TOUCH ME I’M SLICK: THE SHAPE AND THE SOUND OF STEPH THIRION’S ELISS


3.6.2009

Brandon Boyer

18 Replies

It was exactly one week ago last night that I fell in love, and to be quite honest I’m still at a little bit of a loss for words. The new object of my desire? She’s Eliss, an iPhone game, and I say that only slightly facetiously, because I’m not entirely exaggerating when I admit to getting goosebumps every time I even just see her in the video above.

If her name rings half a bell, it’s because Eliss, from Barcelona/NY designer Steph Thirion, is up for this year’s design innovation award in the Independent Games Festival’s mobile division. I’d known that, but, even after posting about the entrants in this year’s awards, didn’t even pay it much mind: its preview shot was so abstract and frankly fairly ugly, stretched and muddied with jpeg compression that it didn’t make a lasting impression, like trying to size up a new Facebook/MySpace crush on poor photos alone.

But as soon as I’d laid hands on the playable code, it clicked. Like I said: I’m still not sure exactly what it is in me that Eliss laser-targets and tweaks, but for as many games as pass my eyes and hands in any given week, it’s a connection that’s rare. Part of it’s the music, surely, the tender electronic loops somewhere in the neighborhood of I am Robot and Proud or E*vax, but it’s also the game’s design itself.

eliss.png

Because there isn’t another game like Eliss — she’s one in a million. Thirion describes it most poetically:

Your job is to keep up harmony in an odd universe made of blendable planets. Touch-control multiple planets at once, join them together into giant orbs or split them up into countless dwarf planets, and match their size with the squeesars. Wipe off the stardust, resist the attraction of the vortex and other space phenomena, and slow down the passage of time. Each of the 20 levels will require creative ways and strategies in using your fingers. Warm up your hands, you’re up for some serious finger gymnastics in the bizarro galaxy.

But you don’t really needs words — and the game actually offers you precious few, just the iconic instructions seen in the video above — because for as abstract as it is, it appeals to exactly that innate sense of order and accomplishment as Tetris. Keep like colors together, join and split shapes to fill the vibrating ‘squeesar’ frames, and at all costs don’t let mis-matched colors touch.

Eliss gets all its vitality out of the economy of those three simple rules, multi-tasking them on a second by second basis, and is only made more difficult over time by overcrowding the field more quickly and introducing elements like those vortexes which slowly draw the objects together.

The game is currently undergoing the gauntlet of Apple’s approval process, but Thirion expects it to be released by the end of the month, is now available on the App Store [iTunes link] and I’m excited for you all to meet her, because there’s a lot to her that typifies precisely what good gaming should be about.

Eliss home [Steph Thirion, iTunes link]


COMMENTS

  1. Brandon Boyer

    Sorry Doc, I made it a bit more clear in the article that it’s not quite out yet — but your error message is a good sign that it’s very nearly here (and I’ll update the article/write a new post when it is).


  2. Wow, after that love declaration, I can’t be more than excited!!.. The music’s awesome, maybe that guy should release a record as well?!
    /Mima



  3. I downloaded it fine from the app store, and even submitted a review but I just checked again and it seems to be gone. Weird.

    Anyway the game is fun and the visuals are cute but the difficulty curve is brutal. Not for the weak fingered!


  4. Hi all.

    Brandon, I’ve given body and soul to this game. It’s simply amazing to read your words. And if self-esteem could buy things, right now I could retire to my hammock under the coco trees.
    It’s funny that you mentioned Tetris. It was very present on my mind during development. It’s the ultimate videogame reference for simplicity, fun and everlasting replay. And – and this is huge – it can be built in a few lines of code. It’s genius.

    Agentflit, true, the difficulty progress might seem steep. What I’ve seen so far by watching people play, is that once they become familiar with what used to be a challenge, it becomes a piece of cake. Forever we’ve been using a unique cursor, we’re still very new to multitouch. The most we’ve done so far has been zooming google maps, and maybe throw a few ollies in Touchgrind. I think a game like Eliss is a playground to get serious about it. And like a bike, once you learn to ride it, it feels natural and obvious.

    Oh, and yes, the game is now on the App Store!

    (Mima, I’d love to, someday!)


  5. This is the first thing that has made me want an iPod Touch on the gaming end of things. Something completely original that couldn’t be duplicated on any other gaming platform.

    Now if only Apple would get on with releasing a 64GB Touch, Eliss will be the first thing I buy for it.


  6. Thanks for the comment, Steph, it’s always cool to hear from devs. So far the only five-star games for me are Zen Bound and Edge, and the latter wasn’t especially fun until I got a grip on the controls. So, I’ll give this one a while and see if it gets better.

    Don’t get me wrong though, I love hard games as long as they’re not cheap. :)


  7. I just bought this and tried the first sector for a short time (at work) and I have to say: the graphics, both in-game and menus are amazing. It’s cool to see how the lines and sharp shapes work just as well as Apple’s woolly and round widgets, giving it a deep space, computerized feel.

    (I can’t log in for comments? I’m logged in over at bb.net but can’t seem to log in here…)


  8. gordonmcdowell

    Agentflit noticed he can’t see it any more (after purchasing it) on app store. I can’t see it at all, and have not had a chance to purchase it. I’m given the ELISS as a choice (on my phone) but clicking on it presents me with “Did you mean ELIAS ?” which is a word in a different app.

    Please add me to whatever email list you’re maintaining so I get a heads-up when its available again. So I don’t forget about it. Thanks, -g

    gordonmcdowell@gmail.com


  9. Brandon Boyer

    Gordon, it’s definitely there (use the iTunes links in the post), and that seems to be an App Store quirk more than anything — the same thing’s happened to me in the on-phone store. Rather than searching for the whole word, try typing in “elis” and pausing before the last ‘s’ — that usually brings it up.


  10. I just tried to find it via Search in the AppStore, even tried Brandon’s suggestion to pause before the last ‘s’ – but no luck :(



  11. Yeah, the on-device store is super goofy like that. Well, that and the fact that sometimes it tells me I have 19 updates and when I close out and re-open it says everything’s up to date.



  12. Level Seven is way hard (of course, I said that about three and five too).

    I hope he has a way of adjusting difficulty soon.

    I think part of the problem is the time-slow power-up. When you hit it, any contacting planets of opposite colors seem to drain just as fast as they would at normal speed. Which means you think you can relax a bit, but you actually have to be quicker at that level.


  13. Pingback: Steph Thirion’s iPhone debut Eliss now bigger, smoother, and a little less abusive | VENUS PATROL


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