Meaningful Design: Small Worlds

One of the topics I like to talk about in my work, is how we are, in general, only using our vocabulary as game designers to express literal conflict.  Few things are as well represented in games.  But our vocabulary can be used to express far more.

A really great example of this is a small flash game called Small Worlds, which was created by David Shute for Casual Gameplay Competition 6.  I do recommend you go play it now, as I will talk about it in detail.

What is really amazing about this game is how much meaning is packed in to a game which only uses the most basic of game vocabulary.  The only mechanics to the game are movement, jumping, and fog of war.  Which, as far as our game vocabulary is concerned, is as basic as camera is to film.

And yet, this beautiful little game uses them completely out of context from where the mechanics were born, and where they are still mostly used today.  The movement is not about propelling the player to the end, the jumping is not about providing challenge, and the fog of war is not about obscuring an enemy.  Instead, all three combine as tools to let you slowly uncover a story.  A story, I might add, which is conveyed with only a few words, and with extremely rudimentary graphics.

It was also stuffed with meaningful little details.  That the space station you are on has been destroyed.  That the city’s waste flows freely in to the water that rains on them.  The freeze frame of an explosion.  An alien organism that died violently.  Nuclear winter.  An empty command bunker. The fact that the missiles are the only thing in the game that obscures your character.  And then, at the end, with nothing but the word “silence” on the screen, the character apparently ends his existence by launching himself in the sun.

Overall, this game is a masterful example of what can be done when we step out of the common expectations of our vocabulary, and move on to doing something emotionally relevant instead.