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Games that Inspire Me as a Designer

a collection by Ian Schiffman · last updated 2018-06-02 21:54:19
A colorful game of logic created by a top 10 finalist in the US Puzzle Championship

RYB is a classic logic game in the Nikoli tradition.  (Think Tentai Show or Masyu.) The design of the game focuses its efforts on the 'narrative' of problem solving. Each puzzle feels like you are unraveling the tale of it's deduction and like any good story there are enjoyable twists and turns along the way. It's not as strong a game as, say, The Witness but is certainly a noteworthy entry.

An adorable puzzle game about being a monster and making snowmen

A Good Snowman is Hard to Build is a charming sokoban puzzler. A definite chapter in the sokoban design textbook alongside the likes of English Country Tune and Snakebird.

Be the Universe in this epic reality simulation game.

I tend to describe Everything as an everything simulator, often to people unfamiliar with simulator video games. My word choice proves unaffective but I don't think that is entirely unintended. I could describe Everything as a treatise on the folk philosophy of Alan Watts but that makes the game seem unattractive and unbearably serious. I, in the end, believe that simulator - a genre often perceived as,  on the one hand, a silly disregard for its subject matter and, on the other,  a dedication to the fidelity of its models - is ultimately appropriate. Everything is about everything and is as serious and as funny as the subject matter allows. 

messy gender uncertainty
Visual Novel

There's often a tendency in personal vingettes to literalize the experience, though doing so can often distract from the essence of the work. Boa Retina avoids this trapping by abstracting the experience to one of emotional aberration. Outright hatred masked as familial concern and societal norms  are communicated with warped and unsettling imagery - a tendril-baring eye bat hovering in a warped dimension of bold and flowing colors. The overall effect is expressionistic and, ultimately, more impactful. 

​Prepare yourself for an interactive sensory journey unlike anything you've ever played before.

Panoramical is a work of interactive art about visual and aural orchestration. You adjust parameters in an 18-dimentsional space and transform the landscape of the experience.  Experiences I had range from mundanity to awe, from oasis to frenzy, from quaint to spectacle.  Different sounds fade in and out and combine and permute in fascinating and exciting ways. The visuals warp and explode with energy. All combine to give the feeling of nature in concert. It reminds me of experimental music and films that aim to create a sense of place first and foremost - so called soundscapes and cinemascapes. Panoramical belongs to this genre but is more of a 'ludoscape'. Its interactivity really allowing the discovery of new sounds to be more surprising.  

An abstract puzzle game and time travel and paradoxes

When thinking about Induction, I'm reminded of how Marc ten Bosch described the puzzles of Miegakure as 4D miracles for 3D beings. I feel Induction is quite the same. Each puzzle of Induction illustrates a unique marvel of travelling through time. And, because of the game's aversion to paradox, the solutions don't feel contrived but feel honest and earned. Did I mention the soundtrack is amazing?

A deep, unusual and highly praised puzzle-crawler where you are a dog.
Role Playing

I'm generally not a fan of games where you fight monsters and gain experience but Fidel is no ordinary RPG. The way health is handled feels like a natural addition rather than a trope which is a tricky balance to pull off. And the rogue-like elements are really strong precisely because it treats randomness as integral to the experience. And, of course, you play as a dog. 

3D puzzle game

I've been recently playing several minimalist abstract puzzle games but nothing quite comes close to English Country Tune. Those other games tend to artistically aim for distraction or, if they are more ambitious, insight. Yet, English goes for something more elusive: wonderment. It's puzzles, while difficult, are never about the satisfaction of overcoming adversity. They are about the wonder of discovering something fundamental and true.  The feeling I imagine a scientist has when experimenting with nature and observing the universe.

Flip gravity, and save the universe!

VVVVVV is an exellent example of doing  more with less.

What is the longest possible length a bird can be? Obviously a question only all the fruit in the world can answer!

The puzzle game I've been waiting for! A cutesy game with  smart and intelligent puzzles. Never make the mistake of underestimating this game. You will be sorry!

Ambient procedural mountain game.

I am mountain.

interactive fiction about living with depression

I really enjoyed this game. I struggle with depression and this was an interesting way to gauge my experience (and mood) against someone else's. It is also an excellent example of how games are ideal to tackle mental illness because they implicitly deal with issues of agency and metacognition. 

Every day, for the rest of your life.

A short narrative experience with smart writing and excellent sound design.

A physics-based dating simulator.
Play in browser

Simple in metaphor and minimalist in execution, this little experiment manages to convey the trajectory of romantic interpersonal relationships in only a few short levels.

A neat tech demo and drawing tool. Every frame is something curious and strange.