I’m constantly surfing the web looking for forgotten games and toys. This research has paid off more than once. The game play for Squiggle started with finding a video for a 1970’s board game called Beat the Black Ball. In this game a large black marble spins down a hyperbolic funnel. Four players wait for just the right moment to drop their smaller marbles. The idea is to be the very last person to drop your marble. But if you wait too long you won’t beat the black one down and you’re disqualified.
I became fascinated with this idea, both because no one had used it in the ticket redemption industry and because people like watching things spin down hyperbolic funnels. But there was a big problem. How could this work as a single player game?
In the board game there is what I’ll term a single “timing ball” and four player controlled balls. I decided to reverse the situation. In our game the player would only control a single ball while the computer dropped several timing balls. The goal would be to get your ball directly in the center of the timing balls. The closer you got to the center of the stack the more tickets you received. The game play wasn’t just something new for Bay Tek, it was new for the entire industry.
I used a physics simulation in Cinema 4D to make a mock up. As you can see, at this stage I was still using hyperbolic funnels and that would prove to be a problem. Floor space is precious in a game room. Big funnels weren’t going to work. So I tried to figure out how to make the game work on a 2D surface. I changed the design so the timing balls would drop down a squiggly path and the player ball would drop down a separate path. Obviously, this is when the name Squiggle came to me.
At Bay Tek we often make plywood mockups called a whitewoods. Here is a video of the first Squiggle whitewood. As you can see it is very crude. Someone has to release the balls with their hands and it is all reloaded manually. But it got the point across and helped prove out the idea.
From here I did more testing with physics simulations. This was around the time I started to use the Unity game engine. It was a huge help in nailing down the eventual shape of the play field. Finally I made a rendering of a possible cabinet design.
At this stage the project was green lit and Bay Tek’s Concept team took the project over. A mechanical engineer started designing a working game cabinet. Among other things, the concept team’s job is to make a minimum viable product that we can test in an actual arcade. If a game makes it past the concept stage it is passed on to a development team who works out all the bugs and gets it ready for production.
To make a very long story short, this game was a very involved project because it is highly mechanical. We went though several changes in the playfield design, made numerous changes to hardware and software and we discussed several alternatives to the game play. This whole process took over a year. But after all that, the finished version of Squiggle is almost identical to the first cabinet rendering.
It’s pretty cool so see an idea you hatched become a product sold all over the world. Here is a shot of Squiggle cabinets rolling down the production line.