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Games Of May 2013: Ballpoint Universe

The hand-drawn beauty of this doodle-obsessed game often proves to be skin-deep.

By John Teti • June 26, 2013

Sam Nelson and I wrap up the Digest week with Ballpoint Universe, a game with a great aesthetic concept that proves to be a letdown in practice. I got the sense while playing Ballpoint that it was constructed by starting with the “everything is a doodle” concept and working from there. That’s a creative process that could work, but in this case it leaves us with a game that struggles to justify its signature style.

Our snack for today is an ice cream version of Twix. In other words, a remake. It’s not just Hollywood—even the frozen confection industry is running out of ideas.

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40 Responses to “Games Of May 2013: Ballpoint Universe

  1. Marozeph says:

    Never had ice cream Twix, but ice cream Mars is delicious (fun fact: in most european countries, Twix was originally called Raider).

    • Flying_Turtle says:

      I’ve only had the ice cream Snickers bar (I don’t get out much, I guess), and it really is great. I prefer those to regular Snickers bars.

      As for the game, I was kind of expecting what I think Samantha was, that you might have the chance to doodle your way through the platforming levels, which could be fun and would obviously fit the game’s aesthetic. I have slightly less artistic ability than a cantaloupe, so the level of detail in those doodles was really impressive to me.

      Oh, and owls are jerks. There, I said it.

      • Girard says:

        Growing up, my mom advocated the practice of freezing regular ol’ Snickers bars before eating. Which resulted in a delicious, but jaw-breaking candy experience. Despite not having much of a sweet tooth, she still keeps a bag of bite-size Snickers in the freezer which she’ll dip into from time to time.

        • neodocT says:

           My parents did that too! Hell, I still do that!

        • Aurora Boreanaz says:

          Ice cream Snickers are the best, but I’ll pass on the frozen ones.  At some point during childhood, I was also instructed to freeze Charleston Chew bars…talk about jaw-breaking!

        • Andy Tuttle says:

          When I worked at a movie theatre we would be mindful of putting a few of our candies in the freezer and then ask people if they wanted their reese’s pieces, or whatever, room temperature or frozen.

        • KHalleron says:

          My mom worked for a time at a Dolly Madison outlet, so she got to bring the stale stuff home for free and we’d freeze it.

          Dolly Madison cupcakes are SO much better frozen.  Mmmmm, frozen Zingers.

    • ProfFarnsworth says:

      The Twix ice cream is TERRIBLE.  Those cookies taste awful and also are very, very hard.  At least the times I felt like having one.  Also, this game looks amazing, but looking at the gameplay gives me the impression that it was more for looks that for playing.  I like that idea about designing your way out of a problem.  That would be a neat tangent for this game.

      • Marozeph says:

        It’s always dissapointing when a game has an intriguing hook, but no good idea what to do with it.
        I’m all for creative visual design (the last thing we need is another grey-brown 3D world) but i can’t really get exited for a game that just hides the old jump/shoot mechanics under its beautiful coat.

  2. Electric Dragon says:

    John, you are a doodler after my own heart. In particularly boring meetings, my notes often end up littered with geometric figures: squares, triangles, cubes and even the odd tesseract.

    • PaganPoet says:

      In staff meetings, I always try to emulate M/M Paris’s designs for Bjork’s Vespertine. It’s a hard balance to get. It definitely looks doodly, but at the same time, it’s very complex and well thought out. Google the single cover for Bjork’s “Hidden Place” to see what I mean.

    • Girard says:

      I tend to either draw:
      -Some person I’m looking at in the class/meeting, which means I have to be discrete about that page for ever, lest the person see and become very self-conscious.
      -Various human limbs not connected to anything.
      -Loopy-doopy Yellow-Submarine-style creatures, landscapes, and patterns crawling along the page margins.

    • Jackbert says:

      I draw stick figures brutally murdering each other with clashing combinations of medieval and futuristic weaponry, or hirsute and heavily scarred faces.

    • HobbesMkii says:

      I feel like my doodles are constantly runic, but they’re all based on geometric shapes. Like, I’ll draw a triangle, and then suddenly I’ll have four triangles arranged on the page and then someone will say “Hey, that looks like a swastika” and I realize it DOES look like a swastika and I cross it out before anyone else at the staff meeting can see.

    • neodocT says:

       I had a meeting on Monday that resulted in

      – various geomatric shapes
      – a chess board
      – a volcano
      -scattered stars
      – attempts to write with my left hand
      – a DNA strand
      – attempts to write “Bismillah” in Arabic because I’ve been reading Habibi.

      Basically, it was a long, long, boring meeting.

      • Spacemonkey Mafia says:

        Completely tangentially, Habibi is fucking amazing.  And gorgeous.  So gorgeous.

        • neodocT says:

           I really liked Blankets, so decided to give Habibi a shot. It is indeed gorgeous. I only read the first chapter so far, but I’m liking it.

    • Fluka says:

      Perhaps due to high school and college experience full of taking copious in-class notes, I’m normally not much of a doodler, beyond geometric patterns and rococo tangles of spirals.  However, I once had a week-long professional summer school class which was *aggressively* boring – like, the speaker was a blowhard German guy who started the lecture by saying “This will only be relevant if you’re working in [subfield which is not mine], and if you don’t like it, I don’t care.”  I filled an entire page of my notebook with an elaborate miniaturized fantasy landscape.  There were deep ancient forests, and a snowy mountain range full of ruined castles.  To the east, there were Slavic planes, with onion dome cathedrals and tiny walled towns.  To the west, the land gave way to a vast ocean, traversed by galleons and sea monsters.  I would have loved to have played a game set in that doodle.

