In the Spotlight: Squingle
for some time already we've wanted to share with you some of the amazing projects that are in development using coherence. This article is the first of a series of In the Spotlight features focusing on the sorts of projects that managed to impress us here at coherence. With that out of the way, let's get down to brass tacks with Squingle, the VR puzzler!
The basic gameplay premise of Squingle is to move a constellation of rotating orbs through increasingly complex elastic see-through mazes without breaking the boundaries, which, while providing a comforting amount of flex, aren't endlessly forgiving. Each attempt is timed and graded so you can see your progress and feel a bit of well-earned satisfaction as your results improve. On your journey from one puzzle to the next you are accompanied by the mystic Goddess. The game has been praised for its calming and meditative ambiance, while the controls and actions on screen feel very crisp and engaging. Have a look at the latest trailer below to get a feel for it yourself!
Squingle Studios // Established 2021 // Number of staff: 1
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Sure! My name is Ben Outram and I started Squingle Studios (whose only game so far… is Squingle!). I studied physics before doing a PhD in Liquid Crystal Display engineering at the University of Oxford, and then moved to Japan to study Japanese before completing a postdoc at Keio Media Design in Tokyo. The postdoc was focused on Computer-Human Interaction, especially VR, haptics, eye- and motion tracking, and multisensory interactions.
I then moved into industry working as a VR consultant and then into AI and computer vision. During the PhD, I also got into meditation and Buddhist philosophy, and all of these experiences have played a massive part in the creation of Squingle, which was a product of the COVID lockdown to some extent. As an artist, I try to weave in psychedelic visuals, mystical philosophies, physics, and novel technologies to create meditative, embodied and multisensory experiences.
What made you choose to become a game developer?
I don’t really consider myself a game developer as such, but the ‘game’ format seemed to fit this particular project. Instead I’m more interested in exploring how media technologies can be used to enhance the conscious experience, almost in a spiritual way. Of course, everything can be seen as spiritual - entertainment, insight, amazement, flow, thought, skills and social interaction - and games do offer an opportunity to work with some of these areas of what it means to be human, and what it means to be conscious. I don’t know if my next project will be a game, necessarily.
What are your thoughts on the current state and near future of the gaming industry?
I love how game development has become democratized so that more people can realize their creative impulses through game development. The barrier to entry has become much lower with Unity and Youtube. This trend is bound to amplify with new generative AI, and whatever the next buzz technological enabler might be.
A future where more people are empowered to create as well as consume media - that excites me. On the other hand, I’m saddened by the walled garden and gatekeeping of how games are marketed and advertised, which stifles innovation and funnels people’s attention into very few games and ideas. I’m not sure there is a solution to that, except to encourage each other to rely less on marketing and doom scrolling and more on word of mouth for making purchasing decisions in games.
How did your company come about?
Squingle needed a company. Squingle Studios was the result! I hope I can grow it for the next project, but for now, it’s basically just me - so not much of a company! I’d love more company in my company.
What is your current game about?
Squingle is a psychedelic-themed VR puzzle game where you must guide two revolving orbs through a series of increasingly complex 3D spatial mazes, while being taken on a journey of cosmic evolution and transcendence by an ontologically and morally ambiguous goddess. The game has a striking visual style, where everything is ethereal, iridescent, glasslike and reactive - with a squidgy logic all of its own.
The experience is addictive, meditative, joyful at times, and challenging. People praise it for its uniqueness, user experience, and VR-first focus, and it currently has the highest average user rating on the Quest! I’ve added new features over time, with passthrough and hand tracking options, different difficulties and a room-scale mode. But ultimately, the game is an exploration of our place in the Universe, life, love, and ultimate meaning.
Concept art created for the character of Goddess by Araqs Petrosyan.
What made you choose multiplayer?
I’ve always wanted to create a social VR experience. VR can be a lonely place at times, but I love competitive games like Tetris99 and Wipeout, and adding a competitive aspect to Squingle will supercharge the experience. I hope it will also attract new audiences to the game.
What are the challenges of building your game?
Since I haven’t come from a gaming industry background, I needed to keep the scope of my project within what I know best - physics, flow-toys like juggling, and philosophy. That presents an opportunity to do something unique, but also comes with its own challenges. Squingle makes heavy use of bespoke physics and shaders - so I had to learn carefully about how those things work, especially in optimizing for mobile platforms like Quest and Pico.
Before Squingle, I had made several juggling-in-VR prototypes. I thought juggling would be a compelling experience in VR, but it proved hard to get it right. Squingle is a bit like a pared down version of 3-ball juggling, where the user’s control is limited to 3 degrees of freedom and the topology and patterns are defined by the level design. Getting this right, controlling the learning curve, and making it accessible, was an iterative process that required a lot of user feedback and beta testing. That was a fascinating challenge and I’ve learned tons along the way.
TougeVR trying out Squingle
How are you finding working with coherence?
I’ve never used networking in a project before, so the learning curve has been a steep one. But coherence has been a great partner. Their system makes networking straightforward to set up and use, and they have been great at answering my noob questions to get us on track. They are a super enthusiastic team and really believe in what they are doing - and that enthusiasm is certainly infectious. I was cautious about using them, partly because most of the sample projects for SDK features are implemented with Photon. But actually that hasn’t presented too much of a problem. coherence is, I think, more intelligible as a noob than Photon - which I had tried first.
If you could go back in time to the point where you decided to start developing your first game, what advice would you give yourself?
- Go to more game jams. These places are perfect for trying new ideas, learning from others to supercharge your coding abilities, and networking to find people to work with. Working with someone during a game jam is worth a million interviews and networking events. Get involved with the game dev community.
- Start marketing early. I was a bit shocked when I released Squingle that making and releasing a game is only half the work. A slightly rude awakening! Had I spent more time hanging out with people in the game industry, my expectations could have been adjusted and I’d have been more proactive in marketing sooner.
- Get feedback early and often - don’t trust your own intuition about gameplay or user experience. You need to test it with a wide spectrum of real people, and don’t just get verbal feedback but watch or record them play and write constant notes.
- And finally - make time to work during your most productive hours, and don’t work in your least productive ones. Instead take time for yourself, do exercise, socialize, and meditate.
Where can people find out more about your game?
Read Squingle’s user reviews on Squingle’s AppLab page!
Making a game with coherence? We'd love to learn more. Email us!