Stewart Butterfileld is one of the last great old-fashioned tech billionaires. He founded Flickr, and then sold the company to Yahoo! for a stupendous amount of money in 2005. Like Mark Cuban and others before him, he was left wondering what to do with the rest of his long and fabulously wealthy life. Cuban bought the Dallas Mavericks and turned them from unabashed losers into beloved champions. Butterfield decided to try his hand at game design (something he had attempted with the ambitious but ultimately failed Game Neverending in 2002). Glitch will be his new company Tiny Speck's first game, and it is an odd looking one.
Fortunately, it's about to get even odder. Keita Takahashi has just joined the team.
Who is Keita Takahashi? Only one of the most creative and under appreciated game designers of the last 15 years. A longtime Namco-Bandai employee, Takahashi is best known for his two puzzle games Katamari Damacii and Noby Noby Noby. They are beautiful, surreal affairs that task players with doing fun tasks they have never done beore. Katamari features a galactic prince rolling a giant ball around to collect objects in the world, and in Noby Noby Noby an infinitely expanding worm. Their aesthetics and gameplay are as unique as their creator.
In 2008, Takahashi became bored with the games industry and left Namco to start Uvula, a freelance game and playground design firm about to open their first children's park in Nottingham, UK. And now he's joining the Tiny Spark team to help them work on Glitch. This is going to be one heck of a weird game.
Here's what we know about it. It is is to be a free browser-based Multi User Social Hub (MUSH) along the lines of Second Life, but with more gameplay elements. The game world is set in the mind of 11 somewhat scary looking giants. Therein players will control customized avatars in a side-scrolling envrionment that will be changed and shaped daily by the Tiny Speck team. All players will be playing in one huge server at the same time, making it easier to find one's friends and make new ones from around the world than in games with smaller indidvidual servers.
What the gameplay will actually consist of is less clear. The trailer shows characters jumping around, talking to each other, and doing some crafting. The short tutorial video below explains that one can interact with objects in the environment, collect and trade items, and talk to players, but puts none of these activities in any discernable context. The Glitch FAQ indicates that combat will not be a major part of the game. Butterfield has stated that players will be able to start religions, political factions, and other ideological groups, but still gave no indication as to their purpose.
I have high hopes for this little game. The trailer is the coolest one I've seen in some time, and Takahashi knows how to make simple gameplay fun. The main concern is this: what will the game actually be? Butterfield seems unwilling or unable to explain it yet, and the game is already in Beta with a planned summer release forthcoming. Second Life, There, and all of the other MUSHs before died because they didn't offer enough gameplay to supplement their social aspects. Hopefully the act of playing Glitch will be as grand as its concept.