I don’t normally blog about Flash games or Twine games that I play (for no particularly thought-through reason), but I was thinking I should make an exception for Grow Maze: it’s wonderful and it’s as long as some iOS games that I’ve played recently that do fall into the bucket of “games I blog about”. Before I got around to writing that post, though, the 11th anniversary of EYEZMAZE came along, so I decided to expand the scope.

Because: the EYEZMAZE games are amazing: I’m not sure that there’s a game designer who works by himself whose work I enjoy more. (I really wish he would do a Kickstarter or something that would let him devote more time to his games!) They are fun, they are charming, they have a mechanical and stylistic consistency that underpins all eleven years of his work. (Actually, I don’t know if “his” is the appropriate pronoun: the designer’s name is ON, but even finding that takes a bit of poking around, I’m not sure of the designer’s gender.)

The first EYEZMAZE game that I played was Grow Cube, and it made enough of an impression that I still remember where I heard about it. And it’s still a great introduction to his work, because it’s wonderfully charming and an excellent example of his favorite mechanic. The mechanic that Grow Cube uses (and that maybe half to two thirds of his games focus on) is of elements that you can add in various orders, and that level up more or less depending on the order in which you add them. And the leveling up gets more and more alive, with hidden secrets popping out: if you manage to find the sequence to get all of the elements leveled up, you end up with a wonderfully animated small world that’s just bursting with charm and secrets.

I think the mechanic is a surprisingly good one (in particular, there’s more game play there than it seems – I remember keeping notes on the experiments I’d run while trying to find out the complete sequence for one of his games), though it wouldn’t be nearly as powerful without the charm of the world he built. For the first half of his career, he experimented with that mechanic over and over again; I always enjoyed it, but I was starting to wonder what else he could do.

But, as I played more of his games, I also started to appreciate his repeated design elements. This started to hit me when I played Grow ver. 1: that uses a much simpler mechanic (though one that remains focused on growth, and that retains all the charm of his more elaborate games), but there’s one path in particular that made me take notice, because it shows the development of an underground world full of secret chambers that are a backstage version of bits of his other games. That brings out the consistency of his games (it’s not just thematic and mechanical consistency, but judicious use of characters and items that link the games without being repetitive), and it does that while bringing one aspect of his thematic consistency to the fore, the idea that everything is part of a living, growing world with riches lying just beneath the surface (of the ground, of shapes and objects and creatures and people) working away and waiting to burst forth if you do coax it out.

Fairly soon after that, he came out with a game that was a significant break from his tradition: Dwarf Complete. (There’s an iOS version if you prefer.) It was contract work, and perhaps because of that it has a noticeably different art style; still charming, though. And noticeably different mechanics: you move around instead of just selecting items, there are a wide range of puzzles to work on. So: he’s definitely not a one-trick pony.

Since then, the games have slowed down; sometimes, he’s returned to the original mechanic, sometimes he’s branched out more. His latest game, Grow Maze, is a lovely example of where’s he’s come: it’s similar in many ways to Dwarf Complete, in that it’s exploration based with a wide range of puzzles, and takes a decent amount of time to go through. But it’s as charming as ever, and touches back enough to some of his familiar design elements and ideas of evolution to reassure you that yes, this is an Eyezmaze game.

ON has made so many games that I cherish; I only wish that he could devote himself exclusively to game creation. But still: once every year or so, my feed reader tells me that he’s published something new, and that’s a wonderful present to receive.

And now I think I’ll go and play through Grow Cube again. Or maybe Grow RPG?

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