The original Break Out holds a special place in my heart. One of my very first memories is of playing the game on the family’s monochromatic computer, smashing yellow blocks with a slightly brighter saffron ball and an orange-tinted paddle. First developed in 1976, the game was created as a single player answer to the tremendously popular Pong, appearing on a wide variety of computers in the ’70s and ’80s. I was excited, then, to see a modern reinterpretation of the game in Break Arcade Games Out, a solo project by developer Dan Zaidan that was created entirely on a live stream. While boasting an impressive collection of remixes, including Tetris and Space Invaders variants, the focus on twitch controls and harsh unlock requirements left me feeling as old as Break Out itself.
The gameplay of Break Out is about as self-explanatory as it gets. A ball falls from the top of the screen, which the player must bounce with their paddle to destroy a wall of bricks. As the ball bounces back and forth, it changes speed and angle depending on how it was hit. Clearing all the blocks will grant access to the next level, but missing the ball three times will reset all the bricks, sending the player back to the beginning.
Each new level is a different interpretation of the brick-breaking concept. Power Breakout adds in power ups, modifying values such as the size of the paddle, number of balls and strength of the bricks. Pong has the bricks shift back and forth in response to the player’s movements, an opposing paddle that must be broken down. Tetris features the famous four-block configurations falling slowly from the top of the screen. Space Invaders shuffles aliens back and forth, dropping extra power ups for added intensity.
Conceptually, everything works well, but in execution Break Arcade Games Out is just frustrating. The paddle is controlled solely by the mouse, and has a strange stretching effect whenever it is moved, as though it were made out of jelly. This animation makes the controls feel slippery and unreliable, hard to judge if the paddle will connect with the ball or not. A high level of speed and precision is required to complete a level, and with the more interesting modes locked away behind completion of the basic Break Out clones, far too much time is spent attempting the same simple level over and over.
Largely, this is an issue of accessibility: as someone who is left-handed and has mild RSI in my right wrist, twitch-reflex games on PC are generally not an option for me. To identify games I would have issues with is usually not too difficult, but I was not expecting Break Arcade Games Out to be one of them. With some minor adjustments, however, the game could become more user friendly. Adding in an options menu where some variables like number of lives, ball speed, and control input could be adjusted would alleviate all my concerns. I also think the unlock requirements for the levels should be removed, or at least lessened. I really wanted to try out all of the modes, but to play the game that extensively without hurting myself was simply not an option.
While the graphics are simple in Break Arcade Games Out, the game does feature some visual flair. The transition between menu and levels is super smooth, the bricks falling into place with a satisfying thunk. Complementary colours make the screens pleasing to look at, avoiding the eye-bleeding brightness of the arcade originals. Music is a singular, high-energy tune that shifts instruments between modes, a nice touch.
A major highlight of Break Arcade Games Out is its value as an educational resource. The developer has made the source code available and the creation of the game is documented in a live stream, giving further insight into how the title was created. The game file is an astoundingly small 5 MB, showing some impressive optimisation of the code. If I had more time on my hands, I could easily make the adjustments to the game I desired, since such thorough instructional material is available.
Break Arcade Games Out may not have been for me, but I do find the project impressive nonetheless. A wide variety of interpretations of a simple game concept, the game has a lot to offer for those with fast reflexes.
Next week, we will be taking a look at Death Alley, where the player is bowling to save their soul. The game can be picked up on Itch.io here. Chats are happening in the Discord, or you can email me here.