The iPad was originally launched as a ‘consumer’ device – as in a device for consuming, rather than creating, content. Yet over the past couple of years, more and more creative applications have made their way onto iOS, from professional level painting apps like ProCreate, up to coding platforms like Codea.
But what if you wanted to try your hand at creating games on the iPad, but without the need to write reams of programming code? That is where Pixel Press comes in.
Pixel Press launched on Kickstarter a year ago with a simple dream – let users draw their own game levels, then using the camera and some sophisticated algorithms, turn that drawing into a playable game.
Pixel Press surpassed their Kickstarter goal, and so set about developing their early proof of concept into a marketable app. Along the way they had to streamline their ideas somewhat, focusing on side-scrolling platformers, and reflecting that by renaming their app Pixel Press: Floors. Their other ideas for top down adventuring and driving games will eventually be released as separate apps.
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So how does it work? On the Pixel Press site you can download a design guide (http://projectpixelpress.com/
The design paper consists of a faint grid, and you simply draw out your level using the gridded paper, adding Pixel Press’s predefined symbols to create gameplay elements – for example, a + in an empty square will be a collectable coin, a cross-hatched line will become a pit of lava, crosses in boxes can be placed vertically or horizontally to become ladders or monkey bars. These are all explained in the design guide, along with information about jump distances and other information about how the game will play.
So how does it work in reality? Well, as you might expect, it’s not perfect, but it is still really impressive. Firstly, you need to be very accurate in your drawing. If you draw freehand and your line strays into an adjacent box, the app may misinterpret your design. Pixel Press recommend using a ruler and a sharp pencil which may be where I was going wrong. To scan the image into the app, select ‘create from paper’ and position the app so that the markers at the sides line up with the ones on screen, and the app will automatically import it – my son really struggled with this, and I couldn’t quite put my finger on why it would sometimes work straight away, and sometimes not – but it always did in the end. Once imported, it takes a minute or so as the app initially checks for lines, and anything you’ve drawn inside the boxes, and then interprets it all into an actual level.
Chances are there will be things interpreted incorrectly, but you can use the in-app editor to correct them. Scanning from paper itself is only supported on the iPad 3 and newer, and the iPad Mini retina. If you use the app on an iPad 2 or original mini, you will only be able to use the in-app design mode. This works really well as it actually replicates drawing on the gridded paper but without worrying about your lines straying outside the grid.
Once you level is imported, you can try it out there and then. You can also apply a theme (two are available at the moment) to apply different styles to your level. Once you are happy with it, you can upload it to the Arcade where other Floors owners can download and play it. The game will also create a leaderboard, with points awarded for reaching level 3, collecting everything, not dying, etc. What this means, is that even if you don’t intend to design levels, there are loads of levels available form other Floors creators around the world, for you to try, and also gain inspiration from for your next design.
One last thing, as you can design levels within the app, some may say “why bother with the paper at all then?” But they would be missing the point. The magic of this app is to be able to sit and draw your planned levels out on paper, then to actually play them on your iPad. I have sat watching my son designing his own Mario level for years, and the rise of creative games like Minecraft have proved there is a real appetite for gamers being able to create their own worlds and play in them. The added bonus for this, especially for parents that worry about the amount of time their kids spend on their electronic devices, is that the all the creation takes place away from the screen.
Pixel Press Floors is an impressive first app in a prospective series, and the developers already have ambitious plans to use the app in education, and to expand into other game types. I’m looking forward to see both how Floors expands, and to see what they come up with next.
Reviewed on iPad
Incidentally people, if you want to play my (admittedly simple) TGR level pictured above, click this link from your iPad with the app already installed…