invaders, Defender, and of course Asteroids. There have been incredible remakes, mash-ups, and triple-A titles all playing off their forefather’s traditions. With our favorites in mind, we took the opportunity to find a novel way of using Sphero to create an engaging game experience – all while keeping traditional play intact. This is why we created Sphero Exile for both Sphero and non-Sphero users.
Over a year ago, when I was hired for the game design position at Orbotix, I was instantly excited about trying out ideas for games that could be played with a robot. That doesn’t sound difficult, right? I jumped straight to Sphero’s gaming potential and wanted to build something people had never experienced before. It’s a lofty idea, but as you may have read in other Orbotix blog posts, we dream big first and figure it out later!
We wanted to make something familiar and new all at the same time, and a top-down space shooter was a cool fit for Sphero as a controller. Our director of software, Jon Carroll (the “Admiral”), had created a rough app during one of our hack Fridays called “Space Fighter”. The idea was to steer a ship using Sphero as the controller, shoot stuff, and even shake Sphero to set off a super-bomb that would destroy everything. While this was just the original idea, it became the core of the game.
Building off this initial hack, our team led by software engineer Brandon, created Exile for two platforms in about six months. The process included learning tech, designing, developing, art-ing, audio-ing, testing, and finally, releasing. That’s an incredible feat to accomplish in just six months!
The challenge with Exile was to successfully immerse players inside a mobile game. The first step was therefore to imagine a grand tale to help the game come alive. Even if the story isn’t the main focus, it provides a backdrop of complexity and purpose that greatly enhances the experience. A hero, born to protect his people, the Robot-Kind. As a consequence for rebelling against The Construct, he was banished to deep space and must journey home to save his people. To further enhance the experience, audio quality was important. Sound extraordinaire, Nathan Madsen, built the soundtrack to fit Exile’s storyline. The score is unusual in the mobile gaming space – it doesn’t sound like your typical techno-rave or retro 8-bit synth. We wanted players to get excited just by listening to this game.
The next big design step for Sphero Exile was the artwork. Because Sphero allows players to enjoy Exile without covering the screen with their fingertips, the art in Exile takes center stage. With our original hack app in mind, we kept the design simple so that the user could focus on their strategy without a complicated User Interface (UI). Our artist, Cassie, landed on a suped-up retro style with attention to detail in every individual ship and sector. This unique combination of elements allows for dynamic action gestures and engaging gameplay. Sphero even flashes colors as feedback for incidents such as damage taken or items collected, bringing the game to life in the palm of your hand.