Saturday, January 24, 2009

Play Katamari, Make Better Games

I want to wad you up into my life. Gregory Weir over at GameSetWatch spent a recent “The Interactive Palette” column discussing the use of scale in Katamari Damacy.

He opens by asserting that “the narrative of most video games is one of increasing power,” progressing from an unskilled neophyte (Mega Man with only his Mega Buster) to an omnipotent god (Mega Man with the ability to stop time, toss boulders, or other less useful things). His thesis: Katamari’s use of scale wonderfully, if indirectly, supplies this narrative. I happen to agree.

You should give this thing a full read, but I’ll quickly mention one of my favorite points. The first technique Weir discusses is Katamari’s use of “clear objects of reference:”

“The game is set in a stylized version of the modern world, populated with many objects, from dice to people to cars to houses. These simply-rendered objects immediately provide a cue as to the size of the player's ball. … If Katamari Damacy's portrayal of its setting was more realistic…there would be several subtly different sizes of car and more variation of houses, while the ground would no longer be littered with neat rows of tulips or clusters of teddy bears.”

It’s refreshing to hear an explanation for Katamari's quirky visual style that’s more than just “Goofy=cool.” I used to just accept it as a result of the game’s unabashed Japanese-ness, but I’m happy someone articulated its effect on gameplay. Kudos, Weir. Hopefully, a few developers will take heed and find other inventive methods of progression, instead of just giving my gun a bigger chainsaw.