How Repulsive…

Posted in: Bond Breaker, Lesson Time! | September 18, 2014 | No Comments

Bond Breaker is based on real physical chemistry, which means by playing around with it, you’re actually doing science experiments.  Last week, we looked at the Van der Waals forces, which pulls molecules together.  This week, we’re going to go a little more basic.

Like Charges Repel

Whoa, we’re going very basic, eh?  We’ve all heard the phrase ‘likes repel’ ever since we were in diapers.  Two protons, both having positive charges, will push away from one another due to the electric force.  The game includes this force, with each proton pushing on all the others:


"I just want personal space"

“I just want personal space”


As you can see, they all try to get as far away from one another as possible.  The calculations in the game are modeled completely after Coulomb’s Law, which tells us that the force between two charges is proportional to the inverse square of the distance between them.  To put that in terms that anyone who hasn’t taken a course about Electromagnetism can understand: if you double the distance between the charges, the force will drop to just one quarter of what it was.  It gets small fast.  And this is why, in Bond Breaker, you can only get so close to another proton… and no closer.


"Whoa, whoa, whoa: don't touch me."

“Whoa, whoa, whoa: don’t touch me.”


The connection between the force and distance can reveal itself in even more advanced ways, too.  Take, for instance, this level:


Think you can beat this level? Give it a try: (It's the 'Bonus' Level)

Think you can beat this level? Give it a try: (It’s the ‘Bonus’ Level)


It’s a new bonus level that I made just for this blog post, simply click the image above to play it in your browser.  Once you give it a try: what does this level (or should I say, experiment) have to teach us about Coulomb’s Law?  I’ll leave that to you, the player, to figure out.

And that’s one of my favorite things about making a game that stays true to the science: Each level is actually an experiment, which makes players scientists.



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Van der Waals

Posted in: Bond Breaker, Lesson Time! | September 10, 2014 | 2 Comments

One of the best parts of making a game based on science is that while playing the game… you learn science.  Even if you don’t mean to!  Take, for instance, the Van der Waals force.

(If you haven’t played Bond Breaker yet, give it a go.  It’ll make this all go down a little easier)


Van der Waals

The Electric Force, at its core, is pretty basic.  You can sum it up with: “opposites attract, likes repel.”  If you put two positive charges together, they’ll push away from each other.  And if you put a positive near a negative, they’ll attract together.  A neutral object, with no positive or negative charges, will be unaffected by the Electric Force.

In Bond Breaker, you can make a lot of ‘neutral’ object.  A Hydrogen molecule, for instance, consists of two protons and two electrons.  (+2) + (-2) = 0.  Put two of them near each other, and the Electric Force shouldn’t do anything, right?  Well, in Bond Breaker you can try that out!  Below is a little level I made (just for you, blog-post-reader), to test out what happens when neutral molecules are near one another.  Click it in your browser, and go play with the level (it’ll be called the ‘Bonus Level’).


Click the image to go play this BONUS Bond Breaker level!

Click the image to go play this BONUS Bond Breaker level!


Okay, so the molecules attract.  But if they’re all neutral, why?

Van der Waals forces.

What, you need more information than that?  Well, then…

These forces are what make molecules attract to one another (and form into liquids, say).  The weakest form of VdW force is called the “London Dispersion Force,” and it’s what you encounter in the game.


London Dispersion Forces

‘Neutral’ molecules are not simply neutral.  The positive and negative charges aren’t sitting right on top of one another.  At any given moment, the molecule will have a dipole moment — meaning one side will be more positive, and one side will be more negative.  Kind of like a bar magnet with a North pole and South pole.  Imagine putting a bunch of magnets into a bag and shaking them.  It won’t take long until they’re all stuck together.

With a molecules like Hydrogen that are very symmetrical, the dipole is completely random.  Sometimes you’ll find the electrons more on the north side of the molecule, sometimes you’ll find them on the south side.  And this makes the force pulling the molecules together very weak.  But it’s still there.

Van der Waals forces, though weak, end up being important in everything from forming liquids to helping geckos stick to walls.  So the next time you’re sitting in the pool, watching your pet gecko play Bond Breaker, you know what force to thank.



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Bond Breaker Poster

Posted in: Bond Breaker | September 9, 2014 | No Comments

Want to help get the word out about Bond Breaker?  Or just like weird science-y posters with funny visual jokes?  Then do I have something for you!


Print out, cut to separate the tabs on the bottom, and post in a place where cool people hang out.

Print out, cut to separate the tabs on the bottom, and post in a place where cool people hang out.


Or if you’re the type who hates the tear-off-tabs and is in general mean and evil, you find the non-pull-tab version here.  (You monster.)



