Downpour is a new app that turns your photos into games

In the past, when the Lunar New Year arrived, I would occasionally make a crude bingo card to ease the generation gap caused by many disparate family members suddenly spending too much time together. I didn’t deal the bingo cards everyone, but they were a small, silly way to blow off steam and commiserate with like-minded victims during hour-long reunion dinners and polite family visits with very difficult people. This year I was armed with something even better: I made a (fictional) choose-your-own-adventure game in Downpour called Dragon me to hell That involved communicating with my grandmother’s deceased dog, possibly committing a petty crime, and fleeing to our freedom.

Downpour is a new app that lets you merge images on your phone to create simple interactive games, without any programming or game design experience. It’s the brainchild of V Buckenham, an indie gaming veteran known for creating the Cheap Bots, Done Quick! tool that gave us almost a decade of fantastically creative art bots (until Twitter revoked large-scale API access in 2023). And with the push of a button you can share that game online.

Right now, Downpour games are bare-bones (photos only, no movies or GIFs) and wonderfully quick to put together. As with Cheap Bots, Buckenham is taking a ‘cost more to build, but less to run’ approach. When it launches on March 6, Downpour will be free on iOS and Android with a small subscription of $4.99 per month for additional features. (The goal is for these subscriptions to fully fund the app.) “I want this to be something that people can use and that sticks, and I feel like that’s more likely to happen when I’m alone,” they say. .

“I want this to be something that people can use and that will stick.”

I decided that my second attempt would be a tour of Lunar New Year items, many of which are unique to Southeast Asia. During family visits, I spent time taking photos and putting together a mini review gallery; this took about 30 minutes of dragging and dropping photos, typing text copy, and linking pages together via interactive boxes. (You might discover, for example, that the “prosperity box” in my food tour has a hidden, clickable spot.) As a quasi-Luddite, all of this feels like the closest I’ll ever get to creating something more complicated than a simple Instagram post . As the day progressed, I added more treats to my snack gallery; even now I’m full of ideas for more food-related experiments, perhaps ones that might offer a glimpse into my corner of the world.

Downpour is not just about creating and sharing a game, but also offers a new way to explore and run with your own ideas. For starters, there’s no algorithm for recommending games – so far it seems like Downpour is really excelling as a place for works in progress where creators can add new surprises on the fly or use it as an interactive diary to explore existing ideas. expand. “I make pottery, so I often use it as a sort of notebook when I go in,” Buckenham explains. “I add to it over time, like a selfie diary.” As a result, the ‘feed’ or landing page is just the last thing someone posted, which is very useful if you like to use Downpour as a reference tool.

However, the immediate need to share my Lunar New Year play with others was powerful. It’s easy to see that Downpour has the potential to become a formidable niche for a new form of spontaneous, interactive social media art that can be done in minutes. As such, Buckenham has had to add moderation features to the project as they do everything solo. “You have to think a lot about it as a social network and prepare for it, so if it becomes a success it won’t immediately be completely overrun with terrible things,” they say.

I had one problem while making it Dragon me to hell was that my search for fair-use dragon images turned up an overwhelming amount of bloodless AI-generated art. The idea, of course, is that you use your own art and photos on Downpour, but that’s asking a lot from a one-click culture that focuses on instant response photos. I ask Buckenham if they’re worried about Downpour being flooded with AI art. “I feel a little conflicted about it,” they say, acknowledging that it’s difficult to have productive conversations about generative art without attracting art bot jockeys who conflate cues with skill. “I don’t know to what extent it will become a current problem, but I don’t want to impose a general ban on it,” they add. “There are people who really like that and I don’t want to take that away from them, but at the same time I don’t really feel like it myself.”

“It takes a lot of thinking as a social network and preparing for it”

In previous interviews, Buckenham has drawn inspiration from Flatgames, a genre of simple 2D games inspired by DIY zine culture. Clearly there are similarities between Downpour and Flatgames, although the latter also includes simple motion controls and a single audio track (usually field recordings or ambient sound). I ask Buckenham if they’d like to introduce audio to Downpour in the future, to which they say yes, with the caveat that adding audio often opens up a whole new world of potential licensing issues. But for now, the most exciting thing about Downpour is that you can create an interactive story without any special effort or training and share it with the click of a button.

In some ways, working on my two small projects evoked the same vibe I get from the slow food movement: very local experiences that require just a little more time and thought than the average social media post. It’s that little extra bit of interactivity, the simple act of clicking through, that makes the difference. And for the first time in years I feel like I want to make art again. “The best feedback from beta testers is actually from people saying, ‘I downloaded this and played it, and it’s really exciting, and then I went out and made a bunch of art, with the intention of putting it in a Downpour game , and it has really reinvigorated my relationship with art,’” says Buckenham.

Downpour is also, quite consciously, a tool created with accessibility, approachability, and versatility in mind. “I think it’s important that you can download [your games]” says Buckenham, who wrote a tutorial on how to post Downpour games to Neocities web pages; they also plan to create a guide on how to get the games onto Itch.io. Buckenham is also active on Cohost, where it is possible to use iframes (or in Cohost parlance, chiframes) to embed a Downpour game into an HTML message.

“I deliberately didn’t add many features [Downpour]because if I can get it launched and it has this basic functionality… and it’s easy to use… then people will be excited about new features that can be added,” they laugh. “Right now I’m really looking forward to launching it so I can get back to developing it.”

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