Alumni Publish Their Student Game Project ‘Lost Marbles’ Five Years Later

Proving that there’s no time limit for a great idea, a group of 2008 Game Development alumni have dusted off their final project during the program, revamped the graphics and gameplay, and have recently submitted it to Steam’s Greenlight service. Not bad for a game they first turned in for a grade five years ago.

Lost Marbles was originally developed by a group comprised of Jonathan DeLong, Dustin Holtz, Keith Morgado, Michael Vittiglio, and project lead Curtis Shovan. Following their graduation, the team obviously splintered, heading out into the industry to start their careers. Keith and Jonathan would eventually end up at the same company, International Electronic Machines, which is where the idea came to revisit Marbles.

They put together their own independent studio, Binary Takeover, and set forth on updating the game with whatever help they could pull in from the rest of the original members.

“Me and Jonathan are the co-founders of the company, and the other guys helped out when they could,” Keith says. “Mike was actually the one who really started the game, and resparked the idea in us again. I think it went really well. All of our work was done through Skype, text messages, AIM. We put all of our code online and traded it back and forth.”

That methodical workflow meant the reimagined game didn’t come together quickly. Keith estimates that it took about four years of effort on and off as the team scheduled in bursts of inspired coding session around their own job and personal commitments. On top of that was the challenge of keeping everyone’s focus and enthusiasm up while being at a distance.

“We were always trying to motivate each other,” he says. “Probably the biggest challenge like most creative endeavors is you kind of get burnt out on your idea sometimes. Building puzzle levels especially. Once you know how to beat the puzzle it’s not a puzzle anymore, and it can be really hard to push the game over the final leg of the journey.”

Playing the finished product today, you can see how that extra time benefited the design. Lost Marbles is a clever action/puzzle hybrid that brings back memories of the 80s arcade classic Marble Madness. Players control a set of marbles with different physical properties that can be used to overcome certain obstacles when used in the right combination.

As Keith explains, “Imagine taking all of your real world knowledge of different materials – rubber, metal, paper – and being able to transpose that into a 3D world. Rubber will float on water, metal will sink in water, and paper will get all soggy. So we extrapolated that and made really clever puzzles based around those properties.”

It’s a concept that is already resonating with players. They got a warm reception for their work at last year’s Boston Festival of Indie Games, and already have a publishing deal on Desura. Then there’s their efforts with the Steam community to help it become a part of the popular download service. Lost Marbles is currently submitted to Steam’s Greenlight platform for independent developers, and registered members can vote to get it added to their software library.

And while the group who started this journey as students are obviously hoping to see some sales, it’s clear how much it means to the team to have finally realized the project through to completion.

“I think we’re just proud of how lucky we are with how the idea turned out at the end of the day,’ Keith says. “It was definitely a passion. I think we’ve come a long way in terms of our attention to detail and how far we’ve come in terms of game design. We really just want people to play it so we can get some feedback and keep improving it.”