New Year’s Eve is filled with rituals, and one of the best I’ve discovered so far is Mateusz Skutnik’s habit of making a game. Since 2009, he’s commemorated the passage of time each December by turning out a clever little browser-based diversion, and Where Is 2012? is the latest.
Skutnik’s seasonal games always hinge on a hunt for the new year itself and, while the 2011 instalment muddled with the formula a little bit, it generally involves wandering around, collecting things, and flipping switches that will open up new parts of the map. Controls are very simple, movement and jumping are pleasantly forgiving, and you’ll be able to finish the whole thing in ten minutes or so – the perfect amount of time in which to enjoy this gentle kind of challenge while taking in some lovely art and basic, but very characterful, animation and sound effects.
When it comes to visuals, in the past Skutnik’s New Year offerings have employed everything from thick cartoon lines and flat colours to black-and-white sketches and even photography. This time around, he’s opted for watercolours, and it’s lovely stuff. The approach turns each screen into a little pool of light and detailing, while brush strokes silently guide you through the world, and, best of all, you can even see the texture of the paper that was used.
If you check out the blog post that accompanies the game, you’ll get an insight into the process, with Skutnik suggesting that watercolours provided a kind of "trip [to] childhood". "I remember sitting in class in my primary school, drawing games on sheets of paper," he writes. "Platform games. Where you’d go around and push buttons and each time you’d die or go further. Now this game right here is the exact same thought process. I just sketched on paper and then added some actions in the computer. And voila."
Where Is 2012? certainly has that clarity to it: the clarity of the first sketch that is so often lost in the final, more detailed, work-up. Creating the game’s straightforward environments and basic switch-and-door puzzles must have been a quietly cathartic experience for Skutnik, coming at the end of what he describes as "the worst year in my gamedev career."
2012 should be better in every way, hopefully, and while the next 12 months certainly hold more complex games than Where Is 2012?, it’s nice to start out with something like this – something that’s fuss-free, lovingly made, and generally pretty delightful.