Saturday Spotlight: Fish Fish Bang Bang & The Ambiomat

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Back in the heady summer climes of July I took a few minutes from my busy schedule of picnics and perambulating up and down the promenade to tell you about a couple of games from Rob Fearon’s Bagful of Wrong, War Twat and SYNSO (Squid Yes! Not So Octopus). Re-reading my spotlight piece I think I was quite taken with both games, despite being really quite terrible at them. They boasted ferocious difficulty, derived as much from idiosyncratic control schemes as the sheer number of enemies on-screen at any one time, not to mention the flashy modern visual effects of SYNSO.

I’ve played both games a bit more since, but my scores haven’t improved by much. The more things change, huh?

Fortunately I’m not here today to embarrass myself with high scores. Today I’m here to tell you a little about a couple more titles from the Bagful of Wrong, just on the off chance you’ve not yet invested in a clutch of videogames sufficiently indie to offer an “I’m Skint” edition for the whopping price of $4.

The first is the splendidly-titled Fish Fish Bang Bang, a game replete with fish puns (of course) and Aliens quotes (…of course). Like War Twat and SYNSO it’s fast-paced, but it’s a much easier game to keep a handle on than its bagfellows. For a start the eponyhuss fish of war is mounted in the centre of the screen, rotating and firing endlessly at the enemies approaching you. The player’s input is limited to pressing or holding a button (mouse, spacebar, whatever floats you boat), which triggers a change in the rotation direction.

So yes, before you ask, it is essentially possible for the game to play itself; through the early stages at any rate. The game does track direction changes and other stats, which may or may not impact on score (I think I need a wingman to watch the numbers while I play, or a registered copy of FRAPS), but more significantly I’m pretty sure you’re rewarded with more points by letting enemies get closer to you. It’s therefore a potential strategy to hold down the button and keep your fish firing in one direction, then releasing in order to spin and take out the enemies who are almost on top of you.

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It’s also a really good way to get cocky and die, but there you are.

The levels fly past at a great rate, and although I wouldn’t say the game demands great skill or complex strategies it’s challenging enough to reward pursuit of new high scores. Plus it has a surprisingly thumping soundtrack with beats almost synced to the turning of your fishcannon, and you know. You’re blowing up fish. Say what you like about Ridiculous FishingFish Fish Bang Bang did gun-on-fish violence first.

Hardcore Robotronesque/arena shooter fans will probably derive more long-term fun from SYNSO or War Twat, which make you work considerably harder for your high scores – or piddling scores in my case – but there’s another reason that Fish Fish Bang Bang is a pretty cool game. This will reason will become clearer in the context of a minor inclusion in the Bagful of Wrong, The Ambiomat (or as I mistakenly refer to it, AmbiomatOS).

The Ambiomat is described as a “one-switch ambient doodle toy” by Fearon himself, reportedly on behalf of Barrie Ellis of OneSwitch.org.uk. Players interact with the program in a simple way: like Fish Fish Bang Bang they press just one button to trigger a response. On launch they select a palette of four colours; once the main part of the game has loaded a cursor moves across an 11 by 8 grid at at regular intervals. When the player presses the mapped button the currently active colour is applied to that square of the grid. After the cursor has completed a cycle it’ll start from the top with the second, third and finally fourth colours. Once all four colour cursors have traversed the grid, The Ambiomat will output as an image whatever image the player has created.

Over in the day job I do a bit of work around accessibility and testing thereof, and have a moderate outsider’s understanding of the realities of assistive technology and challenges for accessibility. It is always a pleasure to find a point of confluence between how I earn my money and how I gain my jollies.

I can’t pretend that I have the patience to very gradually construct images with The Ambiomat, but I do think it’s an excellent thing to exist. If I was restricted to use of a simple switch to interact with computers, had no access to head or eye tracking hardware and software, and was in need of a creative outlet, I can imagine having a lot of fun with The Ambiomat.

You don’t actually need to buy the Bagful to try out the Ambiomat; Fearon shared a direct link here. If you have a friend or family member who uses a switch, why not share it with them? If you then want to chuck its creator some money, well, you could always consider chipping in for the full bundle, since your switch-equipped friend should also be able to have a whale of a time with the one-button game Fish Fish Bang Bang.
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