I have little patience for exploration mediated by puzzles, but Gregory Weir’s 2010 Looming offers a minimal, elegant space that positively hums with charming meditations on the different meanings of existence we all render from experience.
More than anything else I’ve yet seen in games thus far, Looming explores the way that our different approaches to understanding existence (our metaphysics, or as I would say, our mythology) lead us to conclusions that feel absolutely valid, but are really a consequence of our specific viewpoint on the world. The two unseen races of the Lorem and the Seecha, reveal their unique culture via the time-honoured game technique of narrative collectibles, but the game forgoes ad hoc diary entries in favour of an artefactual approach, akin to archaeology. What’s more, Gregory eschews the overly used post-apocalyptic context and chooses instead a highly unique post-exodus backstory, revealing the restraint lacking among the ‘Big Media’.
Upon completion, players are also offered some welcome insights into the game’s creative process and, as shown in the image above, the creator expressly cites the games that influenced its creation: Myst and Yume Nikki. It is something I always strive to do in my own games, but it is actually quite rare for developers to place their work into a clear lineage like this.
For anyone looking for a game of nearly pure exploration, Looming is definitely worth the handful of hours it will take to play. I recommend planning for short, roughly half hour, sessions, spaced out over many days to get the full effect. There are a few puzzles – in particular, working out how you can tell if you’ve made any progress, which is never made explicit – but for the most part this is a game that invites you to take many short journeys into its windswept-plain, until it becomes utterly familiar to you. The elegance of both the design, and its classic monochrome visual aesthetic, make Looming stand out from the faceless crowd of personal game projects that reiterate the violence of mainstream commercial game development.
With thanks to Orihaus and ElectronDance for drawing attention to this particular game. Gregory Weir's work can be found via his blog ludusnovus.net.