It’s hard to pinpoint where and how the Countryballs culture emerged but ever since it did circa 2009, the act of hand-drawing comics with country representative spherical personas belittling each other’s stereotypes in their own sense of hilarious fashion has bred a sizeable following. A quick search will reveal that this following permeates nearly every kind of social media platform today; groups filled to the brim with user rendered comics and an established set of rules to draw the same lest one be torn down for violating them, are commonplace.
Amid countless others, one of the Countryballs meme culture’s most successful running gags has been the mockery of Poland’s Countryball — called Polandball — and the futility of its attempts to break into space; There lies no particular reasoning or logic behind this considering Polish national Mirosław Hermaszewski spent nearly eight days in space back in 1978, except of course that it makes for plenty of laughs.
Regardless, Alien Pixel picks up this running Polandball theme and conjures a pocket-size game around it; with less sophisticated versions of its build available on iTunes and the Play Store, Polandball: Can Into Space! made its Steam debut with an all new user-interface and improved visuals on the 17th of June. Its offered premise is simple even if explicitly unstated in-game; as Polandball, players must build and run a makeshift rocket ship — with a piece of torn cloth for wings, a simple gasoline can for fuel reserves and so forth — for an entirety of 384,400 Km to break past earth’s atmospheric confines and land on the moon.
It’s by no means a cakewalk, for along the way come into play up to 25 other Countryballs — the majority of which are more than keen on foiling Polandball’s attempts in favour of another comic panel; these come at players from all directions, bouncing off their ships to cause damage while hurling dialogues typical of the meme’s broken English culture. Aiding players in their quest are the WASD keys which control the ship’s thrust, directional and braking systems respectively, a compact radar that indicates threats and/or friendly Countryballs willing to boost one in the right direction, fuel plus ship-health meters and a distance indicator.
Said distance indicator divides all of the upward 384,400 Km into nine checkpoints which are only indicative of player progress; running out of fuel or health, which as one can imagine happens much too often, sets players back to the launch pad to upgrade their ships using collected currency and start all over. To this end, the game offers two categories of tweaks namely Upgrades and Attributes that influence the ship’s parameters of Fuel Capacity, Armor Tolerance, Weight, Drag, Thrust Power and Handling.
While Upgrades naturally offer improved, more efficient versions of the ship’s Engine, Fuselage and other parts, the Attributes serve to further enhance the ship’s existing parameters regardless of parts equipped. As parameter related numbers eventually improve over the course of gameplay, so does the ship’s actual performance to help it handle better, garner improved fuel efficiency and damage tolerance.
In essence then, Polandball: Can Into Space! is merely a case of getting from point A to point B with barely any deviation; in it’s own quirky way though, it manages to engage the casual gamer sufficiently for them to return for multiple attempts at beating their own best distance en route to the moon. However it is when one looks beyond this layer of casual frolicking, as repeated failure and subsequent frustrations will cause one to do, does the game truly unveil a host of inconsistencies and flaws in its gameplay.
Starting with the its primary Menu that also serves as the Attributes-Upgrades tinkering screen; For one, the game finds its unnecessary to articulate what the attributes do or why they’re even needed in the face of existing upgradable parts. Why must there exist both higher quality wings within the Upgrades and four levels of an improvable Handling Attribute when both are effectively doing the same thing? On which must I spend my hard-earned currency first and which will serve me better?
This is further confounded by the fact that despite the game indicating that a particular part provides one’s ship with a x% decrease in weight, this percentage change is occasionally not effected in the parameter values during the early stages of the game. Furthermore, while subsequently purchased Upgrades and Attributes positively influence handling, fuel capacity and damage tolerance, changing parameters such as drag, thrust and weight seem to have no noticeable impact on the game per se given how the ship rises at the rate of 1,000-2000 Km/s in the absence of thrusters and a definite 2000 Km/s upon using them.
‘It all boils down to strategy’, states Lead Programmer Sergiu Crăiţoiu when asked why one must be forced to sit through all of 384,4000 Km. ‘Players are meant to study the ship’s weaknesses and think how more money can be collected; For sure upgrading thrust boosters and lowering the ship’s weight in the beginning is useless — they are used for the final push for the moon. As a result, there are people who finished the game in 4 hours and those in 10; it all depends on how you upgrade.’
The Upgrades/Attributes business is a complicated one. That said, the design and imagination that accompanies each of the ship’s available makeshift parts is both amusing and commendable; watching it evolve from the concoction of crap that it begins as to a sleeker piece of machinery over time plays a crucial role in stoking players towards their next retry. This clean yet interesting visual design carries over to actual gameplay as well — each of the 25 Countryballs come with their own stereotypical personas and behaviours that the team have developed to be both original yet faithful to their typical comic designs.
This, it reveals, is so as to make each country’s designed stereotype easy to grasp by those unfamiliar with the Countryballs universe; Jamaicaball, a friendly Countryball, sits around smoking a certain herb, contact with Greeceball leads to money theft, Romaniaball hurls itself around like a Vampire and Germanyball floats around with a big glass of lager. Herein however lies further inconsistency; only Greeceball seems to have any real interaction with the player while others simply throw themselves onto their ships to cause damage or occupy space.