      Then I made myself a flipbook of a kitten.

      Then I began actively willing my brain to shut down.

      That class sucked.

      • TheKingandIRobot says:

         So is a Slavic plane like a Yak-9 or a Cessna with a drinking problem and a general sense of sadness?

        • Fluka says:

          Cessna with a fantastic beard, and strong spiritual and psychological themes.

          Also, this is why I shouldn’t type before 10 in the morning.  *Typo of shame left unedited.*

        • Electric Dragon says:

          Made me think of the plane of existence sense. As in, an entire reality of snowy wastes, Brutalist architecture and vodka drinking peasants.

        • TheKingandIRobot says:

           Silly dragon, vodka cannot drink peasants.  Well, I guess it can metaphorically.

    • Spacemonkey Mafia says:

      The most esteemed and truly awesome cartoonist, Lynda Barry has recently taken a post as an assistant professor of interdisciplinary creativity at U of M Madison.  Her classes emphasize showing non-creative profession people how to get in touch with their creative sides, and one of her primary methods of doing so is through doodling.
         Here’s a pretty great interview with her on Talk of the Nation, assuming you can get past the droning pedants who tend to call in to that show.
         But the crux is that everyone doodles.  It is a proven method for focusing the mind, and therefore it should be a completely acceptable meeting or class activity. 
         But what is especially interesting to Barry is that since doodling is never intended for display, the creator is under no pressure to make it look good or presentable in any classic sense.  While we all draw when young, most of us stop doing so as we get older and an expectation of mastery is imposed on what we do.  It has to become a skill, not just an expression.  Which is kinda’ unique to the visual arts, ‘cuz I was a shitty singer as a kid and I’m a shitty singer now, but I still do it.
         But doodling, being a form of spontaneous drawing, allows people to un-self-consciously tap into a part of them that’s otherwise ignored.
         So doodle with impunity.  It is a pure and democratic form of image making and it is awesome.


       I like to draw:

      -Buttstronaut, an astronaut that flies through space by farting.
      -A puppy bucket- it’s just a bucket with a basset hound in it.
      -White sheet style ghosts.

    • bradwestness says:

      Geometric shapes are the only way to avoid people asking you what you’re drawing. Oh, a bunch of cubes and arrows and shit? Nice. Drawing characters or people or whatever tends to draw undue attention to the fact that you’re not paying attention.

  3. Girard says:

    It sounds like, considering the dichotomy present in this particular game, Teti’s geometric high school doodles fell squarely on the side of the evil “Logicians” while Samantha’s fell squarely on the side of whimsy…

  4. CNightwing says:

    Here’s a fun little game I found recently. It is reminiscent of Candy Box, only with less candy..

    • neodocT says:

       No! It took me days to get away from Candy Box! Away with you and your evil playthings!

  5. Captain Internet says:

    ‘Logicians’ indeed. 

    I’d love to see logic and discipline anthropomorph’d into something positive for once- perhaps as a kindly rabbit who helps a young Salvador Dali achieve his dream of becoming an artist through hard work and sensible budgeting.

    • Spacemonkey Mafia says:

      As one with a creative mind to the exclusion of all else and severely handicapped in a lot of functional, real-life ways because of it, I honestly agree.
         The myth of the eccentric creator who can’t be burdened with such mundane activities as paying bills or remembering other people’s birthdays is greatly overrated.

      • George_Liquor says:

        As one with a deeply clinical mind and the imagination of a turnip, I say have you remembered to defragment your computer’s hard drive within the last six months? 

        • Spacemonkey Mafia says:

          I have not!  Thanks for the reminder.  Have you remembered to make a collage about your sense of identity and the fragility of memory in the last six months?

        • George_Liquor says:

          @Spacemonkey_Mafia:disqus Would you accept a Visio diagram?

    • Enkidum says:

      Yeah. I’d also really, really love to see the converse. Where someone who just has faith that this is going to work out, “I know it sounds crazy, but you have to believe”, etc etc etc… and it all falls to pieces horribly for them.

  6. Andy Tuttle says:

    One of my favorite things to doodle on in high school were these elaborate, “Where’s Waldo?” style mega images on the class dividers in my folder. I would start off with one image, like a duck or something, and then just create these really over the top scenes. I think most of them took place on a city street, and each time I tried to out crazy the last scene I drew. I wonder if I still have those lying around.

  7. DrZaloski says:

    Well, if it was my doodles, it would just be happy smiling bats wanting hugs and cynical, grumpy cats with unibrows lazily sitting on their asses.

    And yes, my mommy did tell me I was special. 

  8. dreadguacamole says:

    This kind of reminds me of an indie game I got recently as part of a bundle. It’s called Chester, and it’s… kind of a mediocre platformer, really -way too clunky for its own good- but it’s got so much love poured into it that it’s kind of charming. All levels have tons of different styles to them which you can switch on the fly, the default being a very similar doodle aesthetic to this (colored, and less polished); I managed to unlock a cubist style and a basic sketch one as well before I grew bored with the game.

    • dreadguacamole says:

       By the way, I got it here:

       It’s worth having a look, they do pretty damn good bundles. The latest one has most of the Deadly Rooms of Death games, which are both thoroughly evil and completely brilliant.