Independent game and app development has rapidly changed since the launch of the App Store back in 2008. Back then mobile development was comparable to the wild west; nobody was sure of how to best utilise the new interface (touchscreen without supporting buttons) nor how stable the economy would be (could mobile gaming ever really compare to PC or console?). Fast forward a decade and these two important factors have now been proven; the touchscreen isn’t simply a virtual control pad and the market is flourishing.
Critical Bit is one such studio that abides by the newfound rules of independent development: if you don’t try, you’ll never know. A team that consists of three friends, their passion for a variety of experiences is evident throughout any conversation with them, but the reality is they understand the game of making games. A clutch of titles developed for mobile and PC (via Steam), such as Hyper Time Disrupter and Reign of Bullets, found the studio in receipt of small successes and significant praise, allowing the team to experiment and develop their internal ethos of ‘everyone can make a game!’, branching out into AR and VR and, potentially, console development, too.
Critical Bit’s most successful release to date is less of a game and more of an informational app. Fighting Trainer exists as the team were approached by a martial arts professional, Erwin van der Helm, who wanted to develop an app that would allow his students to practice outside of dojo hours. This intriguing prospect saw Critical Bit exercising their taste for experimentation through diving into motion-capture and recreation of 3D models with any direct user interaction: how exactly do you portray a kick, punch or throw in a manner that simply watching on a phone will allow the viewer to understand the principles of positioning, distance and energy? Fighting Trainer may not have been an easy task, but Critical Bit are incredibly passionate about the product they delivered, and in the evidence of their sizable audience they’re right to be so.
Branching out into immersive media was yet another leap of faith born of a love of experimentation. Blok Out is a combined AR and VR experience inspired by the studio’s own surroundings. Developed in co-operation with Grendal Games for BOEi, Blok Out is set in Blokhuispoort, an iconic building in the center of Leeuwarden which until 2007 was used as a prison. Nowadays, it is used as a HUB for innovative companies, including Critical Bit, but still offers tours for interested locals and tourists. Using Blok Out, visitors to Blokhuispoort can gain additional insight into the history of the building and learn what it was like to be imprisoned there. New stories unravel as you move through different locations and visit the cells inside the premises, guided by a character known as Barend as he himself is on a mission to collect specific items from around Blokhuispoort.
Visiting Blokhuispoort with Blok Out installed on your phone will offer five unique AR puzzles, but additionally users can use the app for a VR experience at home. Beginning in Barend’s office, players will learn the character’s backstory as they walk through a virtual recreation of the old prison and relive some of the historic events that happened within its walls.
This small clutch of games, apps and immersive experiences is just scratching the surface of the numerous titles that Critical Bit has created during the studio’s relatively short tenure, recognizing that the rules of independent development are to move fast and – perhaps more importantly – keep your passion for new experiences alive. Critical Bit is a studio that has found success while staying relatively quiet in the world of videogames, but this lends the team to the flexibility for experimentation which is clearly the part of the industry that keeps their eyes burning bright.
Kevin Joyce has been working with immersive technology since 2013, establishing VRFocus.com as one of the leading AR and VR publications before joining Admix, a non-intrusive advertising platform designed specifically for immersive experiences, as Lead Evangelist.