The Small Worlds of the Ludum Dare 38 – Part Three

Shrinking, growing and modifying

Shrinking, growing and modifying

There was an important question for many of the game developers of the Ludum Dare 38 entries: How could they evoke a feeling of smallness for the players without reducing their interaction possibilities with their game? One possibility was to shrink the character, while he was in a normal sized world; that’s exactly what happened in “Uncharted Dreams – Fate of the Miniatures”. That way the cord of the ear buds could become a grappling hook and the small passage between the nightstand and the window becomes a enormous chasm. Others thought of shrinking the world over time, just like in the arcade game “Retro Rabbit”, where the character has to pull out some dangerous space weed, which takes the size out of the planet.

We could say that the key to understand the excitement in those games was to create a game world, which transforms itself somehow, instead of a static one. That feeling of a changing world can be provided by implementing several concepts. The puzzle game “The Witless” for example used portals to connect a ‘big’ and a ‘small’ world with each other, which always changes the perception of each of them. However the core mechanic of “Skylands” forced the players to shrink and grow the world at the same time: Whenever you build a normal 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 reduces your action space.

Close-Up, part 3, image 1

It’s hard work for a game maker to find a fine balance between such shrinking and growing mechanics. 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 – and whenever a huge wave comes to eliminate you, you will find yourself nearly helpless. A pretty similar approach can be found in the ‘are(n)a’ fighting game “Echo Lands”: As soon as you destroy a vase with a heart in it and collect it, your little island grows, but when an enemy hits you, it shrinks. To be successful in those games you have to show off an amazing capacity of reaction.

An interesting and challenging concept provided “Obelisk”. Your only goal in here is to reach the upper tile of a 3×3 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 may open new paths for you. This way of modifying a world is simply stunning in my eyes. But the platformer “U-Turn” proves that a game doesn’t have to give the players the control over the modifiability of the world. Here 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 environment changes. It get can bigger, new enemy types can appear, the water rises, et cetera – and all that happens under time pressure for you.

Close-Up, part 3, image 2

The concepts of other games were focused on the aspect of growing the world itself or the elements in it. In the formidably looking “GardenGarden” you have to water obscure plants and to merge them with their fellow species to get new ones, while you have to find a balance between eating flowers and to water them with your tears (I’m not kidding) in the platformer “Dwelling”.

“A Growing Adventure” however 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 Tamagotchiesque adventure “Flurpies” works kind of the same way: By evolving the cute little fella over time, it can get bigger and stronger and by doing so it will be also able to explore unknown areas of its environment.


Change of perspective

Change of perspective

Some other games just skipped the whole growing aspect and turned their characters into giants in a world of dwarfs. While you go out on a rhythmic rampage trip as a basketball playing Godzilla clone in “Super Kaiju Dunk City” (well, why not?), you just try to get to work without harming anyone in“Regular Monday”. The puzzle platformer “Super Collapse Boy” also played with the change of perspective, but in another way. The character in this game can collapse a 3D world into its 2D version and vice versa. With that mechanic it’s easy to overcome big gaps between the platforms, but it also requires a good understanding of the level design.


Gamejams make the world go around

Gamejams make the world go around

Another interesting trend was to implement circular game worlds of any kinds. In the RPG roguelike “6-Sided Sojourn” the small planets are shaped as six sided dice. Anyway, these aren’t rotatable, so that the player can just move its character into one of two directions (downer left and downer right). Whenever the kitty knight jumps to a new tile, the whole world moves with it. Another interesting world design concept can be found in “Annulus”, where the whole world reminds of a cross section of a pipe.

Of course you can find many other rotatable circular worlds as well. like the ‘marble maze’ platformer “World en abyme”. Here you have to move a little orb to a door by tilting the world. Another rotatable world can be found in the platformer shooter “Noizy”, for which the developer chose a very minimalistic color palette (black, grey, white and red). All the enemies and dangerous level elements are painted in red, but they can be just seen when they are placed in the frontal part of the world – a quite clever usage of such a world design!

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