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The Story Behind Paint it Back

Edward Brown’s career in video game development stretches all the way back to the 1990s, when he co-founded a company called No.2 Games. Many of the games he worked on there were aimed at broad audiences, covering such genres as golf, bowling, and fishing. In 2005 he took a job at PopCap Games, where he worked on a number of prototypes that never made it to release. As the casual game market started to wane on PC in the late 2000s, Brown parted ways with PopCap and decided to strike out on his own.

Casual Labs was officially founded by Brown in 2012 in St. Louis, USA. After getting his very own iPhone, Brown was fascinated by the platform and its possibilities and wanted to try make games for it. As a fan of nonogram (picture crossword) puzzles such as Nintendo’s Picross, Brown thought the idea would work particularly well on the then recently-released iPad. Of course, he was well aware that many others had already put such kinds of puzzle games on iOS, but he saw an opportunity to do interesting things around the puzzles themselves. Most nonogram puzzle apps were quite threadbare in their presentation, and that was something Brown had a lot of experience in.

When thinking of a framing device for his puzzle game, the idea of an art gallery seemed like a natural fit. It also benefited from being a rather unusual setting in the world of video games. The sometimes cheeky, often absurd humor that permeates Paint It Back was inspired by Brown’s long-held desire to create a comic strip along the lines of Calvin & Hobbes, Bloom County, or The Far Side.

The last piece of the development puzzle came in how to set the pricing for the game. By this point in time, free-to-play games had become by leaps and bounds the most popular titles in the App Store. While there were still successes in the pay-once-and-play side of the market, they were becoming a lot rarer. Brown’s preference was to release the game as a complete title for a single payment, but he wasn’t ignorant of the market conditions, especially with regards to puzzle games. At the same time, he didn’t want to compromise the game he was creating to add in a lot of the popular monetization tricks.

Ultimately, he settled on a model wherein the player could download the game for free and play the first 30 puzzles, with the others available through a single purchase. With all the proverbial ducks lined up, Casual Labs released Paint It Back on the App Store in October of 2013. Reviews were quite positive, with almost all of them praising the game’s sense of humor and overall polish. While many nonogram puzzle games had been released before, few of them felt as good to play as Paint It Back. The game wasn’t a smash hit, but the players who found it had a lot of love for it.

Casual Labs was far from finished with Paint It Back. The game received ports to a few other platforms, and also received two rather large updates on iOS. The first added another batch of puzzles aimed at advanced players, while the second made a number of improvements to the game’s interface, added in a new difficulty level for some existing puzzles, and tossed in a final set of puzzles for good measure.

With that last update, Casual Labs officially moved on to other projects, leaving Paint It Back’s long-term future in question. Fortunately, it was updated and made available through GameClub in 2020, ensuring this quirky take on a well-loved classic style of puzzles remains available for new generations of players to enjoy.

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