Interview: Niffler's Chuck Sommerville talks about how Chuck's Challenge on iPhone compares to Atari Lynx classic Chip's Challenge

Lynx to the past

Interview: Niffler's Chuck Sommerville talks about how Chuck's Challenge on iPhone compares to Atari Lynx classic Chip's Challenge
| Chuck's Challenge

Classic Epyx puzzler Chip's Challenge was a much-loved title on the Atari Lynx, and still holds up today due to its focus on gameplay over graphics.

A long overdue sequel, Chuck's Challenge (starring a new purple protagonist), arrived on iOS near the end of 2010.

Two updates to the game last month (one adding content, another fixing some bugs) have now arguably made it match up better to its highly regarded predecessor.

Chuck's Challenge developer and former Epyx employee Chuck Sommerville talked to us about how the update has elevated the game, the title's Lynx-based roots, and why California Games would be a great fit for iOS devices.

Pocket Gamer: What was the reasoning behind making Chuck’s Challenge?

Chuck Sommerville: Well, much to my pleasant surprise, even though I created Chip's Challenge in the '80s, I still get many requests to this day to build new games. There is also a large homebrew community, which I've been working with - it has created hundreds of new levels based on the original game elements.

Adding this to digital publishing and the adoption of smartphones suggested it was the right time for us to develop a new game.

What is in Chuck’s Challenge that you didn't include in Chip’s Challenge for the Atari Lynx?

The first thing we added was the ability to rewind time, so the player can undo multiple mistakes. Chip's Challenge was pretty brutal: you'd be playing a level for 20 minutes and if you made one mistake, it was back to the beginning. There is a clock ticking, even when you rewind time, which rewards player who don't use the undo function.

We also consciously made the levels shorter, not only to appeal to the new player, but also to make the game less repetitive and more concentrated.

Was it a deliberate decision to include a new protagonist based on yourself?

It was, but not by me: it was our executive director's idea. From there, we decided we should make all the characters richer. We spent months designing Chuck, Woop, and his pets.

We shared this character evolution on Facebook, so we could get feedback from the fans. Amusingly, we spent more time doing this than it took me to originally code Chip's Challenge (which only took 10 weeks), but I'm really pleased we did.

How have the recent updates for Chuck’s Challenge made it a better game? Are there any plans to support the game with further content updates?

Yes, the great thing about creating games these days is that it's more of a service than a product. You get time to evolve the game, rather than having a hard stop. This lets you find the bits people like and build on them.

The game is also designed to be expandable, so further game packs will be added.

Do you think there will always be a place for simple but addictive puzzle titles such as Chuck's Challenge on mobile platforms, or do you think consumers may eventually start demanding more complex experiences?

Yes, however I think a game can evolve with the player.

So, currently we include over 70 different game elements, but there are also another 100 already designed that are not yet included. For example, we have some logic switches, so you can build a basic computer if you wanted to. Watch this space.

What do you think Chuck's Challenge offers gamers that other puzzlers in the App Store don’t?

Chuck's Challenge was designed from the beginning to be a user-generated gaming platform. The team strongly believes that a person's first steps into game development should not be about learning how to code, it should be about game design.

So, you choose to be a player, a reviewer, or a designer - it's up to you.

An Android version of the game is in the works – have you got a rough date for when it will be released? Will it be different to the iOS version in any way?

We are porting the game to Unity, so an Android version will be possible, along with a PC and Mac version. We think this will take several months, so hopefully it will be completed later this year. The aim is to have all the different formats talk to a central cloud, so that levels can be shared across all platforms.

The Unity guys are doing some cool stuff, so we'll have to wait and see what they pull out of their bag of tricks.

Are you currently working on any new games?

Yes, but they are in the early stages of development, so unfortunately I can't discuss them yet.

Finally - if you could choose any other classic Epyx Lynx title to re-invent (such as Blue Lightning, Electrocop, Zarlor Mercernary) and bring onto iOS, which one would you pick and why?

California Games, if we could create anything, as it’s a great game and Kevin Furry (also a Niffler founder) worked on it. So, it would only be fair that we remake one of his old games, and there’s a better chance of finding eight players with iPhones than there is eight Atari Lynx owners.

The recently updated version of Chuck's Challenge is available to download now for iPhone and iPad for free.