Lisa Bettany is releasing her first solo project today, a mobile game for iOS called Poppets. It represents a creative departure for the photography-steeped co-founder of the popular Camera+ app.
Her game mixes familiar controls and mechanics with a stylized presentation that recalls a children’s storybook come to life. You play as a character, or in this case, a “poppet,” that resembles a stuffed animal holding three balloons. Those balloons carry you upwards to your destination in each of a series of stages. Tilting your iPhone adjusts the direction of the character’s path and also helps avoid obstacles that could pop the three balloons. If you pop all three, You’ll have to a new earn one with either accrued points or an in-app purchase.
The game’s home screen immediately sets the tone for Poppets, which is the first creation from CakeBytes Creative Inc., a new app development company Bettany set up. Straight away, players of the game are greeted with the sights and sounds of nature — birds chirping, beautiful leaves falling, twinkling lights, and butterflies flapping their wings.
Poppets calls to mind old school Disney animation – the kind with moving figures on top of static, storybook-like backgrounds – mixed with a bit of Winnie the Pooh’s Hundred Acre Wood, two things Bettany says she has an affection for, though she doesn’t “usually talk about that much, because I’m a tech and gadget girl.” Players also encounter different natural elements in each stage of the game, including falling rain, buzzing bees, honeycomb, and branches that eerily come to life.
This isn’t Bettany’s first encounter with the mobile game world. She was the voice of Agent Sophia in the iPhone game The Heist, which piqued her interest in doing more with games. A discovery she made while shopping online also helped crystallize her thinking about making a game of her own.
“I was surfing Etsy and came across these wonderful designer plush toys,” Bettany says. “I fell in love with them and later discovered that they were the creation of my childhood figure-skating friend.”
Those plush toys turned into the game’s illustrated characters, complete with the same sewn-together look. The five “Poppets” in the game are Ollie, Pip, Poe, Kit, and Wink.
The way Bettany sees it, building a game around them speaks to a new kind of casual gaming market, especially for children, which the proliferation of iPhones has made possible.
“Gaming is not just for hard-core male gamers anymore. There’s a whole new audience of people who have traditionally not played games, namely women and children.”
“Gaming is not just for hard-core male gamers anymore,” she says. “There’s a whole new audience of people who have traditionally not played games, namely women and children. Five years ago, a cute, highly-stylized game like Poppets starring five misfit animals would have never had an audience, but today it does and that excites me.”
She’s been working on it for a while now (it took almost three years to develop). In researching what would become her first attempt at a game, Bettany dived back in to some old school “Super Mario” and “Zelda” titles, trying to put her finger on what made games like that fun and unique.
For evidence of those games’ influence, see the Treehouses sprinkled throughout the game, into which players can dip for periodic rewards. They’re a kind of nod to the Toad House in the Mario titles that serve a similar function.
“This was also how I learned with Camera+,” Bettany says, in describing her process. “You visit all these different things. For Camera+, I looked at a camera, trying to figure out what’s good about a camera and what you want on a camera. It was the same with this game. I started out knowing nothing about how to build a game. It was quite complex. If you’ve noticed the climate of the App Store, it’s changing from paid apps to free apps, so you have to get that balance right. We’ve also changed it a bunch of times and were always trying to decide whether it was too hard or too easy.”
Poppets is only available on iOS right now. Another update is planned in the near future – one of several projects Bettany has on her plate at the moment.
She told Digital Trends earlier this year she’s decided to take “a step back from the selfie life,” and is throwing her energy and creativity into a desire “to create things.”
She’s had a good year, picking up distinctions including one from Fast Company, which included Bettany in the magazine’s 2014 list of the “Most Creative People in Business.” She also still is focused on Camera+, which at the time of this writing was the number 4 paid photo/video app in the iOS App Store.
“I really love the process of creating something. There’s something so satisfying about seeing it come to fruition,” she says. “It’s like, all of a sudden, it’s in the App Store. I think the process of making a game — there’s a lot more creativity in it. And now I know and understand a little more about how to do that. I think my next one should be a lot easier. I’ll always keep half of my heart in photography and the other in app development.”