The Original Jezzball:

IceBreaker is based on a game called Jezzball, originally written by Dima Pavlovsky and distributed as part of the Microsoft Entertainment Pack for Windows. This was a quite popular game, as we can see from (archived) sites like David and Tia Rich's Jezzball Club House. However, Microsoft no longer produces this package, and you no longer can obtain the original Jezzball legally. You may find it out there from grey-area abandonware sites, but I encourage you to download IceBreaker instead. It's totally completely legally free, and it makes me happy to see people benefiting from my work.

In addition to the simple one-you-can-get/one-you-can-not distinction, there's some other subtle and not so subtle differences.

Ways in which IceBreaker is not like Jezzball:

  • Open Source: IceBreaker is entirely original code licensed under the GNU GPL. This means that not only can you download and play the game for free, you can also help make it better -- and you benefit from the efforts of other people making it better. If I ever stop distributing IceBreaker, that doesn't mean the game will die, because someone else could take it up. The only catch is that you can't take IceBreaker and make it into a closed product, which is only fair considering the time and effort I've put into it.
  • Cross Platform: Jezzball is a 16-bit program which runs only on Microsoft Windows. IceBreaker runs on MS Windows too, but it also runs on Linux, BeOS, and more. (We're working on a Mac OS X version.) And since you have the source code, you're welcome to try to get it to run anywhere else as well.
  • It's Prettier: Let's face it: Jezzball was addictive, but its charms weren't exactly apparent on the surface. IceBreaker, on the other hand, has cute penguins. And, as the late night infomercials remind us, that's not all! IceBreaker now has themes support, so you can have your favorite color scheme, sounds, and bouncing tiny icon of your choice. (Didja see the screenshots?)
  • Fullscreen Mode: don't play in a tiny little window. Get those distractions out of the way and set the game to take up the whole screen. (Or at least most of it -- there'll be a little bit of black border.) Note that this is currently broken in IceBreaker 2.2. Help wanted!
  • Slightly Bigger Board: Oooh, how exciting. Jezzball plays on a 28x20 grid, and the representation is such that you draw lines down the borders of the grid-blocks. The playing area is much wider than it is tall -- individual squares on the grid are, um, not squares. In IceBreaker, the grid is 32x20, and you draw lines aligned with the blocks themselves. The latter is because I think it looks nicer; the size change is because I made the blocks square -- again for the appearance -- but still wanted the same overall apparent shape. The practical result of all of this is that you have to clear 80% of the board, not 75% as in Jezzball. This is simply because there's more space to begin with.
  • Pixel-based movement: In the original game, the "Jezz atoms" jumped from the center of one grid space to the next. In IceBreaker, the penguins (or whatever, depending on the selected theme) move pixel-by-pixel. This has several effects -- first, it looks much smoother. Second, it means it's impossible to trap a penguin in a 1x1 area, and almost -- but not quite -- impossible to trap it in 1x2. Third, the penguins can bunch up into "flocks" a bunch moving close together. This happens because there's simply more places to be. The second thing makes the game harder; the third makes it a bit easier in some cases and harder in others. I figure it all works out.
  • Different Scoring: The scoring is quite different. There's points for eliminating squares, but nothing special for completing a line. We're trying to capture penguins here; no rewards for doing the job inefficiently. Like Jezzball, there's a two-tiered bonus for eliminating squares above the required amount -- it's best to make your last line chop off a huge amount of space. Unlike Jezzball, the numbers aren't ridiculously huge, and you'll feel like there's a direct connection between exactly how well you did and the exact score you got. There's also a small bonus for having extra lives at the end of the level -- Jezzball didn't care about that.
  • Different Timer: Instead of having a large number that spins down until you lose, IceBreaker simply decreases your score by one every second, back to where you were at the beginning of the level. This discourages dawdling, but keeps the higher levels from becoming a complete race aganist the clock (and keeps the timer from seeming completely silly on the first bunch of levels).
  • Can't Change Difficulty Mid-game: Because that was a lame cheat.
  • Direct Hits: In Jezzball, the ends of your lines (or "walls") were armor protected. Not so in IceBreaker. But I'm not entirely heartless; as an exchange, if you click directly on a penguin, you'll just hear a cute little "ouch" sound and your life will be spared.
  • No Hot/Cold Sides: There's a kind of odd thing in Jezzball where the balls are "spinning" (quotes are necessary because the animation isn't exactly convincing) and one side is dangerous and the other not. This isn't really that exciting and adds an extra complication without much benefit. It might help in tight situations, but in IceBreaker, you're just going to have to use your reflexes, no matter which way the penguins might be facing. Including looking directly at you.
  • No Annoying New Game Dialog: When a game is over, click to start a new one. If you want to stop, just quit. You can do it any time. Any time you feel like it.
  • No Clever Demo Mode: This is one thing that I hope to add eventually. The demo game auto-player in Jezzball is quite good, and IceBreaker has no such thing.

