Friday, December 4, 2009

Small Worlds

There are so many types of gaming we hear talk of but rarely actually see.  Casual games.  Games as art.  Alternative narratives.  Etc.  These words are constantly used in the industry, but always in reference to some future concept, just around the corner but never quite reached.  But there are such games.  When Braid hit the scene, it really opened a lot of people’s eyes to what small games could accomplish.  For me personally, it was one of the most artistic games I’d played in years.  It used some truly genius narrative mechanics and when I beat it, it left me in wonder and awe the way a rare great movie or book does.  It was art, through no stretch of the word.

And so it’s great to see others make it their own personal goal to see these things realized in gaming.  Kotaku today, pointed me to a small free browser game called Small Worlds by David Shute.  It’s a small game that emerged from a contest to create a short game based on exploration. 

I gave it a shot and beat it in 10 minutes.  And I really enjoyed it.  It’s the very definition of casual, the entire game can be played while leaning back in your chair, with only your middle and index finger.  But it’s also ambitious in vision.  I won’t spoil anything (the fact that a 10 minute free browser game has anything to spoil is in itself a testament to what this game manages to accomplish within it's limitation), but it’s a game that depends entirely on the player’s sense of wonder and exploration.  To learn more about the world around them.  To quite literally expand the scope of their understanding (executed perfectly with a ‘fog of war’ mechanic).  And there is a story to be extracted through your exploration, but I will leave that to you.  It is open to a fair amount of interpretation, but I have my own strong theory.  All this set to a somber soundtrack and nostalgic pixel graphics makes for a surreal, enjoyable and surprisingly reflective experience.

As someone with a strong interest in game design, I found this game really showed what a few smart design decisions can do for a game with such limited resources.  A pixelated game that lasts 10 minutes, and yet managed to accomplish something rare in gaming.

After all this talk I may be hyping it too far, as much of its charm comes from its subtlety.  If you have 15 minutes to spare for a casual game and want to see what a game can manage to do with a few pixels and said 15 minutes, click this link.


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