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Bond Breaker, then and now

Posted in: Bond Breaker | September 8, 2014 | No Comments

With Bond breaker released (ahem, read about it here… never mind the Shocktopus screenshot… or here, or just go and play it here), I’ve gotten a chance to look back through some of my old files – and I came across this, the first prototype of Bond Breaker:


Catchy title, no?

Catchy title, no?

Ah, the unnamed game.  (I will say, I still love that subtitle.) Looks a little different from the current version, I’d say:


Needless to say, when you stumble across a digital time-capsule like this, it’s amazing to see how much has changed during the development of the game.  The easiest thing to notice is the art style.  So let’s take a little walk down screenshot lane.  Can you tell the ‘old’ from the ‘new’??


The Repulsion Level

Prototypes are amazing things — they are the first rough draft of your game.  You’re testing out ideas, and you use ‘programmer art,’ quick images that just make the game playable.  So one of the big things you’ll notice is how basic all the art is in the prototype.  Yellow squares instead of stars for goals, very basic walls, etc.  You’ll also notice that the atoms were absolutely tiny on the screen, something I fixed in later versions.

Old Level

New Level



Molecules were the core of the game right from the beginning.  I really enjoyed the feeling of tugging another atom around, with just a molecular bond tying you two together.  If you go slow, you stick together, but if you go too fast, zooming around corners, you can split apart.  With a little bit of practice, you could control your molecule pretty well — picking up protons, and depositing them elsewhere in the level.

Of course, in the original version, while the *physics* worked, the picture of the molecule was a little strange.  Notice how it’s wider than it is long, making a strange oval around the two atoms.  When you’re trying to make a quick draft, you need to ignore those little things.  But in the final version, the molecule is shaped just as it should be.  (Not to mention, you get a picture of a little electron zooming around you.)

Screen Shot 2014-09-08 at 1.33.29 PM

Screen Shot 2014-09-08 at 1.42.05 PM


The Menus

Unsung heroes of the game, menus are one of the last things I really care about when making a game. After all — nobody says “I wasn’t sure whether I liked the game or not… until I saw those amazing menus!”  But as I’m sure you can see from the pictures below… the prototype menu needed some improvement.

Screen Shot 2014-09-08 at 1.32.16 PM

Screen Shot 2014-09-08 at 1.40.29 PM


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Bond Breaker Released!

Posted in: Bond Breaker | August 29, 2014 | No Comments

Not much more to say than that.  Go play it online, or get it on your iPhone or Android.  It’s free, free, free!



Feedback welcome, via email, hi-fives, or posts in the forums.



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Break some Bonds Tomorrow!

Posted in: Bond Breaker | August 27, 2014 | No Comments

In anticipation of Bond Breaker coming out tomorrow (August 28th), here are a bunch of ‘Teasers.’  By my understanding, teasers are awkwardly cropped GIFs of random moments of gameplay.  Enjoy!


Nope Nope Nope                  Ready for my Closeup                


Don't mind me                  Don't give him the stick                 Disco party time


Fire                                   SCIENCE


Read more about the project here.


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Bond Breaker Trailer

Posted in: Bond Breaker | August 13, 2014 | No Comments

I made a little video to show off my upcoming game, Bond Breaker, for those of you who haven’t gotten a chance to play around with it yet.



Does that just show up as a black box for you?  Well, you’ll find the original here.



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Bond Breaker Release Date!

Posted in: Bond Breaker | August 7, 2014 | No Comments

News time!  The following is a press release about my upcoming game Bond Breaker.  Spoiler: It is coming out August 28th!




TestTubeGames and the CaSTL Center are happy to announce a release date for Bond Breaker, a puzzle game based on real nano-scale science — coming to web and mobile on August 28th.

At the Center for Chemistry at the Space Time Limit (CaSTL) at UC Irvine, scientists are able to break apart individual molecules in incredible ways. In fact, their research is so mind-blowing, they wanted the world to see it. Their first plan: let everyone rush into the lab, with their grubby little fingers, and proceed to break all of their multimillion dollar equipment. After talking with their insurance agent, they reconsidered, and decided to make a game.

Thus Bond Breaker was born! Now the game is nearly complete, and will be coming to iPhone, Android, and the web on August 28th.  In this science puzzle game, you get to enter CaSTL’s laboratories in the smallest way possible – as a single proton. You don’t even have an atom to call your own.  Learn what it takes to be a proton, experience subatomic forces, and with luck and determination, grow into an atom. Collide atoms together into molecules, or break them apart again using lasers, tunneling microscopes, and heat.

