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Finding Inspiration: Flea Markets, Hospitals, Airports, Reality TV and the Making of Frantic Ball
Published 3 years ago
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Inspiration is a funny thing.
Sometimes an idea for a game has been following you around for your entire life, just screaming at you, waiting to be made.  Every time you turn around, there it is.  Like a hungry cat.  Or that guy from accounting at work.  Inspiration can be funny that way.
For me, it started at flea market.  I was probably 7 years old and had a pocket full of change, looking for that rare, perfect find.  It turned out to be a small bag of marbles and a little plastic marble track.  It was really simple - four zigzagging rails that the marble would roll down.  When it reached the bottom, it would land in a little cup attached to lever.   Press the lever to bring the cup to the top of the track and repeat.  And repeat I did.  Over and over.  I don’t know how much time I spent doing this.  It was the 70’s and I didn’t have an Atari yet.  Don’t judge.
It was the start of an obsession, but it would take a backseat in the coming years to things like the aforementioned Atari and, eventually, girls.  But really it was the video games. Since then, these marble tracks would wind up sneaking up on me.  The first time was on my return trip to Philadelphia after a flight from California.  There I am, waiting for the baggage carousel to start, wanting nothing more than to get my suitcase and go home when I see this huge display.
It is a kinetic sculpture with balls rolling along different tracks. If you’ve never seen one of these things I can only tell you that they are mesmerizing.  I stood there, watching with a few other willingly distracted travelers as these balls would roll down their little paths, reach the bottom, get on a little elevator and then start the process all over again.  Of course then my luggage had to arrive and ruin everything otherwise I could have just stayed there for days.  Now, I look forward to coming back to that airport.
Then, a few years ago, a terrible situation had my niece staying at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia for a few months.  There is absolutely nothing fun about going to a hospital full of sick kids.  But, in the lobby, they have one of these ball tracks.  It’s huge.  It’s amazing.  And, when you are going through all of the emotions of a situation like that, just standing there, getting lost in those balls rolling around is meditative.  You can get lost in it, especially when you really just need to a way to clear your head and get away from it all.
Most recently, these balls would pop up on one my favorite guilty pleasures - Survivor.  It was the final immunity challenge of the season and the contestants had to keep balls alive on one of these tracks for as long as possible.  It might be my favorite challenge in the history of the show.  It looked intense.  It looked, well, challenging. And it looked fun.  I found myself going back to it my head over the following days.  Then it hit me.
This would make an awesome game!  Of course it would.  I didn’t know how I would make it at the time, but I knew that I would.  This had been itching at me to be made for decades and now it is finally here.  Or at least it will be very soon.
Frantic Ball is the culmination of my years of fascination, obsession, and childish wonder.  I hope that, when you do play it, you will experience all of those things as I have.
Inspiration.  It really is a funny thing.
Alan Thomas
Game Developer, FishPotato Games - Owner
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