The 2014 game Lumino City was a David vs Goliath coup of the video game world. The first game by a four-person studio called State of Play Games, it turned a real, 10-foot architectural model into a whimsical, interactive world. It went on to claim the 2015 BAFTA for artistic achievement—beating out game development studios 100x its size.
Developing Lumino City "was always on the edge of what we understood," says co-founder and creative director Luke Whittaker. "That’s how we work best, at the edges." But it was also a technical "drudgery."
And so for one day a week, the studio began working on another game. Whittaker would take his iPad to his couch or a coffee shop, and began mixing color splatters and sketching levels for what would become a game called Inks.
Inks is what pinball would look like if you replaced all the lights with exploding bags of watercolors. That sounds odd, but these paints are meticulously rendered: they stain the board, mixing with one another, moved by real, splashing physics. Hit a target gently, and the explosion is small. Hit it hard, and the splash is Gallagher-esque. Meanwhile, your ball tracks through the pigment, trailing streaks of colors in its wake.
When you finish a level, you don’t just finish a level—you get a personalized thumbprint of how you played it. "You get a story of your game," Whittaker says.
That’s not an entirely new idea. Games like Super Meat Boy are defined as much by the joy of beating a level as they are getting a little prize for it: a montage of all the times your bloodied protagonist died in the process. In Inks, this portrait of your play is a lot less gruesome. And it can be shared as a snapshot for social media, or even printed out, to become a piece of custom artwork for your wall.
"You’re trying to make a connection with people when you’re making these games," Whittaker says. "With Lumino City we were trying to make something so real and personal you were there and cared for it all. Inks is an extension of that, saying, ‘Look, you can play with this and make it yours to an extent.’"
Inks is both beautiful and fun, but it's a less ambitious game than Lumino City by design. Even still, the lesson the studio learned in building it—just how satisfying it could be when a game truly customizes a world around a player's actions—will be critical to the next big release coming from State of Play Games.
"The next project we’re working on—which I can’t say too much about yet partly because we only halfway know what it is—there will be far more room for people’s freedom," Whittaker continues. "With interactivity you can give people just enough to start a narrative. [The question becomes] what can they do in that space to make it unique to them, but still have a dramatic pull to it."
Inks is available in the App Store today for $2.