One of the greatest pleasures offered by the likes of the Ludum Dare 48-hour development challenge comes when you find a game by a first-time designer. That’s the case with Microscopia, for example, a minimalist entry I read about over on the excellent Indie Games blog that was, in turn, inspired by the site’s brilliant Indie Tools series, looking at some of the best game creation software that’s currently available to newcomers.
As the name suggests, Azurenimbus’ debut title takes Ludum Dare 23’s theme of “Tiny World” and sees players peeking through the viewfinder of a microscope. The aim of the game is pretty simple: move the little black bar you control across the sheer white playing field until it touches the grey circle in the centre. The problem, however, is that it isn’t always clear exactly which little black bar you’re moving.
That’s because each new level sees your petri dish landscape filling up with more and more little black bars, all seemingly identical to yours, and all moving in random directions from the word go. Worse than that, they often stop for a few seconds, too, meaning you can’t simply keep your fingers off the controls and solve each stage by simple deduction.
Microscopia is hard, in other words, particularly in the later levels, when the game is really brimming with twitchy life. The fact that most of the challenge comes from your harried efforts to pick your own avatar out from a crowd, meanwhile, ensures that Azurenimbus’ game really capitalises on the weird sense of disconnection that can sometimes come from staring down at a game world while also controlling something within it. Microscopia makes you think a little about your two roles within a third-person game: player and observer. Not bad for a first attempt at game design.
What I really like about Microscopia, though, is that it takes such simple game elements – it’s all bars and circles – and, by virtue of some very basic movements, makes them feel like gloopy, wriggling bacteria, swimming around on a scientist’s slide. Azurenimbus’ debut may not be the most complex of the Ludum Dare offerings, perhaps, but it’s gotten to the very heart of the brief. Microscopia actually builds a tiny world from scratch – one in which players will get lost with no trouble at all.