Every now and then I sift through the Itch.io catalog and find a little gem that reminds me how sublime game design can be. It isn’t that the games are always spectacular or particularly innovative; rather, some have a nice finish like a perfectly brewed cup of tea.
As of late in games criticism, there’s a lot of discourse around accessibility, without really ever defining what that means. A lot of that debate is beyond the scope of this article, but something I find sorely overlooked in the discussion is how accessibility also matters with regard to reaching a broader audience, and how a good UI can make or break game feel.
Out Of Darkness is designed to be played in a browser, a decision that immediately helps to lower the barrier to entry in anticipation of the cruel fact that most users will hesitate to try a game that they have to download, basing that call on shallow value judgements. It is a small hurdle that, sadly, I and many others find insurmountable, considering how perpetually packed most people’s schedules are these days. By removing another obstacle, it makes a prospective player that much more willing to try a smaller experience like this, despite it being a self-described “Practice Project” created from random themes. That’s the funny part, though, isn’t it? This is the game design equivalent of an artist’s warmup with a preset auto-generated palette, an exercise to keep one’s faculties sharp.
One might argue this sort of practice one-shot isn’t much different from the product of a game jam. However, there is a huge difference between working under a time constraint with a team in a larger competition, and simply spontaneously producing something for the sake of a challenge. This is thoroughly different from a jam: this is a form of craft meditation, and one worth adopting. As designers, we all too often get bogged down in producing projects that take us weeks, months, or years.
And in this meditation, Oldmanofthefire has come to better understand the composition of UI elements, and has managed to turn an otherwise unremarkable dungeon crawling point’n’click into a delightfully frictionless exploration of how effective and polished a simple idea can be. Admittedly, it has no sound, but you can’t do everything in 12 hours, nor should you. Out Of Darkness is a refreshing lesson in clean presentation and very clearly communicated gameplay, a gentle reminder that regular practice can still produce lovely portfolio pieces. It is worth studying and taking time to reflect on how you can iron out the barriers to entry in your own work.
Emily Rose is an indie developer who writes for rebind.io and resides in the pacific northwest. She’s often seen in the local VR arcade and developer community participating in pushing the medium’s horizons. You can find her on twitter @caravanmalice