Artopsy Attempts to be an Autopsy of Game Design

Video games, the medium and the industry, has reached a point where it can be viewed under so many different lenses. In the early days it was seen as an amusement attraction at the arcades, then the experience came home and for several decades it was viewed as a mere “toy.” Now it’s reached a point where the medium attracts dialogue and discussion of a sociopolitical nature, with strong emphasis on social and cultural implications, and lest we forget the old “video games are/are not art” debate. Certainly video games have inspired many to look beyond the surface and ponder over them.

Michal Smisek is one such individual; he reflects on the meaning of video games the same way most mountain dwellers would over the meaning of life. He questions the nature of contemporary games, questions the elaborate and lavish production values, questioning the tropes and conventions in aesthetical and aural presentation, and also contemplates the use of narrative in video games. In exploring these topics and issues, he falls back on a notion that most of us can probably adhere to: game design and mechanics are the most crucial elements of a video game, no exception or substitution. In fact, it is these aspects of a video game that, if made well, will stand the test of time. He has unique ideals and views on video games, but these are at the end of the day, his strong opinionated views. I don’t necessarily agree with all of what he says about the medium, but certainly deserves props for showing his passion for video games in his own unique way.

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Instead of just commenting and critiquing video games, he also has a passion to make some of his own in order to demonstrate his views and ideas. Artopsy: The Dissection of Art is one such game, which aims to be a game that, to the best of his knowledge and experience, is completely uninspired by anything else out there. Artopsy is a strange game indeed, it deliberately makes minimal use of visuals and layered mechanics in order to provide a game that focuses on something more basic and fundamental.

It probably looks like I’m overselling this idea as the video game equivalent of sliced bread, but it isn’t the case. In fact, I don’t think the game is trying to overachieve and make a bold statement. It’s minimalist video game design that focuses on key foundations. Artopsy tries to condense a lot of ideas into a single drop, and that’s perhaps the best way to describe it. It tries to focus on qualities of a video game that are of a more intellectual appeal, rather than the attraction that most contemporary games offer in terms of the art, design, sound, and premise.

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This preview is starting to read like an essay going in circles, but that’s the best way to describe what Michal, and developer Optopus, is trying to achieve with Artopsy. Let’s talk about what this game really is about: you click on blank canvas, using a limited stock of paint and colors to draw blocks by clicking on little internodes, with the aim of forming tangible shapes which you then fill in with color. Certain block shapes correspond to predefined objects (such as the sun, a person, a cloud etc) and the game provides hints on what color they should be. The idea is to efficiently create as many coloured blocks as you can before your paint and color run out. So that’s basically it, it’s like a fun little block puzzle that’s quick, easy, and simple to grasp. So essentially, it’s a puzzle game where the appeal is to rack up a high score.

You can read about Michal Smisek musings on video games and game design on his blog, and find out more about Artopsy: The Dissection of Art, which I wouldn’t necessarily call a traditional video game, but rather a simple experiment.