A week ago when Dong Nguyen said he was going to pull Flappy Bird I wasn’t sure I believed him. It seemed like an odd stunt at the time, especially when (I assume) the app could have just been pulled right away. But on Sunday I was shocked to see the game pulled, and even more shocked by the crazy death threats he received for wanting to take it down, and I can’t say I blame him. (And there is a great piece on our Internet Empathy Problem here.)
So when the app finally went down on Sunday, leaving a gaping hole and angry fans, I was curious as to the aftermath and all the copycats to come down the pipe. The first thing I thought of was “Man there are going to be a ton of games with “Bird” or “Flap” in the title, and it’s going to be ugly obnoxious.” And naturally the first thing my brain did was a letter jumble, whereupon I discovered Flippy Bard was a fun mix of letters.
The name made me chuckle so much I decided it had to exist. It had to be real. If nothing else but to mess up the catalog of copycats. For the past 2-3 months I have been learning to use Game Maker, because every time I try to do things in the regular ios dev tools I feel like I’m sitting in the cockpit of a jetliner with no idea what any of the buttons do. So to help familiarize myself in Game Maker I have been making a game for my son, who was 18 months old when I started the project, recently published it and wrote about it in another post. I’m super excited to release a game which tiny tiny children can play, without ads, in-app purchases, redirects to other games, or other forms of horrible money grabbing trickery.
So since the Game Maker bug is not an issue with games with ads, I figured “Hey, why not just make this stupid little game.” So I did. And about 30 hours later (with sleep and day-job mixed in there mind you) I completed my version 1.0 of Flippy Bard. After starting on the project there was also the announcement of The Flappy Jam, which I am hoping to submit the game too. It’s pretty neat to see the kind of cultural phenomenon it has become, and the support and love for the original creator. Here is my game description I put on the store:
The bard has lived a quiet life in the kingdom. He has kept his head down, and entertained the people on a rare few occasions. But times are tough for the bard, for you see, the birds no longer sing. The people must be entertained, and forsaking all he has held dear (his integrity, his honor, his happiness) he will entertain the masses of the kingdom and its corrupt leaders. And so here he is, atop the towers of the kingdom, ready to entertain the people with his minstrel song of many flips for as long as he can muster the strength. Bless his soul and forgive him his trespasses.
A fairly obvious mirror on my own reality, but also I want to treat this as an homage to Mr. Nguyen. Like him I am just a guy who wants to make games. I guess in a way I am hoping there is some merit in having the least corrupt laden rip-off game out there, and potentially something with a bit more polish than a lot of the other crap. Some of the copy-cat apps I see overwhelm you with ads; full screen at the start, in between matches near your buttons, it seems like they are trying to take advantage of finger slips. I don’t anticipate Flippy Bard getting the kind of popularity which Flappy Bird did, but if it did do well and helped pay off my exorbitant student loan debt, I could also see taking ads out at some point (or parsing them to be very minimal, Im not sure how ads work on ios yet.) If Nguyen hadn’t taken down his game I know I wouldn’t have made this. I hate copy-cats. I hate the “me toos.” But also, I’d like to see that gap filled by something with the spirit of creativity and fun, and not just a quick copy knockoff, and that is the heart behind Flippy Bard.
In college is where I first had an art teacher talk about the idea of “stealing”, as many attribute Picasso to saying “good artists borrow, great artists steal.” (and of course this Banksy piece.) I think a great number of people who don’t make creative works misunderstand the philosophy behind this. This isn’t stealing the result, or stealing the physical object of the resulting art. When you see the way another artist does something, and the result looks amazing, as a young artist you may say “Well that guy has a unique cross hatching technique, I shouldn’t copy it.” But the reality is even if you tried to copy what that person was doing, the result wouldn’t be identical, because through the process of creating the art you discover your own technique, style, and approach which becomes your own. In an interview with the band Animal Collective, they explained it perfectly:
We get the most questions about that one: “What combination of pedals is used to create that sound?” I don’t know, first of all– I don’t remember. But I make a point of telling the kids we don’t want to tell them this pedal put into this pedal put into this pedal, and these are the delay settings or whatever, because half the fun of being a kid and making the music, like Dave said, is finding your own sounds or wondering how people do something. You kind of figure out a way you think they do it, and it turns out not to be it. But it becomes your own thing, sometimes by accident.
I set out to make a quick game, and along the way had a lot of fun making something all its own. Flippy Bard is not trying to match the game it is based on perfectly, I ended up having a lot of fun making it and like the idea of it being its own thing. Many people may not like it being a copy, but I’ve never taken this approach to creating something, I may never again, but what fun is life if we don’t try things from time to time? If nothing else it is empowering to know I can make a tiny game quickly and put it out there for the world. I might have to do this more often, with less “stealing.”
But, of course (literally while I was first writing this) someone like Terry Cavanagh, an amazing designer, comes along and makes Maverick Bird,the coolest Flappy Bird tribute ever and it just puts all others to shame, doing exactly what I set out to do, but doing it perfectly. Holy crap that game is rad.
And now it is Saturday night, less than 7 days later I was able to make a game from scratch, art, audio, code, etc. I was able to release the game to the Google Play store, and do a few updates to fix some bugs and add some other functionality. I submitted the game to Apple on Tuesday, found some major bugs and resubmitted that night (early Wednesday) and now there is a strong possibility the game will be rejected by Apple and possibly taken down by Google. I hadn’t planned on caring as much about a little knock-off game, but over the course of the last week I have been proud to make something which plays quite well, is a lot of fun to play on the couch while having some TV on in the background, and I have multiple extra-unlockable characters I have been tuning and designing. To see that go away would break my heart greatly.
I had not intended on publishing this until the iOS version was released. But I need to step away, push myself back from my desk for a bit and not care about this game for a few days. In the event the app is rejected, I will probably put the game down for good because I can’t imagine this game without the name attached. It would be a great shame really, but I suppose I have to press on to the next tasks.