Over the next few weeks I’m going to be doing two or three in depth looks a week at the finalists of the Eleventh Annual IGF awards, trying to figure out which are brilliant, and which are just amusing gimmicks. Bear in mind the last few IGF awards have produced some truly brilliant games, such as World of Goo and Crayon Physics, and this year is sure to have a few gems contained within. Not all of the entries currently have demos available, and those are the ones I’ll leave till last, in the possibly futile hope they’ll produce demos soon. Instead, I’ll start with one of the most instantly appealing; Osmos, a physics based gravity game based around absorbing your enemies. You can download it here. Impressions below the cut.
As soon as you start Osmos you realise it has a lot in common with Spore’s cell stage; you start off as a little ‘cell’ (for want of a better word. At least here you stay a cell.) and you grow bigger by absorbing those which are smaller than you. It’s very visually appealing, and the soundtrack is brilliant, although a little more movement within the cells would certainly not go amiss.
The main crux of the game is down to the fact that, to propel yourself through the level, you have to expel little cells from within yourself, decreasing your mass. In the earlier stages of each level (apart from the few early tutorial ones) you’ve in a very vulnerable situation. If you go anywhere near any red cells, you’ll have them shave chunks off you, or absorb you entirely, depending on the momentum with which you collide. So you have to be economical with your propulsion, making sure you use enough to get yourself moving, but not enough to make you smaller than that which you’re trying to absorb.
There’s another problem as well; the larger you are, the bigger the cells you expel, and the cells you expel can make other cells bigger. So not only do you have to watch out how much you’re using, but where you’re using it. It’s a bit of a headache at first, and you don’t have to be that careful, but it’s certainly something that could be expanded in the further levels (the game available for download at the moment is just a demo). Add in, in the later levels, large, star-like masses that have all the cells orbiting around it and the whole game takes on a lovely gracious atmosphere, much like a ballet, with you weaving in and out of the larger cells and absorbing the smaller ones, until you the gravity of the star no longer affects you, and you can leisurely pick up the last few needed.
A clever move on the developers part is that once the level is over you’re still free to move around the levels. Usually the objective is to absorb enough cells to make yourself the biggest, and occasionally it’s to absorb a specific cell (there are special ones further on, with different characteristics), but there is definitely an impulse to absorb everything, and become one huge, fat, burping cell in the middle of an empty level.
The game has been nominated for the Seumas McNally prize, the highest in the IGF, along with Excellence in Design and Technical Excellence, making it one of only two games this year to be nominated three times, the other being Playstation’s Pixeljunk Eden. At the moment it’s a rather simple concept that has a good deal of room for expansion and innovation, and I look forward to seeing the final product rather eagerly.