This week I got a chance to talk to James Shasha, the man behind the Flappy Bird Twine game The Pipes Are My Solitude.
Here’s some quick questions with a (part-time) Twine developer:
Storycade [SC]: Why did you create a Twine version of Flappy Bird? Why Twine specifically?
James Shasha [JC]: The Pipes Are My Solitude was actually made for a class. I study Creative Media and Game Programming at Champlain College [Vermont]. About 30 minutes before an art class, I realized that I had forgotten to do the homework, which was to create or conceptualize an art piece responding to something in the news. I’ve been really fascinated by Twine games lately, and had recently downloaded Twine, so I knew that I wanted to use it no matter what the piece was. This was about a day or two before Dong Nguyen took the game down, so I guess it was right at the height of Flappy-Bird mania, and I got the idea pretty quickly.
I wanted Pipes to sort of strip down Flappy Bird and investigate what is so captivating about it. It’s also a bit of a gentle poke at the whole “art game” mentality (though I should point out that I’m making fun of myself a bit there, as I love to play and make games like that). I made the game real quick and took it to class, and my professor suggested that I post it online. So The Pipes Are My Solitude was made in twenty minutes for a goofy art assignment.
SC: What actually factors into the player/readers score?
JS: It’s funny, people tend to convince themselves that the game somehow determines how fast they click or where the bird is or something, but it actually is just a dice roll. Every time the player approaches a set of pipes, it generates a random number that determines whether or not you make it. It’s really “difficult” and not even that good; if I were to spend more time on it I would probably add some sort of invisible “skill” variable that made the odds get better the longer you play. I think the score is the weakest part of the game, because it doesn’t really parallel the typical score of a real game of Flappy Bird. The other random element, which I think was a bit more successful, was the randomized title. Pipes has 6 or 7 different titles, which change randomly every time you reset the game (it always starts as the Pipes Are My Solitude). I’ve seen posts online about it under at least four different titles, including Floopy Brad, Crush Bird, and my personal favorite, Floppy Banner Candy Saga.
SC: What did you think about the situation regarding Nguyen’s decision to pull Flappy Bird?
JS: People seem to forget the games are made by real people, not just anonymous corporate game factories. I’ve seen a lot of speculation about why he pulled the game, usually centered around the idea that Flappy Bird would somehow attract legal attention from Nintendo or other similar games or that this is all a big publicity stunt. After all, Nguyen’s got what every indie wants, right? But I think it’s more complicated than that.
The kind of attention that Flappy Bird got is definitely not the kind of attention he wanted. It’s not the worst game ever made, and there are some really interesting lessons that we can learn from the design of the game and its virality. But it’s pretty clear to me that he just wants to move on and get back to making games. He won the lottery, and now he’s trying to just live a normal life and earn his money and fame in a way that he feels he deserves. Instead, he’s got thousands and thousands of random Internet people hanging on his every word, blaming him for his success or asking for pieces of his pie or riding his coattails. Or discussing the merits of his decision to take the game down. I don’t think Nguyen owes anything to people who played his game, and if he thinks that taking it down is the right thing to do then I support him fully.
SC: Are you participating in the Candy Jam or the Flappy Bird Jam? What other projects are you working on?
JS: I was planning on entering The Pipes Are My Solitude in the Flappy jam but I actually haven’t really been focusing on it lately. Last Saturday we held our first annual Green Mountain Games Festival at Champlain College, and I was fortunate enough to be on a team of just four people planning and orchestrating the whole thing. Unfortunately that meant that I didn’t really have a chance to focus on other projects, like polishing up Pipes a little and submitting it to some of the Jams that are springing up.
The festival was a big success. Rami Ismail gave our keynote talk, and Zoe Quinn did a really powerful talk about her Twine game, Depression Quest. So the last few weeks for me have been a bit of a blur with planning and getting things ready for the festival, and it’s all been sort of framed by The Pipes Are My Solitude getting thousands of views. I think the highlight of Pipes’ fifteen minutes of fame was the night before the festival. I was picking Rami and Zoe up from the airport, and when the talk turned to Flappy Bird, Rami mentioned that he had played my game. My mind was a little blown that it had spread around so much.
I’ve been joking with my friends that the Pipes Are My Solitude ended up following a very similar path as the real Flappy Bird. There are even “clones” of it springing up, as other Twine developers get similar ideas. I’m glad that my game got some attention, and I’m certainly proud of it. But I don’t really think it’s a super big deal. The way I see it, I cracked a joke, and sixty thousand people chuckled.
Thank you James for taking the time for the interview. Good luck at college, and hopefully this is only the first year of the Green Mountain Games Festival! If you haven’t already, be sure to check out The Pipes Are My Solitude on Philomela.