This project is my crowning achievement so far. I did not go cheap on this one, not in the least!

Nibbler is a puzzle game. You may be familiar with the type of game where you control a snake, worm, centipede, etc. and grow with each bite of food. I adopted this style of game, but I chose to make it into a puzzle game with lots of complex properties and silly interactions.

Despite the complex properties, I wanted Nibbler to resemble the "old-school" arcade-based puzzle games, such as Boulder Dash. All you need to play this game is a joystick and a fire button, or the equivalent keyboard controls. This game falls somewhere between the "puzzle" and "action" categories.


History of Nibbler

I have already stated that I have always liked old-school puzzle games, including Lode Runner and Adventures of Lolo. These games go so far on so little. The question inevitably came to me: "can you do it, too?"

I had made games before, but never anything commercially viable. My reasoning for this was simple: no resources. It's just a hobby, right?

But then I got a grand idea when slogging through my reactor kinetics homework in college. I decided (silly me) to put the idea down on paper. It came out to be several pages long.

In only five hours, I had come up with virtually every aspect of the game as it would look years in the future. Shortly after the preliminary design, I decided I would actually pull it off.

What Makes the Game Different?

A computer game must have a niche that makes it stand out. It can be anything--graphics, sound, gameplay, sensationalism, unique controls, you name it. Since the genre of this game was not new, I knew I had to think of something special for it to gain any attention.

What's more, what kind of work would it take to make the game, especially with a new feature that made it stand out in the crowd? Obviously, the work I did on the prototype game from high school would not be enough. No; I would have to do something very radical.

Soon afterwards, I developed the radical feature, called "substitution matrix technology." This is an algorithm that drives the visual display of the snake body in real-time. In addition to good graphics, it would have good animation and a frame rate of 60 FPS. Now that I had my feature and my design, no turning back was possible.

The DOS version of Nibbler

A rather significant problem about inventing your own drawing algorithm is the fact that little or no support for your programming and design tasks can be found. I would need to not only design the game, but also develop the engine itself.

Perhaps I got carried away, or perhaps it was necessary work. It's a fact: no preexisting material went into Nibbler's code. It took many years to get it done, since I was still in college most of the time and could never give the project my undivided attention.

The graphics were all drawn by Yours Truly, too. I know it's a common assumption that many computer programming types aren't the greatest artists. Well, I'll have to assume it's true in a general sense, since I had no issues creating my own artwork. I had an advantage in being the artist: no breakdown in communication between the artist and the programmer.

I liked the result. It was a fun DOS game. Campy at times, but still fun. The original goal of the project had been accomplished.

Lack of Satisfaction

In 2003, I posted the DOS Beta Version and got feedback from beta testers. That's when I knew I had to increase the resolution, get better sound, make better software tools if necessary, and focus much more on the quality of the game than the game engine development.

What really happened was this: I made the decision to move the project from the "hobby" category to the "professional" category. The constructive feedback from my testers had the consequence of forcing me to choose between acceptance as an amateur or striving to become a real pro. I chose the latter. It is possible that my work at Lilly in the Complaints department at the time (where customer satisfaction was a primary issue) had something to do with my choice.

Ever since, I have worked toward a second beta version that would run on a Win32 platform. Fortunately, I had a mind to write code such that cross-platform portability could happen with relative ease.

As of this writing, the only unanswered question is how to bring the game to market. I know for certain that Nibbler entertains a very broad audience. Still, the game industry has rapidly transitioned from a diverse free-for-all amongst a plethora of developers to a contest between big development studios, making it harder to get footholds in the game development world. Only time will tell where the game will go from here.

The Nibbler Editor, NibEdit

The level editor for Nibbler is a simple, grid-based application. It is easy to use and self-documented whenever possible. Help can be found at the Official Nibbler Site. See the links below for more information.

More Details About the Nibbler Project
Download Nibbler
Go to Projects
Go to Downloads

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Copyright 2004 Christopher Allen.