Sunday, May 10, 2009

E Pur Si Muove: Beautiful Simplicity

Move left, move right, jump. Rotate the world 90° clockwise, rotate the world 90° counterclockwise, rotate the world 180°. These are the six actions that comprise the entire suite of possible interactions in And Yet It Moves. And from these arise sophisticated and clever gameplay. AYIM is a shining example of how to embrace constraints and how to succeed by doing one thing really, really well.

AYIM won the 2007 IGF Student Showcase award and saw full commercial release just over a month ago. Most immediately identifiable is the game's unique aesthetic, namely a world created from ripped pieces of photographs. As is often the case, this arose out of necessity.

The game was developed by four computer science students from the Vienna University of Technology. Without a dedicated artist (and given the quality of most programmer art, mine included, this is a necessity), they needed an art style they could produce. Rather then seeing a lack of art talent as a limitation, they were able to turn it into an advantage that made AYIM distinct and immediately recognizable.

The core gameplay mechanic is the rotation of the world and the rest of the game works to support that. The checkpoint system is quite forgiving, allowing for much more experimentation with the foreign world rotation mechanic, instead of making the player leery about failing and dying. There are very few enemies in the game and they're more animate puzzles than actual malevolent foes.

Even the music works toward this singular purpose. As brilliant as Kyle's soundtrack to World of Goo is, something that sophisticated would feel out of place in AYIM. The music is simple and ambient, but significant. There are several sections later in the game where various platforms appear and disappear in time with the music. For just a few moments, it almost feels like a rhythm game. But instead of being jarring, it still feels totally congruent with the rest of the game.

If you're interested in more informational morsels, Alec Meer conducted a great interview for Rock, Paper, Shotgun. And of course, at least try the demo. For as much talk as there is about taking a single feature and doing it really well, maintaining that focus is challenging. When it's executed as elegantly as Broken Rules did with And Yet It Moves, the experience is simply sublime.

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