Searching for minimalism in Google images brings up some common themes. I see a lot of monochrome black and white, a lot of stark geometric shapes, a lot of open space, whether that is actual architectural space or white space in a graphic design sense. Basically a white open space with a few things in it.
It’s a similar scene on deviantART, though with a bit more color.
As you may notice from some of my own work, this is a style that I am very comfortable with.
Last night as I was trying to fall asleep there were two ideas sticking in my head for this “minimalism” theme.
One is an idea I’ve been musing over for the last couple weeks, a game about my struggle to work on my game projects in the evenings and weekends outside of my full-time job, while balancing my sleep and energy and all that. I had already been thinking about how to make that as minimal as possible, both so I can actually finish the project in a reasonable amount of time, and also so people can easily understand what’s going on when they play. However, it didn’t seem minimal enough, so last night I spent a lot of time visualizing the game as an abstract geometric arrangement of circles and rectangles and such. But I’m not sure I really want to make it that abstract – because I want you to feel like a person when you’re playing it, and not just any person, but a person like me.
The other was a more formal exploration of the “minimalism” theme, thinking about what the most minimal game could be. FarmVille is an example of a very minimal game. In terms of systems, all you do is invest some resources into an asset, and then after some amount of time, you can liquidate that asset in exchange for more resources than you originally put in. And you can have a portfolio of a bunch of assets going at one time. So why not build a game around that? Except sped up really fast, instead of stretched out over hours and days.
Keeping with the “minimalism” theme, everything could be very simply depicted, with even your resources represented by a pile of pixels on the screen instead of a number. But what if you went further, where your goal in the game is actually to simplify and reduce clutter toward the aim of minimalism? Maybe your resource is actually empty screen space, blank pixels, and the screen starts out almost full. But you can invest screen space into assets that temporarily take up space until their time is up and they erase an even wider area of pixels than they initially displaced?
That sounds really boring. But then again, so does FarmVille.
In any case, it’s an interesting start, and I really like the way it incorporates the theme in multiple ways at once. The idea of empty space as a resource is intriguing to me.
Maybe if the empty space is also a venue for another aspect of gameplay, like an action game where you move around and need open space in order to do well…
But there are a lot of ways to take this theme beyond the two ideas my mind was obsessing over last night.
For one, I think it would be great to try taking a common game genre and distill it to its essence, kind of like what Sophie Houlden did with The Linear RPG. I am still really inspired by that game. And personally, I’m looking forward to seeing some interesting takes on a minimal RTS this weekend, as strategy games have always been close to my heart. The first game I really got into was Civilization II, and almost all of my early game ideas as a kid were strategy game ideas. Of course, I’ve never made a strategy game because they’re so much work! But I have a few ideas for minimal strategy games and I would really enjoy the chance to make an entire RTS in a single weekend. Could I do for the RTS genre what Divekick does for the fighting game genre? That would be awesome.
Another approach would be to make a game within the constraints of a very limited hardware platform, like the TI-83 Plus graphing calculator. As you may or may not know, the TI-83 Plus was where I really got my start in terms of game development. I made a lot of games. And so, how about a game with a 96×64 monochrome display, and no sound? Similar constraints produced the gem that was the original Triple Town – maybe I can do something similarly brilliant here. At the very least, it could be a fun nostalgia trip for me to revisit my game development roots.
Or how about making a physics game with very simple rules, but with a lot of nuance because of physical interactions between objects, like Particles? I’ve got a few ideas to explore there. The only thing is I don’t have a physics engine all ready to go at the moment, and while it probably wouldn’t be hard to learn to use an existing one or reuse some of my old code, I’m a bit wary of going that route. Lessons learned.
I’ve also been thinking about a game that tells a story in as minimal a way as possible. I read this talk by the creator of Amnesia yesterday, and found it very inspiring. I have an idea I’d like to explore along these lines, and it may be simple enough to qualify for “minimalism”.
So, there we have six different directions to take the “minimalism” theme. I’m sure there are many others. Now it’s time for a break! I want to do this so badly, but I still don’t see it actually happening this weekend. Well, I’ll be there in the back of my mind, searching ceaselessly for a crack in my schedule like water in a wooden box. We’ll see if anything seeps through…