Video game developers have long been fascinated by virtual tennis. All the way back in 1958, a game called Tennis for two became one of the earliest documented video game prototypes. Fourteen years later, a similar game called Tennis debuted on the Magnavox Odyssey and made its way into American lounges.
This unlikely relationship between electronic entertainment and digital sportsmanship resulted in the 1975 wagon version of Pong, one of the first commercially successful home video games.
The most recent hits in the racket genre range from big budget forays like those of 2006 Rockstar Games presents table tennis in more eccentric independent titles like last year Toasterball. But a new game on Steam, called qomp, could be the first to consider that playing table tennis Ball rather than the paddle could create a new gaming experience.
The developer of qomp is best known online as the Stuffed Wombat. He describes the project as a “little game about freedom”. Even if qomp uses an aesthetic and iconography that will be familiar to Pong players, it’s actually more of a platform game. From the moment the table tennis ball passes the paddle, this short game takes between one and three hours to complete, but is filling up every second with clever design ideas.
The movement is managed by a single button. Click the mouse button to reverse the direction of the ball, turning the simple act of movement into an exercise in brain contortion and puzzle solving.
At first, the challenge is mostly figuring out how to fit your cube, which bounces off walls and corners on contact, into small holes and crevices. Before long, you’ll avoid spinning blades and other dangers.
Qomp cleverly subverts his key mechanic multiple times. Once your cube dives into a body of water – suddenly becoming a dense, heavy object and completely changing the way you move around the world – the brilliance and sheer possibility of the game becomes evident. Whatever its aesthetic, qomp channels the design plume of something like Super Mario 64 or any other great Nintendo game thanks to its simple but constantly evolving game mechanics that constantly amazes the player.
The game was a minor success and currently holds a “Very positive” opinion rating on Steam. Writers at Polygon has declared the game as one of their 2021 favorites so far. Compared to other big budget titles on this list, qomp glue on. The title’s minimalist aesthetic and design goes against other acclaimed games, providing a respite from the ever-expanding open worlds and bloated run times that mark many AAA releases.
In an age when video games are defined by excess and overabundance of content, the streamlined ethos of qomp is particularly memorable. Previous versions of the game lasted over six hours, but players got bored having to use the same mechanic over and over again. “When you have to do this mechanic 200 times, you’ve had enough,” Stuffed Wombat said.
The result was addition by subtraction. “It was a lot of sharp stuff,” he says. “You have 2,000 ideas, you try them, then you take 90% off.”
For many gamers, keeping up with the latest AAA games – let alone finishing them – has become a tedious exercise. Popular franchises like Ubisoft Assassin’s Creed or Activision Call of Duty have transformed once-unique properties into regular products filled with hours of timeless content. “If you’re working or if you’ve got things to do in our life, the next one will be out before you’re fucking done,” Stuffed Wombat said.