''Rube Works: The Official Rube Goldberg Invention Game'' splash screen

 

After being so thoroughly impressed with the recently-released Rube Works app, I contacted Electric Eggplant co-founder David Fox to see if we could talk more about the app’s creative process.  He then suggested bringing in Jennifer George to the conversation. As Rube’s granddaughter and head of Heirs of Rube Goldberg — and co-executive producer with David — Jennifer was an integral part of helping to make David’s concept into a reality.

iPad Kids: How did this game come to Electric Eggplant’s door?

David: A better question might be, how did it come to HRG’s (Heirs of Rube Goldberg) door. I knew I wanted to do a physics puzzler as my next game, one that included Rube Goldberg-style chain reactions. While researching what was already out there for mobile, I saw an obvious pattern. All the games in this genre described themselves as Rube Goldberg-like or in the style of Rube Goldberg. It became clear that no one had actually licensed Rube Goldberg’s original cartoons for a game! I found www.rubegoldberg.com, sent them an email (hoping I’d hear back in a few months if I were lucky), and got a call from this very friendly and enthusiastic woman the next morning…

Jennifer: We get all kinds of inquiries to the Rube Goldberg website (www.rubegoldberg.com)—and David Fox found us exactly that way. After an initial phone call that lasted two hours and several subsequent phone calls brainstorming, it seemed like we were both on the same page. At that point lawyers traded paperwork, a deal, and a game was born.

How is this app a departure from what Electric Eggplant has been creating? How is it in keeping with Electric Eggplant’s philosophy?

David: Electric Eggplant has been designing games, websites, publishing our own books, and story book apps for the past 22 years. Most of our work has been been focused on social and emotional learning (SEL). Rube Works is the first game we’ve designed and produced ourselves, and my first game in over 20 years (I was the first game designer/project leader at Lucasfilm Games/LucasArts).

What I think Rube Works teaches is problem solving, incremental testing, and perseverance. We offer hints because we want you to solve each puzzle, and to use logical thinking to figure them out.

What was the hardest part of converting Rube’s work into an app?

David: The first challenge was choosing which of Rube’s cartoons we wanted to use in the game. I started with 300 that Jennifer’s team sent over and eventually found my favorite 50. I was looking for humor (did it make me laugh?), how easy it would be to implement (I eliminated the “wearable” contraptions for this first game, as well as ones where you were in a moving vehicle), and finally, those that would be accessible to today’s audience. So cartoons that were based on the politics of Rube’s day, or Prohibition, wouldn’t work.

The other challenge was that this is not just a “physics puzzler” where a bowling ball hits a bucket which drops on a seesaw. Every level has animals in it, and they will respond based on their wants, needs, and fears. So there’s quite a bit of scripting to get things to work properly when they’re in the right position. And of course, they should also respond appropriately if the player puts them in an unexpected position in the game! So many possibilities that we had to test for and make sure worked appropriately.

What aspect of the app was the most important to get right (i.e., Rube’s concepts, his artwork, game play, etc)?

Jennifer: My main goal for this and any product that bears my grandfather’s name is that we stay true to his work and to his humor.

David: Capturing Rube’s humor was also most important to me as well. All the other games in this genre are much more about the chain reaction. That’s a given, but this is the first one where humor is even more important. We want the solution to make you laugh out loud!  I also wanted to put you into Rube’s era… the time before television sets, personal electronics, computers. We set the stage with the music from the 1920s, and tried to stay true to Rube’s style of drawing.

How exactly did Jennifer contribute to the process?

Jennifer: My typical role in any Rube Goldberg project is as creative consultant—again, to make sure we preserve the Rube-ness in all Goldberg enterprises. See the game app, the book, the website.

David: I loved being able to send Jennifer a message while I was writing the hints and say, “Would Rube say this?” and know that I was tapping into her personal experience of him.  Jennifer also wrote all the text for the Achievements, featuring characters from Rube’s approximately 50 different cartoon strips. And she had the idea for the Golden Prunes we award you at the end of each level, based on a recurring joke in his work.  And most importantly, when I was so close to the game that I couldn’t see straight (80 hour work weeks do that!), Jennifer could look at the game with a fresh eye and make really valuable suggestions on ways to improve it.

What does Jennifer think Rube would say about this app?  What would he say about iPads?

Jennifer: What would Rube think about the game? My guess is he’d love it because—let’s face it—it’s all about him. What would we think about iPads? I think he’d— be totally mistrustful—I mean really, how do they work exactly? If you told him there was a tiny parrot pulling a winch that watered a palm tree that hit a mechanism and tripped something inside that made it work—maybe that he’d understand. But our dependence on technology, especially these wafer-thin devices, would make him anxious, is my guess.

Jennifer George is the Legacy Director of Heirs of Rube Goldberg – read more about her company and their work on the official Rube Goldberg website

David Fox and his wife Annie Fox are co-founders of  Electric Eggplant, the multi-media development firm that specializes in promoting emotional intelligence

 

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