The Small Worlds of the Ludum Dare 38 – Part Three

Shrinking, growing and modifying

Shrinking, growing and modifying

An important question for many of the participants of the thirty-eighth Ludum Dare was how they could evoke a feeling of smallness without reducing the interaction possibilities for the players. One common approach was to shrink the character, while they were in a normal-sized world. A perfect example for this strategy can be found in “Uncharted Dreams – Fate of the Miniatures”. In this platformer the cord of some ear buds became a grappling hook and the usually short distance between a bedside cabinet and a window got transformed into an enormous chasm. However, shrinking the world did not have to be a singular event. For instance, the planet displayed in the arcade game “Retro Rabbit” shrunk steadily if the players did not do anything against it.

We could say that the key to understand the excitement in those games was to create a game world, which transforms itself instead of being a static one. The feeling of a changing environment was provided by implementing several concepts. Take the puzzle game “The Witless” for example: Here portals got used to connect two perspectives of the same world with each other. In the one ‘dimension’ the players are giants, in the other they became miniature versions of themselves.

In the meantime “Skylands” presented a core mechanic, which forces the players to shrink and grow the environment at the same time: Whenever you build a path in their world, you use two resources, but when you destruct one path, you just get one resource back. This way you may progress in a level, but you also steal at least one resource per turn from the whole world, which vice versa reduces your interaction possibilities as a player.

Close-Up, part 3, image 1

In the shooter “Cell Division” you can grow your cell environment whenever you killed enough enemies, but they also try to reduce your space at the same time. A pretty similar approach can be found in “Echo Lands”: As soon as you destroy a vase with a heart in it and collect it, your little island grows, but when a monster hits you, the island shrinks again. To be successful in those games, you have to show off an amazing capacity of reaction.

The puzzle game “Obelisk” provided another challenging concept in that matter, as your only goal in here is to reach the upper tile of a three to three tiles big field. Some of the nine tiles are fixed, others can change their position with other free ones. Also, some of the tiles are connected with each other by a gear. Whenever you interact with a gear, it will rotate the connected tile, which can open up new paths for you. This way of modifying a world is simply stunning in my eyes, as the size is fixed, but the environment still transforms over and over again.

On the other hand, the platformer “U-Turn” proves that a game does not have to give the players any control over the modifiability of the world. You just have to run between the two ends of a small island to collect a flag, but whenever you get one, something about the landscape changes. It get can bigger, new enemy types can appear, the water rises et cetera.

Close-Up, part 3, image 2

Of course, shrinking is only one way to modify a world. Other games concentrated on implementing a growing mechanic, and plants often were the favored objects for them. While you have to water obscure plants and merge them together in the formidably looking “GardenGarden”, you have to find a balance between eating flowers and water them with your tears in the platformer “Dwelling”.

“A Growing Adventure” wants the players to explore its world step by step. While you may start on a very tiny island in the middle of the galaxy, you will find out how huge its whole world is by reaching its edges. The virtual pet adventure “Flurpies” works kind of the same way, as you evolve the cute pet over time. It can get bigger as well as stronger, and by doing so it will be also able to explore unknown areas of its environment.

Change of perspective

Change of perspective

Some games just skipped the whole growing aspect and turned their characters straight into giants in a world of dwarfs. While you go out on a rhythmic rampage trip as a basketball playing kaijū in “Super Kaiju Dunk City”, you just try to get to work without harming anyone in “Regular Monday”. The puzzle platformer “Super Collapse Guy” also played with this change of perspective, but approached it differently. The character in this game can collapse a three-dimensional world into its two-dimensional version and back. With that mechanic it is easy to overcome big gaps between the platforms, but it also requires a good understanding of the level design.

Game jams make the world go around

Gamejams make the world go around

Another interesting trend was to implement ’round’ or ‘circular’ game worlds of any kinds. In the role-playing game roguelike “6-Sided Sojourn”, the small planets are shaped as six-sided dice. Anyway, they are not rotatable, so the player can only move their character into one of two directions. Whenever the cat knight jumps on a new field, the whole world moves with it. Another interesting world design concept can be found in “Annulus”, where the whole world is designed like a cross section of a pipe.

Nonetheless, there are also many rotatable circular worlds to be found, just like the marble maze platformer “World en abyme”, where you have to guide a little orb to a door by tilting the world. The platformer shooter “Noizy” also features such a world concept and makes a great usage of a minimalistic color palette, which consists of black, grey, white and red. All the enemies and dangerous level elements are painted in red, but they can only be perceived when they are placed in the front.