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Ambient Times, Part 1

We’ve been developing Osmos for quite some time now, and — especially in these last few months — it’s been a very head-down, introspective process in many respects. This level of effort and focus has been intense to say the least, and many activities have fallen by the wayside — including blogging. As a result, this page has been fairly quiet. Now that we’re nearing release, I’m starting to gradually pull back from development, and looks outwards again. I’ve also accumulated a number of imaginary blog-posts in my brain, waiting to be exorcised. This first one is only a few months old… ;-)

It’s no surprise that games have been on my mind a great deal, and ambient ones in particular. And though I haven’t seen any mention of this in the blogosphere, certainly I’m not the only one to have noticed a trend at this year’s IGF: a definite prevalence of ambient games. Three out of the five Grand Prize finalists explicitly used the word ambient in their game descriptions, and a fourth easily could have.

Night Game is a physics-based arcade-puzzler “that focuses on providing players with an ambient gameplay experience”; Dyson is “an ambient real-time strategy game”; Osmos, an ambient physics arcade game; and (the ambient-feeling) Blueberry Garden is “a fairytale made out of play, set in an ever-changing ecosystem.”

Moreover, there were a significant number of games in the other categories that could be categroized as ambient as well.

Between: a game of “faded messages floating in bottles”. Machinarium: while this doesn’t appear to be as ambient as Samorost 2, this game from Amanita Design is a lush, interactive storybook accompanied by a minimalist electro-acoustic soundtrack. Feist “provides an immersive world to explore, to interact with and to linger in.” Check out the trailer. Coil (and Aether, though it wasn’t a finalist) are both “experimental art games” that feel like deep, interactive paintings. And The Graveyard is “an experiment with realtime poetry, with storytelling without words.”

Granted, these games don’t proclaim to be ambient, but try them out or take a look at their trailers, and I think you’ll see what I’m getting at.

While there are exceptions in AAA-title-land (the wonderful Ico for example), this is not the norm. So what happened at this year’s IGF? Was it the mood of the day? The coincidental taste of a certain group of judges? A counter-culture reaction to the gunfire, cries and explosions of the rest of the industry? The “current economic climate”? Who knows. Perhaps it was all of these things. In any case, as a less-aggressive gamer, I’m very pleased to see such games being made, and to play them. And as a developer of an ambient game, I’m very pleased there are people out there who appreciate our work and our art.

Well, that just scratches the surface. There are a lot more ambient games out there than appeared in this year’s list of IGF finalists. And there are many questions I’d like to explore: How to define or identify a game as ambient? Is there a distinction between ambient and zen games? What are the seminal/great games in this genre? etc.

So, I’ll call this Part 1 and try to follow up on this thread soon. In the meantime, I’ve put up a short selection of links to ambient games in the blogroll on the right; these are all free games (or have extensive free demos) that I’ve enjoyed in recent years. If you’ve enjoyed what you’ve seen of Osmos so far, you’ll probably enjoy these as well.

2 Comments on “Ambient Times, Part 1”

  1. #1 Kadeem
    on Aug 3rd, 2009 at 3:49 pm

    osmos is by far one of the best games ive ever had the privilege to play. i love the style. its very unique and artistic. i dont really know much about “ambient games” i guess because im only 17, but any game containing a unique style such as this one should be aknowledged. i hope to take part in the design of videogames in the future much similar to this one, and playing it has been a real inspiration =].

    thanks

  2. #2 arcade puzzler - StartTags.com
    on Jan 25th, 2010 at 4:57 pm

    [...] Action game: Konami Classics Series: Arcade Hits. Review of Konami Classics Series: Arcade Hits gameHemisphere Games Ambient Times, Part 1 Night Game is a physics-based arcade-puzzler that focuses on providing players with an ambient [...]

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