Playing Bad Hotel, you can almost see the list of ‘what ifs’ that drives its development. What if, instead of defending a base with towers, you defend a tower with itself? What if every room you add not only serves a practical purpose, but also adds to a player-generated orchestra? What if all of that was even crazier than it sounded?
Bad Hotel is the answer to those questions, and that answer seems pretty great. You start with a little hotel, a single piece of tower jutting up from the ground. You can drag money-generating rooms onto every side of it and then onto each other, piling them up into the sky and bringing in the big bucks. If, that is, they can stand up to the efforts of Tarnation Tadstock, the Texas Tyrant. He’s out to take your tower down, and has an army of rats, monkeys and dive-bombing seagulls to send against you.
The first, cheapest rooms generate money. The next are small guns, then mine launchers, then healing rooms that emit an unpleasant sort of healing gas. Each of these are layered on around the original hotel structure, which must be protected at all costs. Each bird or monkey that makes it through takes off a chunk of the hotel’s health, and any structure that gets destroyed will collapse every other piece that’s built off it. There’s no mazing, no lanes, just the knowledge that whatever you do, your hotel will fall to shambles before you’re done. It’s kind of a relief to not need to worry about perfection.
Instead, you concern yourself with making beautiful music. Each room has its own tone that triggers as it fires, heals, or generates funds. The height matters, as does the environment. Both genres and genre-defying tracks can be built out of the hotels as the game progress. Beach chill-out, country banjo—just about anything goes.
You could say Lucky Frame knows what it’s doing when it comes to generative music systems. Just look at its history on the App Store: Mujik ($0.99), an app that makes music creation playful. Pugs Luv Beats ($0.99) is an absolutely ludicrous game about using singing pugs to collect beats than can be used to explore the universe (and to buy adorable costumes). Then there’s Pug Synth (Free), its voice-synthesizing followup.
We spoke with studio founder and director Yann Seznec by email about Lucky Frame’s musical history. He founded the company after earning international attention for a Wii-based loop machine. The company set out to create accessible and innovative musical interfaces, and eventually received an investment from Channel 4 and Creative Scotland to create a series of entertaining music games and apps for iOS.
But it isn’t just music that inspires Lucky Frame. As Yann explained, the studio’s focus is on finding curious and quirky ways to relate to an audience through interaction and interface, and empower that audience to interact with things in a way that will hopefully surprise and delight them. This journey brought the company deeper and deeper into exploring game mechanics.
Bad Hotel is, in many ways, the next natural point in that exploration. Where all Lucky Frame’s other apps leaned on the music toy side of things, this one is indisputably a game. You could take or leave the musical elements, but they make the experience vastly richer.
Jonathan Brodsky, Lucky Frame’s Chief Technical Officer, explained how Bad Hotel came to be. It began, he said, as a Ludum Dare game, and as such was built around a pun—what if “tower defense" really meant defending towers?
“What came out of that was a nice prototype that was far more action oriented than most tower defense games that I have played. As we built out the prototype more, we realized that many of the tower defense standard mechanics don’t fit with the rules of the game that we were creating and had to find different solutions." The game mechanics that Lucky Frame settled on had to fit the constraints of that model, and also help to build the musical instrument that Bad Hotel was to become.
The resulting game is much less of a toy than Lucky Frame’s earlier apps. It’s challenging, engaging, and defies genre boundaries. And it retains the studio’s apparent love of the absurd. You won’t have to wait long to see for yourself; Bad Hotel should be hitting the App Store some time in August. It’s looking pretty slick already, so the wait is sure to be worthwhile. In the meantime, you can keep an eye on the game in our forums.