Iceblox: History

The Easter holidays of 1996 were approaching. I knew that in a short while I'd be able to concentrate on exactly whatever I wanted for an extended period of time. That seemed like a perfect opportunity to hack some Java. But what kind of applet should I write?

There seemed to be no point in trying to outdo Rubik Unbound. I had already stretched my mediocre Java skills to their limits in terms of board games and puzzles. An arcade game would be a logical step sideways up the complexity ladder. But I did not want to write just another Pacman, Missile Command, Breakout or Space Invaders. For one thing, about a million people had already ported those games to Java, with varying success. More importantly though, to me, writing such a game is like saying, "I was asleep from 1982 to 1990 and I don't care that Java has 32-bit color support." Sure, I know that Pacman et al. supposedly have some timeless classical appeal, but those who claim this are generally the same kind of people who still find Laurel & Hardy movies hysterically funny. (No offense, dad.)

I wanted to re-create something from the years when people started expecting more of computer games, and the developers realized that graphics can help improve the feeling of a game. The moving objects didn't have to be just symbolic geometrical shapes like rectangles and pie charts.

There were several reasons why I chose Pengo for inspiration. The main one was the low and somewhat erratic speed of graphics operations in Java. Combine that with keyboard control and there's not much steering precision. One remedy is making the game environment very block-oriented. This makes precise control unnecessay, but has obvious drawbacks. I remembered Pengo, however, as a game where the blockiness didn't really feel like a confinement, because the player was compensated with plenty of freedom to re-arrange his surroundings if things got too tight. (Click on the picture for a couple of full-size screen shots.)

Unfortunately, due to my not having played Pengo for over a decade, my Iceblox only got superficial similarities to the original. In Pengo, the object of the game is to line up a set of diamonds. Some blocks do contain treasures but they are invisible and there aren't any rocks. Both alternatives have some benefits, I guess.