Other Jezzball-inspired games:

There's several other games out there that take their inspiration from Jezzball. Of course, I'm a bit biased here, but I figured I'd give a bit of comparison. My aim isn't to review the games -- or to disparage the competition -- but just to comment on the technicalities. I've gotten a few "your game is just like this other game I know about" messages; actually, it's probably not exactly the same -- as the list above hints, there's a lot of little things which can make different implementations be, well, different.

  • Bola Loca: a Java/web-based implementation. Pretty nice, although constrained by the medium. Particularly, the cursor doesn't change, so you're stuck with looking down to the bottom-left corner to see which direction the next line will go. Basic gameplay is very Jezzball-like, with a few quirks, like the "crazy ball" (hence the name Bola Loca...). Keeps a high-score list online -- something an Open Source implementation can't do very well. The app seems to have some difficulty in Mozilla on Linux -- or perhaps it's a network latency issue (although I do have DSL).
  • Gameknot J*zzball: very clever with the name there, guys. Another Java/web-based version. Actually looks more like Jezzball than Bola Loca does, but I think the appearance is deceiving -- the balls are red and white and appear to spin, but the different sides don't seem to act differently. And the lines have the appearance of being protected on the end, but they're actually not. Gameplay feels a bit "soft". Oh, and actually crashed my wife's Win98 machine once. Native code is really where it's at for games.
  • KJezz / KJezzball / KBounce: this is an implementation that comes with KDE, and frankly it's not all that exciting. Not a bad demo of what can be put together quickly with KDE and the QT toolkit. GPL'd -- that's a plus.
  • Barrack: A popular Mac OS shareware game from Ambrosia Software. Almost certainly initially based on Jezzball, but very different in implementation. I don't have a Mac, so I haven't played it much, but my initial impression was that it's overloaded with attempts at injecting the game with arcade thrills and totally misses out on the Zen experience of the original. Clicking only draws one line, although starting in the middle -- seems like a small difference, but advanced players will recognize the problem. And there's lots of crazy stuff going on all the time with special types of balls and bonus things you have to hit and some sort of shark. That's not to say that you might not like it -- it's just a quite different game.
  • TI Calculator Jezzball: I know this exists, and is actually called "Jezzball 2.0" despite having no connection to the original game. I don't have a fancy Texas Instruments calculator, so I can't really comment very deeply.
  • CrazyBall: a Jezzball clone for PalmOS. Claims, in fact, to be an "authentic clone". Gets pretty good reviews; haven't tried it out myself yet. (I'm a bit skeptical about the gameplay without a two button mouse.)

Anyway, if one of these is your favorite, hey, I'm not going to stop you. If you really like a feature one of them has, let me know. My aim is to make IceBreaker the best game of its type out there.


Isaac Newton said something famous about standing on the shoulders of giants. And of course there's the even older saying about there being nothing new under the sun. As far as I know, the bouncing balls in Jezzball originated there, but some of the game concepts are even older -- traceable at least to the arcade game Qix.

It has the same "clear 75% of the level" concept, but the line drawing is entirely different (more free-form, and you start from the edges and draw the line yourself) and instead of avoiding balls (or atoms or penguins), you must avoid both the "Qix" (a mass of lines twirling around the play area) and "Sparx", which chase you around the edges. Some of Barrack's arcade-like-feel might be traced back to this game, but in general Barrack feels more like Jezzball than Qix, so I'm not sure how strong the connection is.

Another Icebreaker (but not IceBreaker):

All of the good names are taken, of course. Although I didn't notice when I chose the name, there is in fact an older game called Icebreaker (with a lowercase 'b', for whatever that's worth). This one was for the ill-fated 3DO Multiplayer, and although it was ported to MS Windows and Mac OS (by a company called Magnet Interactive Studios) the full game is no longer available -- Magnet no longer even does computer games. There's a demo, but it is very out of date you may have some trouble getting it installed on a modern operating system. (See what happens when your games aren't open source?) Anyway, that game has no relation to this one. See Andrew Looney's Icebreaker page if you're interested.

But that's not all -- looks like there's an even older Ice Breaker (with a space in the name, this time) made by a company called Topo Soft for a platform I'd never even heard of -- the Amstrad CPC.

I imagine that there's also some cryptography software out their with a similar name; I don't think there's a very large risk of confusion in that case. I've tried to make IceBreaker as uncryptic as possible, in fact.