Offspring Fling

A game by Kyle Pulver for PC and Mac, originally released in 2012.
In Offspring Fling, you take control of a cute yellow forest creature with long ears and whiskers. One fine day, she is hanging out in the forest with all of her cute little baby critters when a huge dinosaur-like monster bursts into the clearing and scares them all away. The mommy stands her ground but she is no match for the monster, and finds herself knocked silly in no time. Then, she picks herself up and runs off into the forest to save her babies.

While you start out in a level specifically dubbed “Tutorial”, you’ll actually be learning new tricks throughout the bulk of your 100-level journey. First you’ll learn your platforming moveset, which consists of a variable height 3x jump that’s operates a bit more slowly than that of your traditional platformer. In addition to running and jumping, you can also pick up your babies (offspring) and toss (fling) them in a straight line to either the left or right. Alternately, you can drop the babies wherever you like. Your goal is simple enough: get all of the babies to the exit door and move on to the next level.

But as simple as that may sound, there are many subtle nuances to how your character controls and how the babies impact your movement, each other, and the environment. The game eases you into a solid understanding of its rules, and then pushes you to use them in new ways throughout your adventure.

First off, you can carry multiple babies at a time. At first, you’ll only have 1 or 2 babies in each level, but you’ll be dealing with more and more as you go. Each baby you’re carrying slows your movement speed somewhat, and lowers your jump height. So, while you have a 3x jump at the start, picking up even a single baby will prevent you from being able to reach previously-accessible platforms. And this is core to the gameplay… moving the babies around so that you can get them to the exit, and to get there yourself once the job is complete.

Even the earliest levels enforce the fact that you’ll need to toss a baby or two in order to get them in the proper positions for finishing the level. Later on, you’ll be tossing babies into bumpers to send them bouncing around the room, using them to stun enemies, dropping them on switches, and madly attempting to catch them in midair before they plummet to their deaths in pools of acid.

Each time you finish a level, you earn a blue flower, which unlocks one new level. A ghost of your best performance is also recorded so that you may attempt to beat your old time and work toward the specified goal to earn a gold flower, which unlocks yet another level. There’s a third type of flower called a rainbow flower, which you can only earn by beating the developer’s best time on the level. If you thought earning a gold flower was difficult, just wait until you squeak by on the gold time only to see that the developer’s time was several seconds below your own.

Sometimes, the developer’s time may seem like a completely unreachable goal, or it may be so low that you cannot even comprehend how that time was achieved. As you learn some advanced techniques later in the game, you may understand how some of these times were gained, and return to try them for yourself. If you get close to the developer’s time, you’ll unlock a ghost of the developer’s run, so you can see exactly what he did to get there. Usually it’s a combination of perfect timing – particularly when dealing with quick platform hops and direction changes – and a complete understanding of the game’s mechanics (like repeatedly jumping in narrow passages to gain a bit of extra speed). When you do manage to beat the developer’s time, it’s generally only by a couple hundredths of a second. And yes, you will be screaming and wetting yourself when you watch the dev ghost make some tiny mistake that guarantees your victory (their results may vary from yours. -ed). And equal cursing will occur when you make a mistake of your own that negates your advantage.

Since blue and gold flowers open up new levels, you are free to skip forward if you are having difficulty with any of the puzzle solutions. However, the room layouts are simple enough that experimentation will eventually lead you to success. Many of the areas are single-screen environments, although there are a few that are larger and require that you scroll the screen and sometimes toss babies off the edges. Once you have beaten a level and earned a blue flower, you may continue or attempt to beat the goal times to earn more flowers to earn unlockables. Most levels are designed to be beaten in under 20 seconds by a skilled player, but you’ll often need to make several attempts before you can achieve this yourself. This also means that there is virtually no time lost when you fail and must repeat a level.

