Hapland

Hapland

Hapland

Welcome to the first in a weekly series inviting you to goof off on
Friday and enjoy (that is, "research") a fluffy piece of online
gameplay.

For all the millions of people who fawned over Myst, there were plenty
who despised every pixel of its lusciously rendered environments and
tedious gameplay.

Along with the early LucasArts adventures, it created a game mechanic
known as "Hitchcock’s finger." This is the technical term given to the
painful suspense created as the player slowly wipes the screen with his
cursor, waiting and hoping that at some point the arrow will change
into a finger and indicate that there is something you can actually do.

Hapland, the extraordinary puzzle landscapes created by 18-year-old
British student Robin Allen, takes that frustration and exaggerates it
way beyond all reasonable design. The original game released in early
’05 was an instant hit in the Flash game blogosphere, and last month
Allen launched the far (far) more difficult sequel. It’s cruelly
unforgiving, frequently requires you to reset the game because you’re
stuck in a dead end, and follows a puzzle logic that is consistent to
itself, but bewildering to most outsiders. Almost inexplicably, it’s
incredibly addictive.

Allen explains, “I’d originally intended to make a little interactive
scene, just like a normal drawing, but where you can click on things. I
thought up most of the puzzles and elements a few days before I
started, and sort of juggled them around in my head for a bit until
they were in some sort of order. When I finally opened Flash I made a
little prototype with a man and a bridge, just to see if what I wanted
to do was actually possible, and how I should go about the scripting.”
He favors brevity when describing the actual production phase: “Then I
went ahead and did it.”

Player addiction

The game relies heavily on player addiction, on their patience with the
repetitious trial-and-error play escalating into an obsessive grudge.
To offset this, the visual design of Hapland is disarmingly simple, a
gently surreal style that cunningly masks the cruel gameplay. The
detailed landscape is lovingly drawn from pastel hues and serves to
calm you during the more unreasonably frustrating puzzles.

The only real design problem Allen had was with the inhabitants. He
confesses, “I’d love to say that they’re stick people because of some
careful design decision, or to bring about a more surreal and stylized
atmosphere to the game. In reality they’re stick people because I can’t
draw people. I just made them really small and hoped no one would
notice.”

His frankness cannot be faulted. He was equally surprised at its
popularity, saying, “I suppose I’d just imagined people would play with
it for a while then go do something else. I had originally expected a
very small audience, so I didn’t really put much thought into how
people would play it.”

Painful though it can be to play, Hapland is a refreshing place to
spend some time. It feels different because it is different, an
experiment gone right. Ultimately, Allen made Hapland simply because he
wanted to. The rewards are modest. “Making games is just something I
enjoy," Allen says. "I don’t do it for a living, although Hapland pays
its own hosting bill now, which is nice.”

Hapland is at http://www.foon.co.uk/farcade/hapland. Hapland 2 is at http://www.foon.co.uk/farcade/hapland2/.