// 2010 IndieCade Aesthetics Award Recipient

  • Aesthetics
  • Spirits by Spaces of Play, Germany


    Video games can look like almost anything. From photorealistic simulations of real life to ultra-stylized creations to simple 8-bit blocks, the way designers make us see their worlds plays an integral part in how we feel about them. Independent designers take a wide range of approaches to art direction, but all of the selections in the category of aesthetics blow us away with their unique visual designs.

    Spirits is an action-puzzle game for iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad with a Lemmings-style mechanic in which players manipulate the wind to guide name-giving Spirits towards each level of the game world. The wind, which is both helpful and uncontrollable, can serve as the player’s friend and enemy at the same time. The game’s unique atmosphere is created by a combination of beautifully hand-drawn graphics and a music track comprised completely of orchestral musical instruments. Created by Berlin-based Spaces of Play.


    //Spaces of Play: Q & A:

  • What is Spirits?

  • Spirits is an action-puzzle game for the iPad, iPhone and iPod touch. Players can manipulate wind and ground in the game world to guide the Spirits towards the goal. This is done with four different actions: Blow or block wind, dig tunnels and grow bridges of leaves. Sound and music are done completely with orchestral musical instruments. In combination with the beautifully hand-drawn graphics this gives the game a unique poetic feel.

  • Who is Spaces of Play?

  • Mattias Ljungström has a long background in game development and worked as an Assistant Professor in Game Design at the University of Applied Science in Potsdam, Germany. Marek Plichta works as an independent game designer and illustrator in Berlin and teaches Interface Design at the Design School in Schwerin, Germany. Martin Straka is a studied musicologist and works as a freelance sound designer based in Karlsruhe, Germany. Andreas Zecher works as a web developer and game designer in Stockholm, Sweden. Specifically: Mattias Ljungström, Game Design, Level Design, and Code; Marek Plichta, Game Design, Level Design, Art Direction; Martin Straka, Music, Sound Design, and Andreas Zecher, Promotion, Web Development, Level Design.

  • What inspired Spirits?

  • "Mattias has done research on the combination and relationship of game space and game rules. Thinking about digital play spaces was a strong inspiration for Spirits. (Obviously, that’s also were the name Spaces of Play comes from.) Another inspiration was allowing player freedom and creativity in the game. The player should reshape the game world while playing in order to reach the goal.

    Marek loves to explore, also in the digital world. He wants to challenge players to constantly shift their way of thinking. Every situation in a game should add something new that has not been experienced before.

    The first prototype of the game featured ants digging through the ground. We liked the game idea, but thought there might be some people who are afraid of insects and wouldn’t want to touch them on their iPhone. Instead we came up with the idea of using ghost-like characters as the protagonists. The character design was still inspired by insects that mimic their environment for camouflage. With the game being set in a forest, we decided to give the spirits a leaf-like form.

    We wanted the game to be more dynamic and the look of the spirits inspired us to try out the wind mechanic. We also wanted to create a calm and poetic game experience which would be challenging at the same time. The player should not be able to predict a solution by looking at a level, but instead try out different things to reach the level goal. Manipulating the wind turned out to be a great solution to this.

    When composing the music for Spirits, Martin worked like a conductor of a classical orchestra setting specific parts of the gameplay to music. For the sound effects he assigned the „drummer“ in his virtual orchestra so that every action in the game is made audible by the sound of a percussion instrument."

  • Sometimes inspiration comes from a frustration with the limitations of what's already out there. Are/were there any negative inspirations, things you were trying to work against, that drove your vision?

  • It’s not a coincidence that there is no violence in Spirits, but we would almost count this as a design goal more than a reaction to other games. Visually we probably have lots of anti-inspirations, but we just focused on creating something unique that we really like and that stands out. We were a bit frustrated both by games that take a long time to learn or never seem to end, but also by shorter games lacking depth. So we tried to make a game that is not too hard too learn and not too long, but still has a lot of depth.

  • What was your design/brainstorming process like? What is a day in your team like?

  • Mattias and Marek meet once a week where they discuss a certain aspect of the game and then build it. We try out how the feature works, sometimes test it with people who haven’t played the game before and redesign it if necessary. We are also using paper prototypes to quickly try out ideas. Before deciding on the actions the spirits can do, we sketched out possible level designs first. This was sort of a dry test of how the game actions would interrelate to possible game spaces. Overall we tried to keep a very holistic approach to the game’s design. We would think about how a feature would fit into the game and how everything would work together. We threw away things that were cool, but didn’t fit in.

    We are all working from home and in three different cities, so we use the group chat tool Campfire as a virtual office, where we quickly can discuss things. Campfire is pretty unobtrusive and works really well even if not everyone is online at the same time.

  • How long have you been a game designer and what compelled you to the medium? What (other) media, books, films, music, theater, art, influenced the game's direction or influence your overall approach to design?

  • Mattias made his first, humble game in 1984 in Simon’s Basic on his C64. He finds it hard to trace down his direct game design influences for this game, but he finds inspiration in books, fine art and architecture. Books because one can create his own vision of what is going on, it’s a very participatory medium. Architecture because he always looks for structures and spatial elements that could be used in games. And fine art because it often questions our reality, world view and existence.

    Marek has been a professional game designer since he finished his studies in Interface Design in fall 2009. He was fascinated by games since he was a kid. By the time he finished high school though, he had the feeling that digital games were mostly evolving on a technical level but not regarding content or player experience. Being uninterested in drawing space barbarians and half naked women with laser-guns, he turned away from the plan to work in the game industry. But during his studies he started to see games as a medium of expression which offered new ways of sharing and exploring experiences, something he had always done using drawing and illustration. During the design process he tries to put himself into the player’s shoes: "How could I make myself see the world differently?"

  • How long have you been a game designer and what compelled you to the medium? What (other) media, books, films, music, theater, art, influenced the game's direction or influence your overall approach to design?

  • Mattias made his first, humble game in 1984 in Simon’s Basic on his C64. He finds it hard to trace down his direct game design influences for this game, but he finds inspiration in books, fine art and architecture. Books because one can create his own vision of what is going on, it’s a very participatory medium. Architecture because he always looks for structures and spatial elements that could be used in games. And fine art because it often questions our reality, world view and existence.

    Marek has been a professional game designer since he finished his studies in Interface Design in fall 2009. He was fascinated by games since he was a kid. By the time he finished high school though, he had the feeling that digital games were mostly evolving on a technical level but not regarding content or player experience. Being uninterested in drawing space barbarians and half naked women with laser-guns, he turned away from the plan to work in the game industry. But during his studies he started to see games as a medium of expression which offered new ways of sharing and exploring experiences, something he had always done using drawing and illustration. During the design process he tries to put himself into the player’s shoes: "How could I make myself see the world differently?"

  • What have you gained from this process, in terms of learning and ideas, that you want to apply to your next game, either a sequel to this one, or an entirely new project?

  • We learned a lot about how to prioritize and focus on the things that will get the game done. We put a lot of attention into detail and want a polished game experience, so it’s easy to get lost in that. How to effectively communicate ideas within the team is something else we learned along the way. We also learned much about player behavior and interaction through our gameplay testing, but we’re sure we’ll learn even more once the game is released.

    Our next game will probably be very different so it’s hard to say what we can apply from Spirits in terms of game design. What we learned is that exploring one idea thoroughly leads to a better game then taking a lot of ideas and wildly mixing them all together.

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