Understanding the nuances of the mechanics will help you to achieve better times. For instance, you may be inclined to pick up a single baby, toss it toward the exit door, then pick up a second and toss it, and then exit yourself. However, you could save yourself a bit of time by waiting until you’ve picked them both up before tossing them, because you can throw multiple babies very quickly. You will even pause in midair when tossing babies, which means you could actually make a jump, toss multiple babies while in midair, and then continue on yourself. Or, you may find that it’s better to just run straight to the exit while carrying the babies. You even have to take ceiling heights into account, since babies stack vertically.

In early stages, you’ll often have multiple possible paths that will lead you to success, but as the levels grow more complex, the solutions become more limited. Some of the first complexities you’ll encounter are buttons that make blocks appear and disappear. By standing on a button, red blocks will disappear, and blue blocks will appear, and hitting the button again reverses the effect. In the early levels, these blocks are just meant to obstruct certain paths or act and platforms to reach another point in the level.

Later, you’ll be tasked with tossing babies to hit the buttons for you, timing multiple button presses to open a series of blocks, and even clearing blocks for babies that are in mid-flight. Some buttons even have to be held down to retain their effect. Advanced techniques allow you to prevent blocks from appearing by dropping a baby on the outline where the block should appear, allowing you to flip a switch and alter the level, while leaving a gap open for yourself… just keep in mind that you can’t pick up a baby if there’s no space above your head to hold it!

As you progress, you’ll encounter wall-mounted switches that can only be activated by tossing babies, or which can be activated by certain acid spitting enemies, thus making changes to the environment without your direct control. Some of the more complex layouts require you to allow the acid spitters to flip switches for you and break certain blocks, and then make a mad dash to save a baby before it is killed, thus ending the level. Very often, your platforming abilities are just as important to your success as your puzzle solving abilities. This is certainly true in the scrolling levels where you have to run to avoid bees, outrun rising water, and head off bouncing babies…

Red bumpers allow you to toss babies and cause them to bounce at 90 degree angles. You’ll eventually be tasked with lining up productive chain reactions and even tossing babies and running to their target point to catch them, and you’ll even find rooms where switches can change the direction of the bumpers. Also, since only 2 babies can stand on a single block at a time, you have to be careful that multiple tossed babies don’t shove each other off the edge.

The game slowly introduces several enemy types, including the aforementioned acid-spitting plants. Most enemies can be stunned by tossing a baby into them, but can kill you or the baby outright by simply coming in contact with them. Some enemies patrol back and forth while others, like giant bees, will pursue you through the level and can fly through walls and platforms. Thomp-like spiked blocks will zoom toward you if you pass through their movement range, but will slowly return to their starting points.

Beyond the halfway point, you’ll begin encountering stones that can be tossed just like babies, and can be used to activate switches and such without the horrible repercussions of being killed by enemies or burned by acid. You’ll also encounter platforms that will fall depending on the amount of weight applied to them. Stand on it yourself, and it will not move, but if you’re holding a baby, it will slowly start to sink. Holding multiple babies will cause it to sink even faster. And, weighing it down with 3 or more babies will cause it to lower as well.

Most players should have little difficulty in actually completing the game, so long as they have good platforming skills and basic puzzle-solving. The real challenge comes from completing levels under the prescribed time limits. Skilled players can look forward to some unlockables, and there’s a nice challenge at the end of the game that offers closure to the story.

Offspring Fling was developed by Kyle Pulver, of Tempe, Arizona. Kyle has created a number of games during his indie career. He is also the co-founder of Retro Affect, the developers of Snapshot, along with David Carrigg and Peter Jones. He also partnered with Spelunky developer Derek Yu to create Diamond Densetsu Gaiden: Everlasting Symphony of the Red Diamond (a.k.a. Diamond Dodger) which is a bullet hell shmup created in the span of 48 hours. Kyle’s previous development efforts are outlined below.

