To make a cool game, you first have to play other cool games

Piotr Migdał
Sep 26 · 5 min read

“To steal ideas from one person is plagiarism; to steal from many is research.” — stolen from a few sources

When our Quantum Game v2.0 team first got together to work on the game, we realized we were all quite different — a physicist, a designer, a writer, and a jeweler — getting ideas across and making them stick wasn’t the easiest thing in the world. To combat that issue, we had ourselves a day of research. No, not by digging through textbooks, journal articles or reviews. We powered up a projector and played some classic video games!

We spent a lot of time contemplating HyperRogue — a hyperbolic geometry masterpiece. Fun fact: a little minesweeper in the curved space is my idea.

Through the projector screen, we shared and discussed the games we loved and slowly got to the bottom of what it is that makes them great — their theme, gameplay, difficulty, humor, look, or story. And, together, we decided on the kind of game we wanted to make.

Every person had their own tastes. I already shared some of my beloved story-driven games in another post. When I was creating the original Quantum Game with Photons, I pulled ideas from quite a few key game inspirations. I will take you on a journey through the favorite games of my own childhood, and a few recent ones.

The main inspiration was The Incredible Machine, a game in which you’re tasked with constructing Goldberg machines (think of the booby-traps by Kevin in Home Alone). Most of the elements of the game were physical, even with properties like mass and buoyancy, but some were less physical (e.g., for the energy-amplifying trampoline) or exaggerated (in practice, it is hard to light a fire with a flashlight and a magnifying lens).

The venerable “The Incredible Machine”.

The next game on my list is Chromatron, a laser-based puzzle I first saw in 2003 during my internship at the Femtosecond Pulse Laboratory of the University of Warsaw (a high-school internship of The Polish Children’s Fund). In between setting up real lasers, we’d often play a game:

…a puzzle with lasers and grid-based drag-and-drop element placement. Does it right a bell? Chromatron is all about geometry and colors — reflecting beams and then filtering them. Most of the elements in this game were also physical, which is something we really want to stress in our game development — real physics, real elements, real fun. And another lesson I learned from Chromatron: there’s no need for top-notch graphics in a video game if it captures your interest with its puzzles.

Let’s fast-forward for more than a decade and look at a game I was hugely inspired by — Velocity Raptor, a game about special relativity. Sure, in real life velociraptors are long dead. And even in the times of their rein, (up to our current knowledge) they didn’t run in cloaks at speeds near the speed of light. But the rest of this marvelous game is quite physical — Lorentz contraction, time dilatation and relativistic Doppler shift. These concepts ground the whole game and create its world.

The author of Velocity Raptor, Andy Hall, has spent the last few years creating a whole bunch of games based on physics, such as Shocktopus, Bond Breaker, and Agent Higgs. If you want to dive headfirst into this genre, you can visit my extensive collaborative list of science-based games.

But there’s more! I am into interactive data explorations. I created a few (D3.js and Vue.js), about Reddit hierarchy, word2vec, cringy Google suggestions and machine learning classifiers. The next natural step for me was a fascination with the Explorable Explanations movement. In other words — interactive data visualizations can be used to explain (and explore) advanced topics, from social issues to the latest advances of deep learning.

However, some of my gameplay inspiration comes from an unlikely place: Doom, a classic first-person perspective shooter. I remember playing it in my father’s office when I was a child. I was mesmerized by its 3D graphics, interactivity, and secrets, but frightened by its gore (blasting demons into pieces using a rocket launcher).

I thought I had fallen in love with Doom because of its novel graphics and shock value, but I was wrong. When I played it as an adult, 25 years later (eons for computer games!), Doom was still a masterpiece of gameplay and level design. Riddled with secret passages and devoid of tutorial cutscenes to break the flow or immersion. Just action. If you want to learn about the history of this iconic game, I can wholeheartedly recommend a book by David Kusher — Masters of Doom: How Two Guys Created an Empire and Transformed Pop Culture. This book is as fast-paced and dynamic as the game itself.

Last but not least, I can credit another timeless inspiration from my childhood — LEGO blocks. Not a computer game, maybe not a game, but a type of play. These blocks allow you to construct anything. In my mind, Quantum Game is like a LEGO puzzle. This is also why the sandbox mode of the game isn’t an add-on, but a must.

So, how do these inspirations affect our work? Here is the original plan for Quantum Game v2.0:

You can learn about the Quantum Game v2.0 development team here and stay in touch with us through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Medium, where we will be sharing some other amazing pieces of inspiration and the ins-and-outs of our work.

But if you just want to play, join the announcement mailing list at new.quantumgame.io and then hop right into the oldie and goodie: Quantum Game with Photons!

Quantum Photons

We’re developing version 2.0 of the puzzle game that brings real quantum physics right to your browser — how hard could it be? This project is funded by the Centre for Quantum Technologies in Singapore (https://www.quantumlah.org).

Piotr Migdał

Written by

Data scientist with a PhD in quantum physics. Develops Quantum Game with Photons. Support me at https://github.com/sponsors/stared.

Quantum Photons

We’re developing version 2.0 of the puzzle game that brings real quantum physics right to your browser — how hard could it be? This project is funded by the Centre for Quantum Technologies in Singapore (https://www.quantumlah.org).

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