Details.

Michaël Samyn, June 27, 2012

I have a strong memory of somebody playing an early demo of our very first games project and saying that she liked the sound of the avatar’s footsteps.

At that time, all videogames avatars’ steps made sounds. So we just copied what everybody else was doing. In most games, you hardly noticed. And if you did, the sounds might have been annoying, even. But because the activity in our game was so sparse and the atmosphere so calm, suddenly the simple sound of footsteps became a source of joy.

There’s a lesson in here that I’m only now slowly starting to fully understand.

Beauty can be very simple. The trick is to bring it out. Find a beautiful element and then remove anything that prevents the enjoyment of this beauty. Don’t be seduced to add more cool features or other things that would be nice. Find the one beautiful thing and show it. Forget about politics and rules and “proper use of the medium”. Beauty is your goal. Nothing else.

There’s an odd paradox in creating simulations: the better they are, the more they approach reality, the less impressive they become. It is very strange how, after meticulously fine-tuning the timing of sounds of a drawer sliding in Bienôt l’été, once it is done, I hardly notice it anymore. It’s only normal that the drawer makes a sound when it slides.

That doesn’t mean that players cannot be delighted by such small details. The trick seems to be to isolate them. Don’t design an entire world. It will just look like the real world and will not make much of an impression on all but the most dedicated experts. Stylize the environment and select a few things to bring into focus. Charm the player with beautiful detail in those things while muting everything around them.

Simplicity may be the key to dealing with the lack of subtlety in videogames.

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