'Small Worlds' and The Thrill of Discovery

December 6, 2009 § Leave a comment

Small Worlds is a small indie platformer (aren’t they all?) that won’t take you more than half an hour to complete. It was actually made for the Jay is Games 6th annual Casual Gameplay Design Competition but has since gained recognition on Kotaku, at which point I stood up and took notice.

As I’ve said, it’s not a particularly long game, is simplistic and, also, not particularly challenging. It is, essentially, a 2D platformer; however, there are no directions telling you where to go or what to do, and you can’t die. In all honesty, it probably isn’t a very good platformer, all standards considered. What it does do, though, is distill an interesting gaming concept into a short, teeny, tiny-sized burst.

Small Worlds is all about the thrill of exploration, which it manages to capture beautifully. Small Worlds doesn’t need objectives for it to work. Small Worlds and its creator, David Shute, understands the basic human curiosity that drives us, and then exploits it. I think that’s pretty shrewd, to be honest, for the designer to know this and act on it, resisting the very real temptation to give the game away (pun not intended).

There used to be a time when games didn’t feel the need to explain every little detail and gameplay mechanic. There were drawbacks to this method, mostly revolving around how players didn’t know what the hell they were doing half the time. But, if you were persistent, and stuck through it, there were riches to be had in those breakthrough, revolutionary moments, those “Ah hah!” moments where you’d finally get it and figure it all out.

As the industry grew, along with its audience, designers naturally felt the urge to make their games more accessable. Quite right, too, because, really, who has the time nowadays to get their head around all that obtuse crap? I mean, c’mon, finally reaching that eureka moment was a triumphant celebration for the player of yesteryear, but having to endure all that frustration is not something I’m willing to go through again. Personally, I’m glad that developers started to see sense and began going to the effort to actually explain how to play their games, rather than just letting the player guess. Anything less is now frequently lambasted as an example of poor game design. Before, that would just have been par for the course, a hump you’d simply be expected to get over as a player.

Still, there is a part of me that has a yearning for that mode of play.

That part of me is also still in school, has infinite time on his hands and doesn’t have to work for a living.

(Small Worlds is available through the link at the top of this article and, now, through the Indie Intrigue sidebar on the right-hand side of this very page. Best of luck to David Shute!)

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