Free Game Friday: Frog Fractions creator talks about making surprising games
Frog Fractions has been getting a lot of press in the past week or so, with more than one reviewer throwing around phrases like the best game of all time. It’s also a game that’s much more enjoyable if you go in blind, and people who’ve experienced it are reticent to say anything about the game at all. As a result a lot of people start up what they expect to be the most revolutionary game in years to find…a Missile Command clone starring a frog? Yet the game's critical praise isn't an elaborate hoax; there's a lot more to Frog Fractions than meets the eye.
I conducted a short interview (via e-mail) with the game’s creator Jim Crawford where we discuss why Frog Fractions is an “educational” game and how some of the non-traditional steps he’s taking to monetize a game this odd (among other things). A word of warning, though: Give the game a try (and really try) before you read on, as we discuss some specific spoilers along with some more broad ideas that might ruin the experience of Frog Fractions for you.
Game On: Given all the disparate things that Frog Fractions becomes as you play it, why did you wrap it in the sort of old-school educational game trappings? It could have started as just about anything.
Crawford: Robert Yang wrote a great piece about, in part, how Frog Fractions is a satirical takedown of bad educational software, and I really wish that had been intentional, because it totally works as one. Death of the author and all that.
One major reason was the alliteration of “Frog Fractions.” It just rolls right off the tongue! But mostly it was that I wanted to add an additional fakeout to the beginning of the game, and educational games in particular were part of my youth and resonate with me.
I’m curious about if you planned to make the world feel consistent; despite constantly pulling the rug out from under the player, the world in your game feels like it just expands rather than transporting the player to some crazy and radically different universe each time.
Crawford: There’s some connective tissue running through the game, and I wish there were more, but obviously the dream-like progression is part of the appeal. Most of the connections I make later in the game are there to make the player grin rather than to make the storyline make sense.
One thing I regret not being able to reconcile is that, pacing-wise, taking off in a rocket ship isn’t nearly as exciting in the context of having just blasted into space bareback a few minutes prior. I’d initially conceived the underwater section of the game as being on Earth – which is one of the reasons the background is blue instead of Mars-colored – and that the rocket ship would take you to Mars. But the pile of fruit coming first, and the underwater cavern coming later, made for a much better build-up.
Do you feel like Frog Fractions is particularly a product of the indie game jam scene in some ways?
Crawford: I basically wrote Frog Fractions for my friends. Every weird new feature I put in, I put in with the motivation that I was going to get to see a friend’s reaction to it that weekend.
The jam scene was a part of that, and being surrounded by and acquainted with indie “names” also provided motivation in that they made it feel more likely that I might be able to get the game taken seriously.
What are you doing to monetize Frog Fractions? It seems like it’d be a hard game to “sell” in a traditional sense.
Crawford: I won’t put ads on my site and selling the game would be tantamount to fraud, but I do have the soundtrack up on Bandcamp.
I’m also talking to the art team about t-shirt ideas. While the music team gets a cut of the soundtrack sales, the art team is left out in the cold. I’m surprised it took me this long to think of selling shirts. Of course people will want in-joke t-shirts. Frog Fractions is basically In-Joke: The Game.
I hate asking obligatory questions like “what’s next” but…what’s next?
Crawford: I’m still thinking about it! Releasing Frog Fractions left a big hole in my schedule for interesting projects, and people are talking to me about how to fill it.
The honest answer is probably: being paid to implement somebody else’s idea. I’ve put basically all my creative energy for the past year into Frog Fractions, and the nature of the project was such that if I had an unrelated game idea during that time, I didn’t have to file it away for later; I could and did just throw it on the pile. I need time to recharge to make a thoughtful follow-up.
Now that you've played a bit of Frog Fractions and read Jim's thoughts on the game, marinate a bit in pondering the meaning of life and give these other free games a go.
Atticus and Boy Electric
There have been a lot of great adventure games lately expanding how visually interesting these sorts of games can be. Atticus and Boy Electric is another example of a choose-your-own-adventure game that isn’t content to just be walls of interactive text. While the game’s art style might turn off some players, it gives the world a fairy-tale feeling that really sells the story at some points.
Flippin Dead isn’t exactly remaking the world of video games but it’s some high-quality halloween-themed distractionware. You're on the run from an ever-increasing horde of zombies and looking to grab supply packs that pop up on occasion. Be on the lookout for the special rainbow supplies that flip the script and make you the zombie able to chase down, consume and clear out some of your zombie foes.
The Visit seems like a regular platformer but the moment you hop onto one of your crabby foes the game reveals itself to be very different from most games you’ve played. It also reveals itself to be the second game this week with a courtroom section. You’re trying to make your way to your girlfriend’s place but every jump and decision you make has the capacity to affect your life way more than it does in your typical platformer.
I’m not going to lie, Organicraft gets difficult quickly. But it also becomes a fascinating lesson in logical operations. While the game is currently just a simple (and short) proof of concept, there’s something here in the satisfaction of having figured out the right steps to solve the current level that could be expanded into a much larger game.