The Back Burner #2 – Turnit

Being a fan of old-school arcade games, I spent a lot of time playing through various classics via MAME as a younger human. The Classic Arcade Hall of Fame would include such venerable hits as Galaxian, Pac-Man, Asteroids, Missile Command, and so on, but I found myself strangely drawn to the oddball games that didn’t receive the acclaim that the aforementioned garnered (rightly) with ease from casual and hardcore gamers alike.

One game that I stumbled upon during one of these many late-night, bleary-eyed MAME-athons was Cameltry. (I’m not totally sure on the pronunciation. I’ve vacillated between pronouncing it “camel-tree” and “camel-try” at various points, depending on the weather and the alignment of the planets.)


The object of Cameltry is simple: roll the ball around until you reach the exit. If you don’t reach the exit before the clock hits zero, it’s game over. There are various obstacles along the way, such as breakable blocks and tiles that sap precious seconds away from the timer. It’s a short game, but it definitely provides an ample amount of fun.

With Cameltry in mind, I set out to create a worthy homage. Turnit was the result.

Turnit title screen

The basic idea of the game would be essentially the same as in Cameltry. You would rotate the world in order to maneuver the spherical character toward the exit. In Cameltry, though, you just had to beat the clock. With Turnit, I was wanting to have a collection aspect, where you would be required to collect a certain number of items in order for the exit passageway to be unlocked. I was hoping this would allow me to construct more puzzle-like levels, since the player would have to go searching through the nooks and crannies of each stage in order to grab the necessary items. This was possibly a mistake, since this extra complexity slowed the game down somewhat, making it less of a fast-paced arcade experience and (slightly) more of a considered experience. I never made it close enough to the finishing line to make a definitive assessment on this, however.

Rotate that playfield like you mean it!

Like Cameltry, Turnit is mainly tile-based (though underneath, it uses polygons for collision detection). To add some spice to the game, there would be time-sapping blocks, breakable tiles, laser beams, rotating beams, gears, magnets, pinball bouncers, and possibly some more that I would add later. Hitting a time-sapper would, as in Cameltry, knock a few seconds off the timer and bring you a little closer to your demise. The magnets would either cling you to them or repel you away, depending on their label. One cool feature that I thought would add some interesting puzzle elements was the colored spheres. These would roll around the level the same as the player, only they would unlock matching-colored walls if they were fitted into the appropriate slot. It’s a simple thing, really, but it seemed like this feature by itself would greatly increase the possibilities as far as designing intriguing levels and paths through which to roll.

Lots of stuff to roll around, through, and between

Of course, as is the usual course of these things (and the main reason for creating these Back Burner diaries), I stopped working on the game for a couple of years, and it receded noiselessly into the background. Once I was finally able to begin working on it again, I ran into some difficult bugs that I wasn’t able to iron out to my satisfaction, which kind of soured me on the whole thing. This was partly due to the fact that I was using a few different libraries (Chipmunk, OpenLayer, and Allegro), some of which had become incompatible with later versions of the other pieces. Todd helped me quite a bit by creating a version that worked with Allegro 5, but by that time I was ready to throw in the towel.

Saying goodbye to Turnit was kind of bittersweet for me. I thought it could have been a pretty awesome game if it was competed. It was one of the few games I ever worked on (along with vGolf and Dot to Dot) that I just really enjoyed playing. There was a lot of potential here, but alas, such is the way of things.

Below is a video of the last version that shows a brief glimpse of Turnit’s gameplay. The frame rate is off a little bit, so it looks slightly sped-up, and there is no sound. Until the next episode…


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