in bits


I keep telling myself I want in bits to be:

a minimalist cinematic platformer about an existential robot

But what does that even mean?

I will try to explain exactly what it is I am trying to make.


Minimalism is not a new concept.

Minimalist art sprouted in the 50’s and was typified by large geometric form with focus on the literal rather than the metaphorical, and minimalist literature harks back centuries and is typified by a sparseness of language and narrative, requiring the reader to take a more active role.

But how does minimalism apply to video games?

That is a good question. One that I probably don’t have the right answers for!

For me, I think minimalism in games is a design ethos rather than being a particular genre of game or a movement, an attempt to adopt the “less is more” credence, rather than bloating a game with content to razzle dazzle the player. You could categorize minimalist games as either mechanically, aesthetically or narratively minimalist. That is, games that either limit the number of mechanics present, maybe just a jump, ones that tell a subtle story rather than an explicit linear one, or ones that have a very limited look, maybe a simple colour palette or a focus on simple geometric forms.

I know that there are going to be people who say that describing a game as minimalist is cheating, and is only as excuse to not make content.

If I am honest, there is truth to that. But I am one programmer trying to make a game in a reasonable amount of time. I don’t want this game to take 5 years to make, as some other solo projects around have. So I won’t apologise for trying to make the best with what I have, and adopting the “less is more” credence as a way to hopefully make a decent game while staying sane.

I do firmly believe that it is possible to tell a great story with little in the way of content though, Thomas Was Alone being a stellar example.

And minimalist games don’t have to look bad. Journey is a gorgeous game showcasing just what can be achieved with a simple colour palette and a few simple mechanics done well.

That is not to say that I am using the minimalist moniker as a smoke screen to hide a bad game. If anything, less clutter makes flaws all the more apparent! I am just trying to use the limited resources I have most effectively.

So how is in bits minimalist?

Aesthetically minimalist no doubt, having adopted that 8-bit large pixel style with a simple colour palette. But I also want to make a game with a minimal non linear narrative, to create a small world and entice the player to explore it.

How I am going to achieve this yet I haven’t quite figured out…

Cinematic Platformer

Cinematic platforms are typified by :

  • realistic metrics
  • realistic animations that cannot be interrupted
  • high degree of difficulty, involving a lot of trial and error
  • hazardous environments
  • cinematic display, with gameplay normally occurring in discrete screens rather than a continuous world
  • narrative driven gameplay

The classic examples of cinematic platforms are the original Prince of Persia, Another World, Flashback, Abe’s Odyssey and the relatively recent Limbo.

This particular genre of games holds a special place in my heart. Price of Persia was one of the first games I played as a child, and I adore Another World and Abe’s Odyssey.

I don’t know what it is I find so endearing about this genre. Probably a sense of nostalgia more than anything. I do think that it is a great way to tell a story though, and I have always appreciated games that don’t hold my hand. I want to fail! That’s what makes success so gratifying. I think this hand holding is far too prevalent in games today.

Existential Robot?!

I have always been fascinated with the idea of existential video game characters.

I tend to find myself questioning characters motives, and how they would change if they were more cognizant of their world.

Would Mario be so happy if stretching to twice his size hurt, as it should, or if he risked real death every time he jumped over a chasm?

Or would Ryu be willing to punch Chun-li in the face after #MeToo?

I mean, isn’t it weird that video game characters endlessly commit suicide at your command?! And forget the pain of death so easily?!

I think it is anyway.

So, I want to create an existentially aware video game character, one that is aware that every time you issue an incorrect command he suffers for it.

Again, I am not 100% sure how I am going to achieve this. I think I am going to have to flip some standard video game hero tropes.


That’s it for this post.

Next up, the design doc.