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GDC 2010: Hands-on with Faraway

Steph Thirion's first iPhone game was Eliss, a touchscreen-based arcade game that had you combining and maneuvering planets around one another, and trying to size-match them up with black holes to earn points. As he told us (stay tuned for an exclusive interview with the indie developer), it was pretty hard -- even more so than he actually intended it to be. So, for his second iPhone game, Faraway, he's gone much simpler. Inspired by the iPhone game Canabalt, Thirion has created a one-button game in which the goal is nothing less than to explore the universe. He has it running on a Mac at the show (so he can project the video onto a bigger screen), and we got to have some hands-on time with the new game.

You control a comet that flies around an inky black void speckled with dots and circles; the pixelated space aesthetic from Eliss is back. This time, however, there's only one control, and it's a tap anywhere on the screen. Doing so will cause your comet to gravitate towards the nearest static dot, which will then slingshot you around the star until you let go, and the comet flings off in a new direction. There's an arrow pointing off of the screen, and by timing slingshots correctly, you will face the comet in the direction of the arrow.

Once you get moving the right way for a length of time (the game has a counter constantly counting down), you'll hit a gigantic circular body, like a large white sun. Once you hit that shape, the screen flashes, and you enter into another gameplay mode -- your comet will drag a line around the screen, and anytime you gravitate to a star, the line will connect between the stars you gravitate to. Continue connecting the line, and you can continue to rack up points, but cross or touch the line (or the outside edge of the screen), and that point of the game is over -- you're given your score and your comet is sent off in a new direction, a little bit of time added to the clock that's still counting down to game end.
It sounds complicated, but in practice, the one-button simplicity keeps it fairly easy to understand. There are also various shapes to hit outside of the gigantic sun you're aiming for -- red polygons that hit your comet will make it go faster for a little while (allowing you to close space to the next sun that much more quickly), and white polygons will add time to the overall clock, letting you play the game that much longer.

The game tracks your best score, but that's it, really -- the goal is to keep the comet going for as long as possible. And it's addictive -- just like Canabalt, every time you play you feel like you've figured out a new trick, or if you just hit a star's gravity just right, you'll careen off into a new high score.
It's a lot of fun. Thirion hasn't decided on a price or release date yet (stay tuned for more information in our upcoming interview), but especially if you like the one-button simplicity of Canabalt (and who doesn't?), Faraway seems like it'll be a fun expedition into the reaches of space.

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