The soundtrack for Offspring Fling was done by Canadian composer and developer Alec Holowka, one of the folks behind the critically-acclaimed Aquaria, as well as I’m O.K: A Murder Simulator, both in made in conjunction with Derek Yu. Alec worked with Kyle Pulver previously on Verge, depict1, and Everyone Loves Active 2 (see below), collaborated with indie developers Mark Johns and Ivan Safrin on Owl Country, and provided some music for Crayon Physics Deluxe

This is an action-platformer created for the Art x Game collection, a joint effort between Giant Robot and Attract Mode, which teams a game developer with an artist to create a game. Kyle teamed up with illustrator J. Otto Seibold to create a strange world and characters based on J. Otto’s designs, combined with Kyle’s love of platforming. Players jump, double jump, ride platforms, shoot enemies, and explore to find weapon upgrades to unleash larger and more powerful projectiles.

This game was created as part of the TIGSource Commonplace Book Competition, based on a series of H.P. Lovecraft’s notes, which were compiled into a collection known as the “Commonplace Book”. This is a platformer starring a shadowy character set amongst a backdrop of a lush yet enemy-filled overworld. The character may bop on enemies’ heads to destroy them, press buttons to create and remove red and blue blocks (like Offspring Fling!), and manipulate blocks to activate switches.

But falling into pits of spikes in the overworld sends the player into the darkness of the underworld. There, gravity is reversed, and the player must make his way along until he finds a way back into the overworld via an ankh-marked doorway. However, transitioning between both worlds is actually used as a means of progression, so the player must regularly fling himself to his own death in order to continue.

The underworld is not without its dangers, as creatures slowly move toward you and latch on, reducing your movement. There are also areas where the overworld and underworld touch, represented by pools of water. The player is free to jump into the pools, and his downward momentum will be translated into upward momentum in the upside-down gravity of the underworld, and vice versa. The player can take advantage of this to reach higher platforms between each of the worlds, and to move blocks between the worlds to reposition them.

Space Sushi
This game was entered into the TIGSource Versus Competition. This is a 2P versus game is based on the wacky premise that you are a fish hunter in space, trying to catch fish that are worth a lot of money so you can sell them to space sushi restaurants. However, overfishing certain breeds will lead to their extinction, which results in a monetary penalty. The player who earns the most money at the end of the 2-minute match wins.

This is a platformer originally created for the Global Game Jam 2010. The theme for the competition was deception. This is a basic run-n-jump platformer, but a text box on the top of the screen gives the player bad advice throughout his journey, acting as a deceitful tutorial. The game plays on a number of platforming tropes, tasking the player with not hopping on enemies to kill them, avoiding shiny gems, and running headlong into rows of spikes (which can actually be picked up and used to create makeshift platforms to climb walls and break blocks). Also, picking up the “high jump boots” actually causes your jump to become lower, but also lets you crush certain blocks by jumping on them. By the end, you’ll even encounter areas where the platforms themselves act oppositely from the expected.

Everyone Loves Active 2
This is an arena shooter where the player controls a small diamond fighting against shapes that emerge from the edges of the screen. The player is able to curve his bullets along a line to destroy shielded enemies and create chains to destroy multiple enemies for additional points, and he can pick up a few other powerups as well. Movement of the ships and projectiles “paints” the background, so a different image remains at the end of every play session. Enemy movement and behavior is procedurally generated as well, resulting in a somewhat different gameplay experience each time. The game was originally developed for a TIGSource procedural generation competition.

Bonesaw: The Game
This was Kyle’s very first release, offering 30 challenging levels of varying themes as a hockey player punches and kicks his way through a variety of enemies in this brawler-platformer. This is a fast-paced game where the player will be soaring through the air on springs, dashing across platforms, setting of chain reactions, and smashing through blocks. While the game offers a chunky retro presentation, the player is fueled by the blood of his enemies, which he uses to power up his titular bonesaw to unleash even more destruction upon his enemies. The game features some huge boss encounters as well. Also, you get to kick cute little penguins in the face!

Kyle also created some prototype games, including Viper Girl, which was based on a concept for a Gradius-style horizontal shmup, and the game features Kyle’s own NES-style music composition. He also worked on a game called Gaiadi for Ludum Dare 17, which was created in the span of 48 hours, per contest rules. This is a mixture of shmup and real-time strategy where you create floating islands and structures, and you defend them from flying fish-like creatures, which earns you additional currency for more building.