- Part One: Small planets and the limitation of the player’s view
- Part Two: Building a world, stacking and containers as worlds
- Part Three: Modifying a world, change of perspective and circular worlds
- Part Four: Isolation, society as small worlds and the feeling of oppression
- Part Five: Microcosms and technological worlds
- Complete version
Microcosms: It’s not a feature, it’s a bug!
Game jam entries tend to get an inspiration from life itself to find an appropriate setting for a specific theme. So it is absolutely understandable that many participants of the thirty-eighth Ludum Dare thought of small worlds in our everyday world, and voilà, the first ones that may have come to mind are the habitats of insects. Some of these game follow a comedic approach like the hilarious “Ant Detective”, where you have to solve a murder mystery, while you also find out about a huge conspiration. It is just like your stereotypical detective game, but with ants as characters as well as sometimes subtle, sometimes over-the-top insect-related jokes.
The metroidvania “Bugyard” is also a bit more unrealistic thanks to the built-in abilities like the larva shooter, but it is adorable and funny at the same time. In both games the microcosms of insects act as an appropriate, but kind of replaceable reference for their game worlds. The games would work easily with any other context and their worlds do not feel really small at all.
That is something that is different about the platformer “Lovebug”, where the cute insect tries to paddle over an enormous lake to get to its partner, but sometimes the dragonflies come by to bully him. The little lad cannot do much besides paddling and spraying out some toxic, with which he can banish them for a short amount of time. The protagonist here is not some mighty, strong or witty character, but just a tiny part of its own microcosm, which makes the game feel much more reliable to the actual theme. Same can be said about “Holy Shit! A Spider !!!”, where you have to control a hungry arachnid to protect it from being slaughtered by a newspaper, a human’s finger tip or nasty bug spray.
Other game makers imagined their own macrocosms, like the ones behind “Flovala”, a game in which the players control an unknown species, which has to eat smaller creatures while trying to hide from the bigger counterparts. Just the plants in the background imply that these creatures are super tiny. Meanwhile you can find a fantasy setting in “Fast & Faeries”, where you control one of four little cricket-like faeries in a race that they hold in their own magical forest.
Woodlands seem to be an important inspiration for this kind of games, as the puzzle platformer “Last day of the woods” proves. It features beautiful platformer like the fungi, that can run and shoot spores. Whenever they get hit by one of their specimen, they run away in the shooting direction, which led to some very interesting and challenging level design decisions. Chain reactions of mushrooms were also the core mechanic in “Song of Fungus”, where players have to turn all of them into their own color in a limited number of turns.
Some entries dug even deeper for the concepts of their game environment, right into the spheres of the nearly invisible. In “Inside Inc.”, the players control a microscopically small spaceship, which has to shoot away dangerous viruses, so that those cannot hurt the immune system of an already sick person even more. Meanwhile the wonderfully strange puzzle platformer “Quantum Frustum” showed off its splendor by taking advantage of the quantum theory. In this bizarre world some platforms just appear when you do not look at them and might even change.
Inside technological worlds
But Mother Nature was not the only source of inspiration, as many developers chose technological ones as their paragon. For example, in “Signal?” you are trapped inside a dangerous video cassette recorder, but whenever you get killed there, you can just rewind to a better instant of time. Other entries like “Brainstorm 38” and “Arcade Planet” addressed game development itself. While the first one is about the level design of a platformer before it gets coded, the second one shows the core elements of five popular arcade games and how they can work with only one single world.
The last games in this article series went absolutely crazy on the meta level. While you could assume at the first glance that “The Treachery of Game Dev” is just some random “Snake” clone or maybe a little puzzle platformer, it actually gives the players the option to code inside of it. Here, you have to delve into the structure of your beloved media to progress with the help of a wonderful little code editor.
The amazing meta game “DONATA”, which offers multiple endings, also wants the players to take a closer look at it. Not only does it demand patience, the capability to read carefully anything that is being said as well as the skill to decrypt visual hints, but it also forces the ones interacting with it to think outside the box, or rather inside the directories. You have to go to the actual files of this game to understand everything. And if you do so, you will be rewarded with some thoughts you may have already known: That a video game itself can be a very small world, which was created just for you.