Home Tech ‘I did not expect so many games about people’s pets’: why Downpour is a great alternative to doomscrolling

‘I did not expect so many games about people’s pets’: why Downpour is a great alternative to doomscrolling

by Elijah
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‘I did not expect so many games about people’s pets’: why Downpour is a great alternative to doomscrolling

LLast week, as I slowly suffocated on a crowded train from Frome to London, I took out my phone and instead of scrolling through social media, I created a game. It was an extremely basic that required the player to correctly identify the Palace of Westminster’s Big Ben Tower in a photograph, but the experience was so captivating that the journey passed in a flash.

The app I used to create my masterpiece was Downpour, by Lone Coder v Buckenham. Launched on the App Store and Google Play last week, it’s an intuitive program that lets you create games from your own photos. You simply create an image collage, add text, and save it as a page; you then add more pages and link them together to create your game. Transparent boxes on the screen form the hyperlinks – say you are using a photo of Westminster, you can place a box around the Elizabeth Tower and when the player the key, it will be taken to a page that says “Congratulations, you have found Big Ben”.

You then upload your game to the server, where other Downpour owners can find it. But you can also extract it as a URL so users can simply copy the URL into their browser’s address line and read it online, like visiting a website.

Intuitive… Downpour. Photo: against Buckenham

There are already many fun Downpour projects available. Many people create games about their pets, challenging players to spot their beloved cats or dogs in photos. Some people make reasonably complex adventure games. Buckenham came up with the idea while trying to create a game using hand-drawn illustrations. Making the images was enjoyable, but trying to fight with the technology to make them interactive was more frustrating. So she thought: We all carry these powerful, intuitive computers in our pockets all day. Why not use them to create simple games?

Buckenham has had an interesting and atypical career in game development so far. She worked at Niantic, the maker of augmented reality games such as Pokémon Go and Ingress, and before that at Sensible Object, the maker of the technologically enhanced board game, Beasts of Balance. But it has also created interactive toys, including Cheap Bots, Done Quick!, a tool for creating automated Twitter bot accounts such as @infinite_scream and @softlandscapes.

“I see games as part of this larger landscape of…creative technology, interactive media, whatever you want to call it,” she says, citing adventure game makers Twine and Bitsy as sources of inspiration. inspiration. “I’ve always been drawn to technology, where you push and turn – games are a part of it, but creative tools are just as much a part of it. Or things that don’t clearly fit into either category. I always like something that sits messily between two things.

That word messy comes up a lot, and there’s something deliciously chaotic about the Downpour games that have been made so far. Weird photos, weird fonts, weird ideas about what games are… it reminds me of the dawn of the internet as a mass phenomenon, when people used platforms like Angelfire and Geocities to create websites very simple and personal from questionable archive images. animated fonts and icons.

“I’ve always been in technology where you push it and it pushes you back”… Downpour. Photo: against Buckenham

“Web 2.0 came along and put everything in order,” Buckenham says of the arrival of sites like MySpace and Facebook. “It wasn’t so much because that was what people were looking for, but more out of a desire to appear professional and grown-up in investor presentations. But people like to make a mess! They try to put as much disorder as possible into the little boxes that platforms like X and Instagram offer them. So one thing Downpour does is let them do as much damage as they want. I want to let people fill the page with whatever they want to create, linking these pages together in an idiosyncratic way.

Downpour also intelligently exploits our usual behaviors on smartphones. We are used to taking photos and using simple tools to edit and improve them; we are used to adding text; and all TikTok creators will be familiar with editing and uploading content. Buckenham says she wants to keep adding features, but she also never wants to stray from its immediacy. His wish is that Downpour becomes a starting point. “I really hope to see people start playing with it and then become more ambitious and learn more complex tools to go further,” she says. “You can export your games from Downpour, add new features by writing new Javascript code, host them elsewhere, do whatever you want with them – the best tools don’t do everything themselves, but exist within an ecosystem wider.”

“The best tools don’t do everything themselves”…a game of frog kissing Downpour. Photo: against Buckenham

For now, it’s fascinating to see how people use Downpour, how it gives us a little insight into their lives and homes. “I didn’t expect so many of the early games to be about people’s pets,” Buckenham says. But as we’ve seen with creative digital tools and games themselves over the past 50 years, it’s impossible to predict how they will be used – and that’s the fun, according to Buckenham.

“It’s such a joy to see the things people have made, things sweet or personal, funny or beautiful, and to know that they wouldn’t have existed without my work creating a tool. It’s a powerful feeling.

Downpour is part of a long history of game creation packages dating back to the early 1980s. I made a Downpour game about them. Please try it.

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