One of the reasons why I like to explore itch.io a time each day is the possibility to try, without feeling that I am leaving me all along the way, a good handful of different games raised me, sometimes interesting ideas in a short time. Some tell me new stories, others reinterpreted classical narratives; some pay homage to well known genera, others give a twist to formulas that we thought we had seen it all. These games know they have little time: they are urgent, and often go to the grain. It is a refreshing way to leave it safe. Many do not rob me half an hour; Outline, by Daniel Linssen, It has had me obsessed since I played it.
Daniel Linssen, the presentations are necessary, is an Australian designer, also known as Managore. We have spoken of their games on other occasions: on Sandstorm, about Planetarium, on Death of Lich. Interestingly, over their perhaps less conventional plays; others, such as Roguelight or The Sun and the Moon, can be more accessible to work on a basis which we are all accustomed: platform games.
There are also Outline. Here are some sort of eraser that eats the screen as it moves. The trajectory of a jump leaves an irreparable mark in the drawing of the level; not in its topography, because the obstacles and platforms are still there but they are not. It is as simple as it sounds, and gives rise to images so beautiful like this:
An interesting trick of Outline is in how the trace of our avatar, a simple ball which can bounce off walls and cling to outgoing (and because), tells a story. There is, scrape on the screen, the route that one has done so at some point. In the image above, it is possible to see the way the player, has followed in what outgoing will have been rightly, why walls has slipped. Visual clarity allows you to do things like show in the background, beyond the furrow left by our own body on the screen, the previous level: this reinforces the feeling of progress, be going forward, in a bright way instead of simply exceeding levels which are watertight compartments. While the description of the game speaks of a “complete absence of history or purpose”, Outline does a special narrative force: the memory of previous levels is drawn against us as we decipher the new solution.
Very smart is the way in which level design takes into account this peculiarity to design their challenges: as the travels are complicated and increases the level of precision required by the game, play well begins to involve also play nice, draw on the screen a tour that is also designed, do not cover important information or makes it too difficult for perception of platforms. The player, person that there is this side of the screen, is a very interesting path as the game progresses: it can become your worst enemy if not controlled their movements, and gradually learns to live with the trail that leaves in its wake. This is: learn to live with their past and the footprint of their presence left in the world. It is also an explicit representation of the importance of playing well: not done, are (sometimes literally, because you can see the path you have to follow) lost.
Although avatar is a pencil eraser (to call it somehow), its existence is more reminiscent of Chinese calligraphy: I can imagine a prototype of Outline (in English: contour) drawn on a paper, moving the brush and clearly imagining the movement and the visual style that was to have the final game.
The description of Outline also mentions «50 levels, from the introductory to the masochistic». During my game I thought, as we sometimes think that have been a while playing, that this allusion to masochism was a bait too unfounded; then came the level 40.
At level 40, Outline becomes a sort of treasure hunt and forced the player to revisit four previous levels in search of clues. Four digits, namely hidden in message boxes usually throwing instructions or jokes (the speaker here is, or could be, Daniel Linssen: spends jokes to the player, he asks for forgiveness at the more complicated levels;) («I don’t like that andes erasing the levels that I have created for you with so much effort», confesses at one point one of these boxes). From this point the game loses a little shame and it’s masochistic levels makes sense: the last ten levels after finding the four digits (a process that encourages confront scenarios that we already thought we dominated in new ways: I would like to see this idea more developed later) are really brutal, and demand that it is put into practice everything that the game has been able to teach in the previous forty.
This grand finale topped the dialogue of the designer with the player and confronts the expectations of those who wanted that promised masochistic challenge. The player has had to learn to live with the disaster that leaves in its path, to endure to itself, to get ahead while its existence eliminates literally what surrounds him; in a great final twist, it is the Narrator (the designer, perhaps;) Linssen) which decide to stop supporting the situation. You wanted tough levels; you wanted that history had a finish; you wanted everything while you’re out there “deleting levels that I have created for you with so much effort». «I’m not going to take anymore», the game tells you. Then you cross the next door, which is the last, and Outline closes and returns you to the desktop. That hold you another.
Outline is available at itch.io.