On September 14, we went home to BostonFIG at Harvard University and, for the first time, brought along Mondrian – Plastic Reality. Exhibitors were encouraged to build booths that exemplified the indie spirit, and the spirit of their games. For Mondrian, this meant art, specifically the art players can create in the game, and building a booth themed around that art. We also wanted to create a booth that could be easily set up/torn down, that we could bring to almost any show, and that could be scaled to fit any space. Thus, we invented the PopBlock Gallery & Arcade, an interactive space that featured the game, some video, and art prints from the game’s new Exhibit Mode, now available in Mondrian – Plastic Reality EX9.
The first step was to find some of the equipment we’d need. We had the TV, a laptop, controllers, and handouts, but one laptop wasn’t going to cut it for a show of this size, and in order to create a proper popup gallery, we would need more artsy stuff, like pedestals, easels, seating, and the art. Thankfully, we were able to find some very creative and inexpensive solutions to putting such a space together! A startup in Brooklyn, EasyPedestal, offered VERY affordable and aesthetic solutions to holding up the laptops we’d use for playing the game. They were also an excellent height for Ikea’s Marius stools, so kids and adults alike were able to enjoy the game in comfort and relaxation. Blick had studio folding display easels, and these suited our needs perfectly to hold up our brand new, magnet-backed level prints. A couple pairs of headphones, a new set of speakers, some Christmas lights, some USB cables, an extra laptop, and one vertical banner later, we had our booth.
Saturday came around and players started arriving at the booth almost immediately. We got a lot of compliments on the booth’s design, and players had excellent feedback on the game. The style of the game absolutely went over well, with attendees complimenting the game’s juxtaposition between abstract or “pixel art” level designs on impressionistic backdrops. When it comes to gameplay, that went over okay, but we have our work cut out for us before the end of the year to get everything in shape for PAX East 2020. Our focus is going to be on the improved level format to hold more data and story; brand new ball-and-paddle math; more blatant tutorialization when starting a new game; even deeper and clearer mechanics with gems; making the game “easier” while not sacrificing the magic that makes it challenging; and, hopefully, controller compatibility in Mondrian Maker along with new features to make creating your own levels an even smoother experience.
On a technical level, though, the game ran flawlessly, holding 1080p 60fps on a Ryzen 5 powered HP laptop and an Intel Core i5 powered Dell; both with onboard graphics (Vega 8 and HD 520 respectively), all day long, even in the extreme heat of the show floor. Mondrian may be a 2D game, but it still feels great to be able to hit those marks on relatively low-end laptops. Sadly I can’t say the same for the little Chromebook that was simultaneously running the soundtrack and a 5 minute gameplay montage throughout the day, as it eventually started struggling to maintain framerate on the video, but it pushed through!
In total, our BostonFIG Fest booth cost a little over $500. Considering we have every intention of setting up this same booth at PAX East, Playcrafting, and any other event we can bring the game to, it’s money well spent, and means we can focus our limited funds on just booking space, rather than worrying about how we’ll afford the space AND all the set-pieces we’ll need to get it going. It’s not uncommon for indie game studios to spend $1000 or more just on furnishing their spaces, so if there’s one piece of advice we can offer from this, it’s to do your research and find any alternative you can to the big expo equipment companies. Support startups, buy used/refurbished equipment, keep an eye out for sales, be generally thrifty, and do your shopping well in advance of the show.
Players at BostonFIG Fest got to try out the latest version of the game, EX9, which is now also available on itch.io and GameJolt. This build adds a handful of new animations, sound effects, and even CRT & Film Grain screen filters for some visual flair (which you can turn off in the Special Effects Menu).
The latest game mode in Mondrian, Exhibit Mode, allows you to view your levels without any gameplay getting in the way. As of right now, this mode generates a 960×960, extra thick frame around your level, and generates color schemes and backgrounds dynamically, as usual. You can also press C to bring up crop, registration, and CMYK marks. This mode is ideal for taking screenshots of your creations for mod.io thumbnails, or even for making prints of your works. Our goal for this mode is to expand the level of control you have over the dynamic generation, by letting you select the color scheme, background, frame size, and hopefully even more. To access exhibit mode, click the Play button in Mondrian Maker and select “Save and Exhibit.”
EX9 also fixes some long-standing bugs with modifiers, like Phasing Blocks syncing up, and Shifting Blocks getting stuck at the middle of their loops. Both modifiers are now – finally – working properly, and the mod switch on Phasing works as well. Block Modifier code has also been optimized to only ever run on blocks with modifiers active, rather than the game searching through every block for modifiers every frame. This has had less of an effect than one would think, but in testing has reduced frametimes from 19ms to 17ms, inching us closer to that consistent 16ms goal.
Bombs have also gotten a slight adjustment. Now each block is set with a chance to spawn a gem at the start of the level, rather than make that decision when hit by the ball or by an explosion. Blocks have a 1/(2+Difficulty) chance to spawn a gem, so the higher the difficulty, the less chance a block has to spawn a gem, but of course, the higher the gem values can go! This does mean that “gem storms,” when two dozen gems would spawn and fly off in random directions, are rarer, and smaller, but being able to grab several gems out of them is a much more manageable feat.
A few other important changes include the Speedball’s speed-up now being tied to Difficulty, needing (6-Difficulty) block pops to increase in speed, as opposed to just 2; the timing of teleportation being tied to the Game Speed so that the distance the ball travels into (or beyond) a portal is consistent at all speeds; and Split Blocks now traveling a little bit farther than before to prevent the ball from always destroying each one after they have spawned. You can view all changes on the game’s Patch Notes.
Before closing out, I want to give a brief update on the game’s development status. As I mentioned above, we have our work cut out for us, but everything is overall going very, very well. However, we are not planning any more major updates for 2019. You may have noticed that 2019 has had many fewer updates than 2018, though each one was arguably more significant. Much of this has to do, believe it or not, with closing in on the game’s release. We’re in the process of moving away from a setup file and toward a more automated process that will be compatible with platforms like Steam and the itch app. This could be a launcher, but could also be a basic install process integrated into the game itself. We haven’t decided yet, but we do want to make sure all core-game files are included in the game, as opposed to relying on required downloads. This process, whatever we decide on, will be integrated into the next major update in early 2020, along with important changes, like the ones mentioned earlier in this post.
A gigantic thanks to the Lantana crew for helping out on the day of the show – Chenylle, Ilayda, Mike, Veronica, and our super duper friend Bethany for cosplaying Sophie Taeuber-Arp! Also many thanks to the hundreds of attendees who came over and checked out the game, you made the day truly memorable and magical. See you at the next show!