Tonga and the cult of the birdman

At the time I wrote Tonga, the casual games market had several marble poppers, all the same, all with streams of balls following a path, some with flat bat shaped object at the bottom of the screen and some with a rotating object placed on the screen, they all fired different coloured balls and the object was to match 3 or more ball colours to remove them from the line before the line reached the end of the line. I wanted to make a marble popper but I did not want it to be the same as all the others.

So I started making one, I placed a rotating cannon in the centre of the screen and randomly placed the coloured balls around the cannon, and within a couple of days I had a working demo. My games never end up like the demo, but its just to get something up and running as with all my games I start with a basic demo and build it from there and this one was going to be no different. I added bounces to the balls when they collided but did not match, they would seperate and I made them stick together when two or more matched.  It was then that I hit on having the balls bounce off the edge of the playing area too, so I created a simple grid using some predefined shapes like circles and triangles rectangles etc, using the grid based system it allowed me to make complex shapes for the balls to bounce off.

With the complexities of the grid based collisions I could place the balls in locations that would require at least one collision off the walls to make the connections, which formed the key point of the game.  I had the new game mechanic of bouncing balls on shaped surfaces, to make match three connections, and which was now a basic game working. Now I had to come up with a theme for the artwork. I found this stage more difficult than you would think as many themes have been done to death like Egyptian or Mayan and space. At this time I was living in Vietnam, setting up a small school project for underprivileged children, so I looked at the temple of Angkor in neighbouring Cambodia and the golden Buddha from china, however again both of these themes had been used in games before and did not work as good as my other option which was Easter Island.

During my research into the islands history, I found all the pieces I needed to make a game theme, they had the Moai which were ideal to replace the cannon and have the balls coming from its mouth. They had a hieroglyphic of written language which would make great detail for the art work, and the best of all they had unremarkable god Makemake the creator of humanity. 🙂


So taking Easter island as a theme, I set about defining some power-up and weapons based around the elements and objects, like the stars and sun that I imagined they could have worshiped at that time.  At that time I had no idea what they were going to do or what they would look like, as with most of my games these things develop over the length of the project. And all though the end user sees polished graphics, they are the result of me spending months creating art and then rejecting it again after I have put it in the game and played with them for a while. On average I redraw the art about two or three times before I am happy to let you the public see them. I am my own worse critique, but it keeps my work looking sharp and professional.