Why not have Jamaicaball send the player into a haze, USAball shoot at the ship in Wild-West fashion and more, rather than have them bounce around like a grouping of Angry Birds? And why, despite inducing a few chuckles during initial play-through’s, must dialogue, enemy appearances and behaviour stay relatively the same over the 4-10 hours it takes to beat Polandball: Can Into Space!?
To further muddle the status quo, the boost in speed that the friendly Countryballs are meant to offer failed to work 9 out 10 times in my play-through owing to a bug. While fuel, health and coins were meant to randomly generate with no definite pattern — very often I would find the game refusing to spawn fuel containers on low fuel and health supplies on low health during the latter portion of the journey, sometimes even completely ceasing to generate any collectable whatsoever when the boosters were used for an extended period of time.
Repetition further creeps into the game’s audio and visual design as well; while the UI and dynamic weather effects are not just a big plus but a noteworthy step up from the game’s mobile counterpart, this transitioning rain-snow-thunderstorm cycle eventually turns incredibly stale.
Sound effects also stay the same regardless of rocket upgrades and the game plays only a single looping track throughout; this was mildly addressed in a recent update that diversified the solo track by adding a few deviations to its tune, yes, but this casual adventure ultimately forces one to play with the volume off.
Despite all of this and its painfully abrupt ending, the fact remains that Polandball: Can Into Space! does indeed hold its own quirky lure that comes solely from the degree of challenge offered. Gunning those thrusters from the get gets one nowhere as has been addressed thus far and even on normal speed, gameplay involves constant focus, prudence and skilled reflexes in establishing a path through the Countryball generated chaos.
Alien Pixel has been made well aware of the inconsistencies plaguing their pocket-sized adventure — along with the reality that the adventure itself is a bit too pocket-sized for a PC release. In the time it’s taken for me to play and Steam community has already been requested to send in their own favourite Countryballs comic-themed dialogues for a chance to have them embedded in-game.
While these added quips will come within a future patch, the team reveals that the Upgrades/Attributes section has already undergone amendments in favour of having them function more intuitively; Not only have the Upgrades and Attributes been renamed to Rocket Parts and Perks respectively, but in-game prompts have now been added to make more apparent each’s function.
Alongside this, an in-game tips/dialog system serves to add further interaction within player journeys, the friendly Countryballs bug has been fixed and the inconsistency in randomly generating collectables has also been addressed. All of these are due for what is to be the game’s largest patch in the hours after the publishing of this article.
Meanwhile, the strong case of repetition with regards to enemy behaviour and the game’s lacklustre linearity is also being actively looked into, with plans of further proliferating Polandball: Can Into Space!’s PC game-play alone now being strongly hinted at. ‘It also depends on player interest,’ quotes Crăiţoiu.
Have your own feedback for Polandball: Can Into Space!? Let it be known in the comments below.
Note that the following report was whipped up to provide Alien Pixel, members of the Higher Eclectic Network with constructive feedback pertaining to their first commercial venture, Polandball: Can Into Space! The game’s journey thus far and all future updates will continue to be recorded at its Higher Eclectic Space.
Bucharest, Romania based Alien Pixel’s Countryballs centric independent venture made its debut on Valve’s digital distribution platform earlier today, the 16th of June. Currently priced at a 15% discount from its original $2.99 tag for Windows computers, the single player adventure brings with it all the commotion associated with a crude Rocket ship and its 33 attributes plus 56 items that players must progressively unlock and utilise in an attempt to land on the moon as Poland’s country-ball. This is of course, while up to 25 countries assist or resist efforts in their visually representative, AI programmed spherical personas.
In the few hours since its release, reception towards Polandball: Can Into Space! within the Steam community continues to remain Positive. While it was Greenlit in January and release was officially slated for the month of February this year, full-time job preoccupations and commitments had forced Alien Pixel to push back release to over four months; a delay that doesn’t seem to trouble the team anymore in light of current user feedback. ‘For a small casual game? It’s really wonderful’, elaborates co-founder Sergiu Craitoiu on the game’s positive reception.
‘It’s been almost a year of work filled with its share of up’s and down’s. To be honest we hadn’t estimated that the game would take such a long time to complete; But here we are we extremely happy that we managed to finish the project. Reception has been awesome for the first day of release, with some even writing in personally to say they love the game — but let’s see how the rest of the week goes.’
Born out of the corners of the internet, Countryballs is a series of internet memes and online comics wherein countries — represented as spheres clad in their respective flags and associated attire — engage in the mockery of each other’s stereotypes. A recurring theme of the comics has been to project Polandball — a spherical persona deliberately painted with Poland’s flag upside down — as a technologically underprivileged country that despite its hardest attempts, can never make it to Space (Polandball Cannot Into Space).
