They See Me Rolling

The MoMA shows off yet another display of unique but tasteful art. Currently on display are 14 video games in the Applied Design exhibition. Of the 14 that are on display, there are three that deserve to be mentioned the most. Another World (1991) by Eric Chachi is a bitmap graphic platformer (a game that requires the player to maneuver the avatar across elevated platforms and across obstacles) that centers on the journey of Lester, a physicist who has to return home after being transported to an alien universe after his experiment goes wrong. Following is Katamari Damacy (2003) by Keita Takahashi, a puzzle game for the PlayStation 2. Katamari Damacy follows the adventures of Prince, the protagonist who is sent on a quest to roll large balls of matter to reconstruct celestial bodies. The premise of the game is untraditional, but that same unorthodoxy dons it a good deal of attractiveness. The last game that will be reviewed is Jenova Chen’s Flow (2007). Of all three games, this last one has the most straightforward, and yet most abstract, goals. This game has player control a two-dimensional microorganism that ingests other smaller microorganisms. In any case, these three games are some of the most forward thinking and well made of the gaming domain.

katamari damacy


Image from Katamari Damacy

Another World is the perfect example of how aesthetic beauty is retained even in older works. The color scheme Chachi adopts is reminiscent of those in old childhood cartoon like Kim Possible or The Elmer Show. The bold turquoises placed next to contrasting scarlets go hand-in-hand with the bitmap graphics. Two-dimensional toning down all the detail makes other factors of the game stand out. The background music’s eeriness is enhanced by the flatness of the design. Soft drum rolls and animalistic sounds are intermixed with minor keys to create a chilling ambiance. The setting gets progressively creepier as Lester traverses the multi-leveled planet of hostile alien life forms to return to Earth. Along the way, the player guides him by controlling his running, kicking and jumping abilities. The game flows quickly with its single panel backgrounds. The screen does not scroll, unlike some other pixelated platformer games, so the visual is almost entirely on Lester. This is nice in that the game feels less rudimentary than it feels focused. This game is one of the few in which homogenous simplicity works well.

Another game that should be praised for its balance between simplicity and complexity is Katamari Damacy. Here, the player operates as a young Prince who is given the power and responsibility of recreating the stars and moon with the katamari, a ball that sticks to everything it approaches. The game controls are self explanatory and easy to use. Two analog sticks on the controller can be maneuvered simultaneously to allow Prince to roll together a variety of objects including birthday cakes and bus stops. The items that can be rolled progressively increase in size from pencils to entire islands. Like Another World, Katamari Damacy has an obvious objective. The equilibrium between the uncomplicatedness of the task and the busyness of the surrounding environment of the game is well executed. Never do any specific elements of the game overpower other factors of the game. On that note, the soundtrack fits in well with Katamari’s novel foundation. Its fun soundtrack is full of personality and harmonizes with the rest of the game.

This next game also has strong soundtrack. Flow’s trance-heavy soundtrack is soothing. It is soft enough to put the player at ease, but fast enough to keep the player rapt with the errand at hand. One constituent that sets Flow apart from Another World and Katamari Damacy is its nonconcrete target. It is essentially impossible to lose in Flow. This is because the player is supposed to work towards emotional satisfaction rather than work towards winning. The approach to this endpoint is rather unconventional. To achieve this satisfaction, the player tilts the controller left, right, up and down and changes the path of the microorganism. Pressing any button will accelerate the microorganism either towards or away from a certain location. Because of its untraditional control system and untraditional goal set, Flow poses a bit of a challenge to new players. In any case, once the player familiarizes her/himself with the technical operation of the controls, the game becomes that much more enjoyable. When the “protagonist” microorganism ingests enough smaller beings, it effortlessly transitions to a new region within the ecosystem of the game.

The three above mentioned games represent some of the more vanguard works in the game industry. The games’ compelling soundtracks and refined art styles underscore their innovative schemes. Despite their relative oldness, Another World, Katamari Damacy, and Flow continue to exhibit some of the most eccentric and wonderful gaming concepts in the gaming world.