Local video game developers Rocketship Park just released their what will soon be their (hopefully) critically acclaimed game Block Droppin. The addictive game plays like a cross between 2048 and Tetris, and has soaked up much more of my time lately than I’d like to admit. We had a chance to talk with Jim Squires, one half of Rocketship Park about the release of the game. Go download it, it’s great.
What can you tell me about Rocketship Park? What was the idea to start a gaming company, and what do you expect to achieve from it in the future?
Rocketship Park is a small studio here in St. Catharines founded by game designer Shane McCafferty and myself. Shane and I have both been in the games industry for some time, though in very different roles.
We worked together on the launch of Shane’s most recent game, AlphaPit, in 2016. The experience showed us that each had skills the other lacked, which made for a pretty great working relationship. When discussing the possibility of future collaborations a few months later, we realized that we’d developed so strong a working relationship that it was time to formalize things. And with that, Rocketship Park was born.
The name Rocketship Park is an homage to the now-defunct nickname for Pearson Park in St. Catharines. If you were a kid in the 70’s and 80’s here, you’ll have fond memories of the spaceship in the playground that has long since been removed (and appears to be at Safari Niagara’s very cool playground graveyard!). I think I was in my thirties before I realized that Rocketship Park had any other name.
Can you tell me about the game and what audiences can expect from it? And where did the idea for the game come from? It reminds me of a cross between something like 2048 and Tetris…
Ha! We’ve heard that comparison quite a lot, so it’s pretty apt that you felt that way. We weren’t modelling the game after either of those, but it’s easy to see how people could mistake that as our starting point.
Block Droppin’ actually started life as a word game, but our initial prototype proved too complex – there were too many things for players to have to remember, and that really put a damper on the fun. But there were some elements there we really liked, too – so we stripped out the letters, focused on the fun, and revised. Major revisions like this happened four or five times during development as we kept chasing the fun and discarding the rest. We took the time to shape and reshape Block Droppin’ until we discovered the game it was always meant to be. The end result is the game you can play today.
Block Droppin’ takes two elements most gamers are familiar with — sliding blocks and falling blocks — and combines them to create something unique. Players will slide blocks to create shapes which then fall to the playing field below. If the shapes form a horizontal line when they fall, they’ll disappear and the player will get points. It’s a simple concept, but it forces you to think in two very different ways simultaneously. The player reception has been great so far, and we couldn’t be more grateful.
It’s this really cool geometric simple design. But it’s a really challenging too. It took me a while to get it going, but it’s super addictive as well. Do you see Rocketship Park focusing on puzzle games like this in the future?
Good puzzle games tend to stand out, is this something that was intended? Whatever we launched as our first game was going to serve as a showcase for Rocketship Park, and that meant letting Block Droppin’ cook until every corner of the game was as polished as we could make it. The puzzle genre is one of our favorites, but it’s also a very crowded market. Doing something unique, in our opinion, is the best way to stand out from the crowd. More than that though, making unique games is just more fun. There are countless companies out there who look to mimic what’s already working on the App Store– and while that may be a sound business strategy for some, such derivative design just isn’t what we’re chasing here at Rocketship Park.
As for the future, we’re not specifically going after puzzle games – but there’s no question that it’s a genre that’s fun to explore. Unlike other games that allow you to hide your flaws behind story and character, puzzles are game design at its most vulnerable. They’re built around a single hook, and either it works or it doesn’t. There’s something absolutely exhilarating about that, if not a little terrifying. We love that feeling.
As a company though, what we’re really interested in is creating games that trigger specific emotional responses in our players. We’re not necessarily looking to make you laugh or cry, but we want to make you feel things. It’s a philosophy that Shane has been building games around for years, and if you’re looking for examples of what we mean, his games from before Rocketship Park offer plenty. Word Forward was a word puzzle game that was meant to give you a sense of absolute calm, with thought given to everything from the colors to the font choices to make sure he was evoking this feeling. And then for the sake of contrast, he released Crobble — a word game designed to evoke a sense of absolute panic.
What was the decision to make it free to play? Is it easier to launch a free to play game and gain traction in this way, or was it just ‘this is our first release, let’s try and get a following going here’?
We love premium (paid) gaming experiences, and while Block Droppin’ could have been sold as one, we also need to be realistic about how games are best delivered on mobile today. Because of the huge selection of free-to-play experiences available, it’s very hard to get any traction with a mobile game that asks you for money up front. That means the best way to get the game to the widest possible audience is to make it available as a free download.
What can people expect from Rocketship Park? I know you’re knee-deep getting this game out there, but is there anything else on the go that you can talk about? We’re mostly focused on supporting Block Droppin’ into the future by keeping our players happy and introducing more content as time goes on. We have a few ideas on this front, but the biggest driver of where Block Droppin’ goes will be our players. If there’s enough demand for something and it makes sense, we’ll be sure to consider it for a future update.
Beyond Block Droppin’, we’re puttering around with a few ideas for our next game — but it would be premature to say anything more than that.
Anything else you’d like to add? Just that we’re really grateful to the game development community and support network that exists here in St. Catharines. When people think of indie game development in Ontario, all eyes usually go to Toronto — but we have so many great things happening right here that it would be a shame if they were overlooked. St. Catharines studios like Pixelnauts, Creative Bytes and Phantom Compass are turning out incredible projects. Organizations like Innovate Niagara and Generator at One are lending tons of support to growing tech companies like ours. Brock University and Niagara College are training the next generation of Niagara game devs.
It’s all happening right here, and it’s getting bigger every day.
Keep up with Rocketship Park at rocketshippark.com.