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The joys of living in a Bubble (Bobble)

Why I Love: Infinite State Games' Mike Daw shares how the Taito arcade classic inspired his own career in score attack games

Why I Love is a series of guest editorials on GamesIndustry.biz intended to showcase the ways in which game developers appreciate each other's work. This entry was contributed by Mike Daw, one half of Infinite State Games. The other half, Charlie Scott-Skinner, will have his own Why I Love column in two weeks.

Hey, I'm Mike Daw, better known as the other guy in Infinite State Games. Me and Charlie at ISG have just released a game called Rogue Aces on PS4, PS Vita and Nintendo Switch. It's an aerial combat rogue-lite, with procedurally generated landscapes and missions. Also it's got a massive heavy metal soundtrack by my mate Kevvy Metal. It's a whole barrel of fun and in the great ISG tradition of the craft we like to hone; it's an arcade score attack game at its heart.

Cover image for YouTube video

We find ourselves making games with a score attack mechanics because we both love classic arcade games. There's a pool of classic arcade games that have stood the test of time for me, and by that I mean I have just as much fun when I'm playing them now as I did back in the day. Rainbow Islands, New Zealand Story, Pac Land, Sky Kid... but sat at the top of this whimsical arcadey pile will always be Bubble Bobble. If you're unaware of Bubble Bobble, it's a single-screen platform game where you play as a cute dragon who traps enemies in bubbles you've shot out of your gob. When they're trapped in a bubble you can pop it to kill them. Kill all the enemies on the screen and you move on to the next level.

The enemies are a super varied gaggle of adorable rotters and I think they're all awesome. There's some dude throwing beer bottles about, a ghost called Stoner and couple are from Taito games past like Chack 'N Pop, and even Space Invaders. I've always loved that feeling of anxiety I get when the dreaded floating white Baron Von Blubba appears to bump off players who take too long to finish a screen.

A shot from the 2016 Arcade Archives release of the game on the PlayStation 4

It's been out on pretty much everything since its arcade release in 1986, (and by golly a Steam release with online multiplayer would totally destroy) but it was in the arcades in Weston-super-Mare that I first saw it. Bubble Bobble was the cutest, most perfect game I'd ever played. The art was on point, not a pixel or colour wasted. I loved the idea of being able to pop one baddy at a time, or get a load bunched together to be popped at once for a massive score in exchange for a little risk of death. Also, whenever an enemy pops, fruit comes out.

" I get my hardest kicks through collecting brightly coloured videogame fruits. Especially if they give you points"

Now here's where I perk up even more, because I'll tell you what, I flippin' love videogame fruits. I love the colours, I love the look, I love collecting them. Proper hunter-gatherer, reptile centre of the brain, hard-wired genetic compulsion stuff right there. Some folk like to scratch their genetic instincts by shootin' up dudes, some like to play in a virtual band… me? I get my hardest kicks through collecting brightly coloured videogame fruits. Especially if they give you points.

The more you played Bubble Bobble-even on friends' Spectrums, Amigas, NESes-the more little secrets and quirks would start to appear, revealing onion skin layers of gameplay depth and potential. You start to notice where power-ups appear, learn the tricks to maximise bonuses and perfect the little mechanics, which makes the game the classic it is today. It's even got its own cryptic hieroglyph language in secret rooms which reveal how to get to the true ending: working together with a friend. It's a game that literally extols the magical virtue of friendship through cooperation.

You can't discuss Bubble Bobble without mentioning the music. It's awful. But for me, it's god-tier iconic. The main loop (only 44 seconds long) plays constantly throughout gameplay-saccharine sweet and the wrong side of shrill. Enduring that loop however, is completely necessary to the complete enjoyment of Bubble Bobble. Don't turn it down, that's like taking gherkins out of the burger. Wade through the creeping disdain, past the grueling repetition and you'll reach a place where the music no longer exists, but it is everything. That's when you're deep in the Bubble Bobble trance.

In Bubble Bobble, the late designer Fukio Mitsuji created a timeless presentation style which not only became iconic to Taito, but also the entire arcade aesthetic at the time and it still stands strong today. It offers a solid single player arcade platformer packed with depth and fruit, packaged with a cooperative mode with a universal message of love. All pretty cosmic, absolutely seminal stuff, that's why I love Bubble Bobble.

Upcoming Why I Love columns:

  • Tuesday, July 3 - Infinite State Games' Charlie Scott-Skinner on Monster Hunter
  • Tuesday, July 17 - The Trailer Farm's Dan Porter on Uncharted 4: A Thief's End
  • Tuesday, July 31 - The Trailer Farm's Tony Porter on Halo:Combat Evolved
  • Tuesday, August 14 - 3rd Eye Studios' Gregory Louden on The Darkness

Developers interested in contributing their own Why I Love column are encouraged to reach out to us at news@gamesindustry.biz.

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Mike Daw