Miner Distraction, by Bento Smile, is a game made for Ludum Dare 15, which had the theme of “caverns”. It lasts a mere 5 minutes, and yet it feels like it has entirely fulfilled its purpose by the ending. There is no narrative or sound to speak of; it consists only of its visuals and its gameplay. No enemies are to be found, either; Bento Smile seems to get by very well with only friends, although there are none here. Miner Distraction utilizes the purest aspects of the exploration game in such a way that it is a perfectly serene experience. It opens with the image of a yellow-clad miner inside a cavern with red and black walls. The miner treads carefully through this underground land, and as he walks the walls fade from red to purple to a somber shade of blue. He encounters various imp-like shadows on the walls and castles that were obviously built by these subterranean creatures. The playing area is presented such that it appears to be very non-linear, but with subsequent playthroughs it reveals itself to be non-linear only inasmuch as that several inconsequential details are shown when different paths are followed. The path is self-correcting; if you fall off of a platform, you will reach a lower level that will gradually get higher and take you back to the central path. Beginning with the fiery tinge of the first area, the miner walks and jumps through a lonely underground paradise until he reaches a patch of sunlight; this is the way out, and this is the end.
The colours are quite minimalist and are carefully chosen in order to place the player’s focus on the act of exploration, rather than the particular details of the world. The animations of the miner evoke a sort of calmness in the viewer rather than being overly showy. For the most part, the design of the game means that there is little to no backtracking, although there were at least one or two places where I felt the placing of the platforms was slightly off, not allowing the player to correct their mistakes as easily as elsewhere. Being able to constantly be moving forward is allowed due to the excellent placement of most of the platforms, and thus the player can feel like they are progressing without the need for many visual rewards. The lack of sound can make the game a bit tiresome, but if you’d like some background music, I highly recommend Brother Android’s Space Hymns. All in all, it is a perfect game for the length of time that it takes to play.
Hit the jump for an interview with Bento Smile:
TIGSource: Miner Distraction was created for Ludum Dare 15, and so you had a very short timeline in which to complete it. Did this 48 hour restriction on development time foster creativity, or did it hinder your creative efforts?
Bento Smile: Yes and no. It’s good to be forced into a decision quickly, and interesting to create as much as possible with the smallest amount of work. However, because I’d not had much practise I got stuck on some code and couldn’t implement some features I wanted. It’s definitely useful to learn to work so quickly though! And I really like crazy limitations.
TIGS: The design of the caves and platforms of Miner Distraction is very organic. Was making the world feel organic and realistic a goal of yours during the development of the game?
Bento Smile: It was necessary! I think most people would cry at the way I created that level, as I just opened up a huge Photoshop document and started drawing. So from the start the layout itself was quite organic. From there it was easy to work more detail and wobbliness into it, before chopping it into much smaller chunks and putting it in game.
TIGS: The ability to constantly progress forward in a seemingly non-linear world greatly adds to the appeal of Miner Distraction. Did you intend for all paths to branch back to the central one in such a way that progression is always evident, or was this an unconscious decision?
Bento Smile: I think Miner Distraction could do more of that… It’s something I want to revisit in a different game. It’s more luck than judgement! All that said, a lot of the layout was driven by there being no enemies, and no traditional achievements (like collecting things).
TIGS: You seem to focus more on making interesting worlds than interesting stories, although the story of Miner Distraction is hinted at by the appearance of the shadowy imps in the walls and the castle at the bottom of the cave. Is this method of telling a story via small visual hints the best in your view, or do you enjoy traditional stories just as well?
Bento Smile: I like them both. For my own work, I find creating environments which contain some story, or are more conceptual most interesting. Games are very visual, more-so than comics and films I think, because the bulk of the experience is without dialogue or strict direction. So to fill the spaces between bits of exposition it makes sense to put some narrative into the environment.
In traditional stories there’s a degree of separation which gets closed in games. In a film or a novel, you passively watch a character do things. But in a game, you are the character, you are in control, there is no separation. This is the (rather pretentious) thing that makes games special to me. It’s nice sometimes to have things happen to the player, rather than the character.
TIGS: Tanaka’s Friendly Adventure was your first released game, but prior to its public release, did you spend much time creating games for yourself only?
Bento Smile: Nah, it just happened to be the first piece of code I got to actually work! I’d only played around a very tiny amount making games before that.
My ‘real’ job is as a games artist, which gave me art experience at least. My games are so low-res as an antidote to where I was working at the time. I got tired of making ‘next-gen’ 3D, which was becoming increasingly tedious, soulless and misdirected. I wanted to make games for people who don’t care about normal maps, or don’t know what ambient occlusion is.
TIGS: Tanaka’s Friendly Adventure has been criticized for being incomprehensible in the patterns of movement used to find new friends, yet lauded for the appeal of its visuals. Were these two elements intended to complement each other, in that the difficulty of finding friends makes the appearance of new ones at the party more rewarding?
Bento Smile: Haha, yes! Pretty early on I realised I had to make the party section as the reward. The low resolution was intentional too, as I can make freaky strange characters and keep it cute, and everyone else can fill in the gaps the low-res art leaves with their imagination. I filled it with a bunch of nonsense jokes as well (like holding right in the main game, and all the silly stats in the party) just for fun.
TIGS: Seeing as both of your games thus far are purely exploration based, do you consider “gameplay” to be irrelevant to the value of a game?
Bento Smile: Yes, but because I think games without gameplay and games with gameplay are both valuable in different ways. I admire people who can come up with interesting mechanics, or express ideas through gameplay, because I currently can’t do any of that fancy stuff.
TIGS: Outside of the creation of games, do you express your creativity in other forms?
Bento Smile: I draw comics, but it’s a secret!
TIGS: Are there any closing comments that you’d like to make?
Bento Smile: Hmm… I hope people enjoy my games, despite their flaws!