Sparked by the idea of expanding on the gag in gaming fashion, the Andrei Jifcovici and Sergiu Craitoiu co-founded team of Alien Pixel commenced development on Polandball: Can Into Space in the summer of 2015. Its premise is simple — as Polandball, players are tasked with making it to the moon in a decrepit rocket amid depleting fuel and assorted obstacles, while a host of other countries either attempt to bring them down or help them on their quests.
Through the collection of money, parts and repeated failure during this course, players are provided with fancier, more efficient upgrades to their crafts that will eventually help them break past earth’s atmospheric confines. Months that ensued saw its art and game-play mechanics evolve under the spotlight of events such as Ubisoft’s Game Jam in the same year, where the game’s build at the time even won itself the laurel of being the Most Polished Game present therein.
Alongside its Steam Greenlight campaign also came an Android and Apple Store release earlier this year, both of which are older, less visually advanced versions of the current PC build; For in the months after being Greenlit, the team took upon community feedback to render Polandball: Can Into Space!‘s Windows counterpart with added features such as an improved user interface, randomised weather effects and numerous other fixes.
As for the future now, the team explain that the game will continue to receive full support and even potential updates as they move towards working on a new IP. ‘Polandball was our first serious game development experience and we do believe its helped put into perspective how we should approach our next project,’ reveals Craitoiu. The new IP in question is alluded to be a puzzle-platformer, the mechanics design of which is expected to begin soon.
Craitoiu also dispels all chances of the revamped UI and weather effects making their way to the game’s mobile versions, stating that they simply aren’t suited for mobile performance. Survival-horror Torch meanwhile, another Alien Pixel IP that was shown off in its alpha form at this year’s East European Comic Con in Romania alongside Polandball, has been put on hold until such time sufficient funds and resources are accumulated by the team.
Bucharest, Romania based indie game developers, AlienPixel & their single player expansion of the Polandball universe are the latest in a lineup of new additions to Higher Eclectic Ground’s Indie Game community.
Co-founded by Andrei Jifcovici & Sergiu Craitoiu at a local McDonald’s back in June, 2015 — the team constituent of ex-Electronic Arts Romania employee Andrei Simion, veteran music composer Lex Dumitru and freelancing graphic designer Ingrid Juncanariu, debuted here on the 3rd of February with the trailer that accompanied their game’s Play Store release on the 5th of January from earlier this year.
Based on the Polandball internet meme turned comic series — that constitutes spherical balls representative of the world’s various countries mocking each other’s stereotypes, history & doings in broken English — Polandball: Can Into Space features Poland’s own country ball on its quest to reach the moon, despite the constant mockery of other countries. Players of course, must pilot said quest while in control of a near-defunct rocketship — navigating other countries, mid-air junk, collecting money & parts along the way.
These parts & money come in handy considering that making it to the moon in a single go is impossible; players will run out of fuel, crash & burn several hundreds of times — returning to their little garages to tweak and buy new parts for their rockets each time before trying again. However as Alien Pixel themselves state, not all of the 25, visually intricate country balls are present to harm the player — meaning users will have to learn to use the friendly ones to their advantage. Moreover the customization itself is rather layered, with the rocket comprising of 9 tiers of tech that can be upgraded with several of the available 56 items and ‘attributes.’
Can Into Space was the direct result of an idea to create a Countryball inspired game, as harboured by music composer Dumitru whom Jifcovici had convinced Craitoiu into meeting back in June last year. Before they knew it, a team was being formed — one that went through two different artists until Ingrid Juncanariu came their way and designed the game’s core art style in but a couple of weeks.
It was here however, Craitoiu admits, where the team made their biggest mistake — opting to wait until game completion to market their game, for fear of their Intellectual Property being stolen or criticised before it even came to fruition. This fear carried on well into Ubisoft’s November Game Jam last year, wherein the team kept to themselves to develop on their Can Into Space’s mechanics & art without interacting or marketing it to any of the industry specialists present there.
Craitoiu and the rest of the team’s eyes would open only post stumbling upon a chance article on the internet after the event, one that advised indie developers on marketing their games. It was here that the game started to not only develop for itself a full-fledged website, but merchandise, a social media presence and eventually a video trailer — before debuting on Steam Greenlight along with a Google Play release on the 6th of January this year. Greenlight approval arrived in less than a month. with Craitoui going on to document the team’s experiences with botched marketing for others to learn from via an article on Gamasutra.
Now, post applying for an Apple App Store release last weekend pending approval, the team intend to move into the game’s Steam release phase — in preparation for its Early Access release sometime by the end of February or early March. This Early Access release of course, stems out of the team’s desire to add more to the gameplay in terms of both missions and achievements — the progress of which will be shared by means of screenshots, video snippets and more on the Community here.
Additionally, they will also be on the lookout for both YouTubers & Writers both within and outside the community — in the hopes of them streaming, covering and providing honest feedback on Can Into Space. To follow all of that and learn more about the game’s history, development and features then — be sure to tune in to their newly created Higher Eclectic Space here. Those willing to get in touch with them can do so by dropping them an e-mail or via our member forums, the Bulletin.
Polandball: Can Into Space is now available as a free download on the Android Store. Be sure to give it a whirl and leave the team your thoughts on the game in the comments below.