The Beach Epiphany

Staring at the void of design.

My love started with Nitrome games. A love for cheap video games with simple pretty art and never ending gameplay. This newfound passion carried over to the likes of Nuclear Throne, FTL, and Hearthstone. I dreamed of making games like these, and yet couldn’t pinpoint what exactly had grabbed my attention. Was it really the price? The great aesthetics? The endless gameplay loops that kept me coming back? As I asked myself these questions, I stumbled onto Rooftop Cop sitting in a cheap bundle.

Rooftop Cop is a collection of five endless vignette games.The first four share similar art styles and gameplay mechanics I’ve grown so familiar with, even if I wasn’t connecting with them as much. Then, I reached the climactic ending.

All I saw was a beach with a fax machine.

I stopped to think, “Okay, how do I progress?” I searched the beach for answers and any kind of goal. I tried to swim, chased after seagulls, and slapped a fax machine — the last remaining relic of a society long gone — but there was nothing beyond these meaningless interactions. That’s when the whiplash hit me. I helplessly moved my 16 by 16 pixel blue character in a world of sand. There was nothing. I couldn’t stand it. And yet, it was beautiful. I saw the intent of the developer in this void of design. I saw what I loved in games.

It’s not about the gamified conflict or the mechanical mastery. It’s the emotional impact we get from such minimal mechanics. Mechanics can let us feel attached to 16 by 16 pixel slogs of colour. Simple scores and systems can play with our emotions. My favourite games didn’t just have great visuals or engaging loops. They spoke emotion and intent through the mechanics itself. With only the mechanics to walk and slap, I had to take in the ruin of this game’s society. In this desolate absence of a goal, I saw what games can do.

By Tigran Bleyan

Tigran Bleyan studies Life Science at UofT. He designs games, voice acts and writes about social issues. He logs what he does and is open to chat on Twitter @TigranBleyan

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