BEHIND THE SCENES
A handmade tale
Turning physical craft into digital play.
Indie developer State Of Play delights in turning its real-world craftsmanship into brilliant virtual playthings.
Prototyping a new game begins not with lines of code, but by grabbing the cardboard, glue and scalpel. It's in studio head Luke Whittaker’s blood; he credits his silversmith father as being a huge influence. “I grew up with my dad always building things with his hands,” he tells us. “He passed on that passion and it’s something I’ve always wanted to keep alive at State Of Play.”
For puzzle-adventure games Lume and Lumino City, the studio built the game’s environments entirely by hand. “When we needed intricate detail we’d use laser cutters,” says Whittaker. “We also wired up each building with miniature lights and motors to make them move.”
The team then borrowed a terrifyingly expensive motion-controlled camera to film the models and turn them into digital assets. The result was stunning, and set the tone for what came next.
INKS, an artful fusion of pinball and paintball, required State Of Play to get the ball physics and ink effects just right. Naturally, they went to extreme lengths. “A friend owned a real pinball table so we filmed the flippers in super-slow motion as the ball reacted to them,” says Whittaker. “Using this information we could build a more detailed physics model which aped that behaviour.”
The ink effects were even more challenging. “Fluid simulations in real-time are complex,” says Whittaker. “After dropping real inks onto paper to watch how it flowed, Dan, our developer, spent a long time looking at the science behind how ink is absorbed in layers on real paper.”
Again, rather than rely on existing physics engines, State Of Play built its own; the result was beautiful, and helped INKS scoop an Apple Design Award in 2016.
Most recently for paper-folding puzzle game KAMI 2, Whittaker says his team essentially created ‘virtual paper’. “This involved starting with cardboard and a scalpel, scoring the triangular grid to make the folds. We then created a height map of the paper down to each fibre, using high resolution photographs lit from multiple angles.”
It’s this absolute dedication to recreating physical things in a digital space which makes State Of Play's games unique.
And the results the studio gets from this often painstaking creative process is absolutely worth it, insists Whittaker. “You make more of a connection between the player and the creator – it gives the work a unique aesthetic, unlike anything you can create purely digitally.”