Philipp Stollenmayer makes games about bacon, death, cows, physics, pancakes, words and…games themselves. He’s one of the finest minds working in indie game development today, if you ask me (not that you did).
He makes mobile games, so you’ve possibly never heard of him. Let’s rectify that now, shall we?
Stollenmayer was once a gymnast, and you can really see that in his games; many of them centre upon the unpredictable thrill of flinging things around. He was skilful enough to compete in regional gymnastic competitions as a teenager, but quickly tired of repeating strict routines for judges.
“I would always make up flips and stuff so that gymnasts in ten years’ time could do the ‘double Stollenmayer'” he tells me. “But in competitions there are quite rigid rules – you have to move on this axis or that axis, and your feet always have to be straight…it’s already too many rules for me.” Today, he prefers bouldering and loves parkour, too – an improvised journey to a set goal is another motif in his work.
Stollenmayer stumbled into development as part of a communication design degree, and has used the 2D game engine he learned on that course to make every game since: 17 of them are on the App Store right now.
His student project, comedy game What the Frog? isn’t available any more, but won him a young game designers’ award in his native Germany; he followed it up with Sometimes You Die, a meta Thomas Was Alone-like platformer that plays with very videogame-y ideas of death and starting over and over again.
Having found some success with that, he became an indie game-maker full-time, and the games kept coming: next, musical ball-flinging puzzler Okay…? was notable for its ‘pay as much as you want’ pricing model.
“I could have earned much more from that game if I’d just shown ads between the levels,” Stollenmayer tells me. “But it was more in my interest to show that the App Store isn’t evil. At that time, the perception was that the goal of an App Store developer is to make as much money as possible with as little ethics as possible….I wanted to rescale that a bit.” (Of course, Okay…? made very little money as a result – over 99 percent of players played for free.)
Luckily, Stollenmayer soon hit upon a formula that led to his greatest success to date, the simple, surreal fling ’em up Bacon: The Game.
It’s an evolution of Pancake: The Game and Burger: The Game, two of Stollenmayer’s previous titles, in which you stack the floppy foodstuffs on top of each other for a high score. He came up with the idea for Pancake at a pub quiz, had made the game by the following evening, and then released it worldwide on the App Store three days later.
He followed that up with Burger, and then went galaxy-brain with Bacon, which asks you to land streaks of salty fat onto a pleasingly random set of people, places and things.
Then Stollenmayer tried his hand at word games. In Supertype you use your phone’s keyboard to tap letters into the stage, then hit enter and watch them plop down and tumble about triggering drumrolls and cymbal crashes. Ideally, you’ll also hit the goal to finish the level, but it’s just as entertaining to discover, for example, how the word ‘bongos’ behaves when you let it drop and watch its letters bounce about.
Supertype’s playful use of the alphabet was inspired by the slanted ‘h’ of a company logo Stollenmayer had idly scrolled past on his phone one day. “In my mind, the h began to fall over like how a chair would fall backwards,” he tells me. “And then I immediately had an m in my mind, which would fall down, hook onto a ledge, swing around and kick the dot of an i into a goal.”
After a restless night thinking about how all that might work as a game, he sketched it out the next morning. Ten days later he’d developed the entire game, and not long after that it was live on the App Store worldwide.
Stollenmayer’s second word game has less slapstick, but is just as ingenious. In Sticky Terms you piece together fragments of an unknown phrase by spinning letter pieces around and slotting them into place like a puzzle.
The payoff is wonderful: each stage’s answer – and punchline – is a word or phrase from another language which doesn’t have an English equivalent. So when ‘Far-potsch-let’ snaps into view, you learn it’s a Yiddish phrase for trying to fix something, but making it worse. So good.
With his next trio of games Stollenmayer explored movement, momentum and muddling through some more. In Zip-Zap you hold a thumb to the screen to contract hinges, which move Meccano-like structures that become impromptu swings and catapults.
Verticow is a variation on the fling ’em up where you toss roast chickens, penny farthings and – of course – grumpy cows as far as you can. It looks like it has been pieced together like a scrapbook, because it has, effectively – every asset in the game is from the British Museum’s out-of-copyright artwork archive.
Another puzzle-platformer, in which you tilt the stage so our hero can avoid spinning saws, is naturally called see/saw. It looks pretty basic, but contains some of Stollenmayer’s tightest design work – a series of dense, steadily escalating single-screen challenges which require experimentation, skill and brainpower.
More recently, there’s Song of Bloom, a collage and culmination of all that’s gone before. This one is a set of interconnected vignettes which swerve radically between art styles and input types. There are puzzles within puzzles and clues within clues as Stollenmayer re-frames your expectations with each new scene – it’s his masterpiece, really.
As a solo creator with an aversion to wasted effort, he wanted a home for some of his weirder ideas, and Song of Bloom was it. After scooping an Apple Design Award in 2022 and some honourable mentions from the IGF panel, his profile rose a little – but not enough, really.
Stollenmayer is a prolific creator who dabbles in music, video and app design too. He’s always working on several games at once, and after Bacon: The Game went semi-viral on TikTok earlier this year, he added a quietly brilliant creator mode into the game. Bacon players can now make and share their own levels, or just play a new curated community creation every day.
And fittingly, given his games’ Pythonesque tone, Stollenmayer’s next project is something completely different: a papercraft musical about “the invention of the peanut butter and jelly sandwich, but also the story of Romeo and Juliet,” he says.
Yes, mobile games are derided and misunderstood by many. But in Stollenmayer’s hands they’re pure magic. There’s no bloat or flab in his work – just pure, brilliant ideas expressed with wit and warmth.
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