The game is being developed by TestTubeGames, a studio that doesn’t take science lightly.  When you make molecular bonds (or break them apart), you’ll encounter real forces and real physics.  You won’t just be learning how to beat challenging puzzles, you’ll truly be gaining a new understanding of the atomic world.  This isn’t just simple stuff, either!  While the game assumes no prior knowledge, by the end, you’ll have an understanding of:

•    Atomic Energy Levels
•    Light Absorption with Lasers
•    Muons, and their crazy effect on atoms
•    Morse Potentials
•    Up-to-date research, straight from the labs and into your hands

You can find the Bond Breaker press kit, with more information and screenshots here:

Stay tuned for more developments, or get in touch with with any questions or to request an advanced copy.

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The Bonds that Break Us

Posted in: Bond Breaker | August 4, 2014 | No Comments

Bond Breaker is coming soon to a device near you!  It’ll be the first new release by TestTubeGames since the Ultimate Pulsar Simulator, so hold on to your butts.

This is a game that I’ve been working on with the CaSTL research group at UC Irvine — which stands for Chemistry at the Space Time Limit, so you know it’ll be good.  And to boot, the game is packed with Real Physics*.  They do research with lasers and tunneling microscopes, grabbing single molecules, and breaking apart and breaking single bonds.  So like doing Chemistry… but instead of using a beaker, you grab an individual molecule and bend it to your will.

The game itself is based on the forces you’d experience at the atomic scale.  It’s a puzzle game where you, as a proton, are moving around the nano-world.  Atoms drift into one another, and if they get close enough, they’ll form molecules.  You can excite the electrons, create ions, fuse into helium, fire lasers, and more.


Ever been a proton before? Oh, you've been *many* protons, you say?

Ever been a proton before? Oh, you’ve been *many* protons, you say?


There’s a whole bunch of physics going on, as you can tell from the list of levels:


Muons *and* Van der Waals forces? Nonstop excitement, right there.

Muons *and* Van der Waals forces? Nonstop excitement, right there.


The game itself will be coming out on web/iOS/Android for absolutely free, and soon, at that.  We’ve got it slated for release in late August, though stay tuned for the details.  Wanna know more?  Join the conversation (or even help by playtesting the game) here.


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Cambridge Science Festival

Posted in: Bond Breaker, Electric Shocktopus, General News, Gravity Simulator | April 22, 2014 | No Comments

This past weekend, I took part in a Science Carnival here in Cambridge.  There were dozens of booths filled with sciencey-stuff.  Most of what I saw was in the Games Corner, a room devoted to the intersection between science and games.  There was a 3D printer making Minecraft figurines, a game you controlled with a potato (think potato battery), and a giant chessboard controlled by robots.

And of course, there was me, showing off a bunch of stuff.


Games games games!

Games games games!


I brought three of the games that I’m working on right now – which was a fun challenge.  Before I’ve always shown off one game at a time… which is difficult enough.  It would be *madness* to prepare three games for a single event.  Probably true, but boy am I glad I did it.

There were perhaps a hundred people or so that came by the booth and played one or more of the games.  And in general, the event skewed a bit younger than I’m used to (more early-elementary schoolers, say).  But I got great feedback, and learned quite a few lessons.

1. Thank goodness none of the games needed much explanation!  I was worried I’d drive myself crazy splitting my time introducing people to three very different games.  But with tutorials at the beginning of each one, people were generally able to simply sit down and play.  Phew!

2. The Gravity Simulator has an extremely wide appeal.  I’m used to talking with some of the… well… ‘advanced’ users of the simulator in the forums here.  People who push the bounds of the sim, setting up and sharing complex creations.  But on Saturday, I was able to place the simulation in front of a bunch of kids and adults who’d never heard of it before.  (And thankfully, I’d added a bit clearer instructions than in the original iteration.)  And, to a person, they found something cool to do.  Whether it was an attempt to get two planets in orbit around a star at the same time — or just a kid seeing how many planets she could spam onto the screen — people found ways to entertain themselves.

3. Shocktopus is a work-horse.  People really get into that game.

4. This was Bond Breaker’s first time out, and it performed admirably.  It kept people engaged, which was nice to see — and I was able to get a bunch of great ideas for ways to improve the game.  Mainly: ways to tweak the tutorials and explanations so people would have a better idea what was going on.

All in all a nice way to spend a Saturday afternoon, chatting with people, seeing them enjoy my games, and learning a heck-uva lot myself.  A big thanks goes out to the Cambridge Science Festival, and all the people who stopped by the booth, spending a beautifully sunny Saturday playing video games inside.


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