I had this conversation with a game developer this year: about mobile games and how long you have to ensnare players, before they turn off the app and abandon your video game forever.
Here's the gist: developers knew that time period was short. Now they were in the process of discovering it was even shorter than they could possibly imagine. Let's put it another way: that time is measured in seconds. Most believe they have 30 seconds. Tops.
Want a regular old tutorial in your game? You're having a laugh.
Want a cut-scene that sets up your grand narrative for a game about slinging ping pong balls at barnyard animals? Not gonna happen.
Your game better be interesting immediately or it's back to birds being angry, crossing roads or flapping.
Thankfully the developers of Slide the Shakes got the memo.
Arguably they wrote the memo. Slide the Shakes is the second iOS game from Australian team Prettygreat, a studio made up of Halfbrick alumni. Among them: Luke Muscat, the creator of Fruit Ninja and Jetpack Joyride, games Australia's biggest studio are dining on to this day. If anyone knows how to get you playing an iOS game in seconds it's this guy.
And Slide the Shakes is a masterclass in how that ought to be done. Slide the Shakes is a game that goes from zero to fun in five seconds.
No tutorial. Just a level. A simple level. A simple instruction: 'pull back from anywhere and release'.
Slide the Shakes is a game about sliding milkshakes from one position to another pre-designated position. It's about as accessible as any game could hope to be. You slide back, release and a milkshake will slide across a table. If you slide too gently, you miss. If you slide too hard you also miss. Slide just right? You pass the level. Think Desert Golfing, think Paper Toss.
Think Fruit Ninja, I guess.
Think a game that scales difficulty in a gentle manner but always feels challenging — in a way that requires your attention but never frustrates. That's what we're dealing with here: a well-pitched pick-up-and-play experience that represents what mobile gaming is about in 2016, but somehow isn't derivative. Given how flooded the mobile market is, that's actually quite the achievement.
I'm really loving it, for a bunch of different reasons, but one thing about Slide the Shakes really stands out and that's its approach to feedback.
Slide the Shakes is a game about sliding stuff. It's a video game about charging up a slide and then releasing. So far I've counted four completely different ways Slide the Shakes provides feedback to to the player in terms of how fast or slow the player is going to 'slide' the shake whilst he charges. There's a noise, which rat-tat-tat-tats up in tone like a tonal ratchet. There's a colour change — as you slide a bar changes from blue to green to yellow to orange to red to purple. Inside that bar: a series of arrows that go faster and faster and faster as you charge.
Finally, a subtle one: the camera zooms out in response to your charge.
That's four different ways Slide the Shakes communicates with the player, four different ways it rewards the player for interacting with it. It makes Slide the Shakes this engaging, tactile, polished experience. It's the mark of someone who understands how touch screens work, who understands the two way conversation a game has with its player. Slide the Shakes is a game that understands how to make players feel like this one single action they are making, this 'pull back from anywhere and release' motion, is meaningful.
There are a host of other reasons why Slide the Shakes is special. The funky soundtrack, the subtle changes in physics as players upgrade throughout the levels. The clean jazz aesthetic. It's a remarkably polished game.
But most importantly it's fun. In roughly five seconds.