Thursday, November 15, 2012

Global Gaming Spotlight: Limbo (Denmark)

With each post in this mini-feature, I highlight a game from a different country around the world. Keep in mind these aren't necessarily the best or most popular games from each nation, but simply a fitting representative.

Limbo - Playdead, 2010

I've written about the boom of Nordic game development, and Denmark is no exception. But their roots go deeper than the past ten years. Designers at the University of Copenhagen in 1991 created DikuMUD, one of the most important multi-user dungeons--text-based online games that pioneered internet gaming.

Today, the highest-profile studio in Danish gaming is IO Interactive, creators of the stealth-action Hitman series and the underrated revolutionary title Freedom Fighters. The composer for the music in many of IO's games, Jesper Kyd, has become perhaps the biggest name in game soundtrack writing. He recently penned the scores for big-budget works like the Borderlands and Assassin's Creed series.

But the most important Danish game design was done by a few people who split off from IO to create their own independent studio, Playdead. Their minimalist platformer Limbo is a masterwork in atmosphere and noir-inspired art direction.

Limbo is about a little boy looking for his sister. There is absolutely no heads-up display of information on the game screen, and nothing in the story is really explained. Players must figure it out on their own. While most mainstream gaming assumes the player is stupid and must be spoon-fed information, Playdead does what all good art accomplishes: respects the audience's intelligence and lets them come to conclusions on their own.

Playdead's game had the unfortunate luck of being released in the wake of another "arty" 2D platformer featuring a kid with a large head--Jonathan Blow's Braid. But while Braid hits the player over the head with exposition and walls of text, Limbo takes a very Scandinavian approach and goes with a more elegant, minimalist approach to its design. It will forever live in Braid's shadow, but Limbo is perhaps the most important platforming game of the last decade.

The Global Gaming Spotlight so far (zoom out to see full map):

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