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Rage 2014 has long since come and gone, but for the writers at NAG we’re still sifting through all of the great items seen at the show. One of the best was the home_coded stand, dedicated to the works of local game development talent, and what a mix of titles there was on offer! Point-and-click adventures, music/rhythm, espionage, alien lobotomies – it ran the gamut. It was a vibrant gaming menagerie, and the developers are every bit as interesting as their games.

We’ll be publishing a series of articles focusing on some of these local devs and their upcoming games; if you’re joining us late and want to catch up on the entire series, simply click the following link: home_coded 2014.

At its core, Alien Lobotomy is about maths. Placing you in the role of an alien taking the subtle approach to world domination, players infiltrate the minds of persons of power, rewiring neurons in order to take control. The objective is simple – each neuron has a value, and connecting the various neurons results in their values being added together. Once you’ve made all your connections, the total needs to fall into a certain range defined for each stage. Simple, right?

Not quite, since you’ve got a limited number of moves and several types of neurons, some of which allow for multiple connections (bi-polar) while others stop the flow in its tracks. I began to suffer from delusions of acuity, slicing through some low-ranking officials while Kevin Marais, one of the game’s co-developers, was watching over my shoulder. “Alright, try this one,” he said, bringing up one of the later puzzles, and I realised that no, I was the one being controlled and manipulated.

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Cukia Kimani and Kevin Marais of Soup With Bits

Marais and Cukia Kimani, the game’s other co-dev, really got serious about game development when — having met at Wits University while studying computer science — they began attending Make Games SA meet-ups last year, culminating in them participating in a recent Ludum Dare game jam.

“We had this [Ludum Dare] theme ‘Beneath the Surface’,” elaborates Kimani on the genesis of Alien Lobotomy. “4am, so much caffeine in us. I didn’t want to be literal with the theme. So I was thinking, ‘beneath a human’, delving into the brain.”

“We’re still not sure how we came upon the idea of numbers. They say you should always scrap your first idea, but we decided to just run with it,” continues Marais. I’m surprised to learn that there was initially a plan to make the game multiplayer, with players vying for influence over key leaders, losing and gaining influence as they go.

“But it wasn’t compelling,” says Kimani. “Why’d you want to keep playing online? Gaining influence, losing influence, it didn’t add anything to the game. We decided to focus on the core experience, rather let the player move from level to level, and we’ve been adding various mechanics as we go.”

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Alien Lobotomy

The main challenge has been conveying to players its intricacies, which is especially important given that it’s aiming for a mobile release where attention spans are minimal and speedbumps are enough to convince players to move on to something else – something I saw a couple of players do when they attempted the Alien Lobotomy demo at rAge. “We’re pretty new to game design,” says Kimani. “When someone comes to play it, and they don’t have any idea what’s going on, that for me is key. What are they seeing, what are they not seeing? How can we lead the player? I don’t get dejected when I see players struggle, though. I’m thinking, ‘How can I improve this?'”

Marais sums up Alien Lobotomy‘s place in gaming: “For me, if you’re tired of playing brain-numbing mobile games and you want to get some stimulation, Alien Lobotomy is perfect. You just need to give it the chance, and you’ll be hooked.” You can decide for yourself: give a slightly earlier version of the game a go by clicking this link.