Catch 22 marks first PAX 10 indie Facebook game

This year, Penny Arcade’s carefully curated showcase of independent games PAX 10 will for the first time include a game set to release on Facebook, Catch 22.

In Catch 22 a small green sphere spins around the surface of a “planet.” The player clicks (or taps) the screen to make the green sphere jump to collect yellow pickups and avoid another blue sphere that orbits the planet in the oncoming direction. When you collect a set of yellow pickups you take control of the blue sphere, which you must then maneuver to avoid the path of the green sphere you’ve just set. Collect another set of yellow pickups and the tables turn again; now you’re controlling the green sphere again, avoiding the path of the blue sphere which was avoiding the first path of the green sphere. And so on, ad infinitum, or until the spheres crash into each other, which will happen early and often.

If the above description seems a little disorienting it’s because that’s what playing Catch 22 feels like. It’s like trying to pat your head and rub your belly at the same time, but in a good way.

When it’s released on Facebook and the Apple App Store on September 1, Catch 22 will have gone through only four months of development, a very short period of time even when compared with other small, independent games. Even more impressive is that much of Catch 22 was developed in a mere 48 hours by four people, Roel Bartstra, Marlon Etheredge, Sander Brattinga (no longer with the team) and Guus Hoeve, who together formed Mango Down!

The three amateur Dutch developers got together for the Global Game Jam 2012 in Amsterdam. A video featuring developers like Will Wright and John Romero kicked off the competition and introduced its theme: uruburos, the ancient symbol of a serpent eating its own tail. “It made us want to make a game in which you’re playing against yourself, where you were actually making it harder for yourself,” Hoeve told us in an interview.

Etheredge, Hoeve and Barstra had the basic concept down by the time they got back to their hotel room. 48 sleepless hours later they had a game and a prize to go along with it.

“It was the biggest surprise ever for us. We were completely beat and glad that the game was finished but for us it was a nice game, nothing more. In the weeks after when we showed the game to the public we got really good responses. We started to realize that the game is actually good. It’s really minimalistic. We realized that it can be made for any type of device, especially mobile devices because you want to play it in short bursts. We started to realize that there’s some business in it as well.”

Catch 22 is not the kind of game we expect to see on Facebook, and the developers who made it are not the types who play Facebook games. For Hoeve, for example, Facebook is just about the only platform he doesn’t play games on. “I played Mafia Wars for a bit. I thought that was a really funny to do. That’s about it, to be honest.”

But Hoeve also sees the untapped potential. “I think social games shouldn’t revolve around building cities, I think that it should be about playing together. That’s what Facebook actually says: ‘playing is a lot better with friends.’ And I think this game can be played by literally anyone. If you’re three years old or 90, there’s no target demographic. The game is really calm and serene, and the only thing that frustrates the player is the player himself. I think that concept is suitable for everyone. We really think everyone should be able to play the game for free. Not everybody has a smartphone, but everybody has internet these days. You’ll be able to play against your friends on Facebook if they don’t own a smartphone.”