One of the better talks I went to at the first GDC I attended was by Randy Smith, so I was curious about the studio he co-founded. Unfortunately, their first game didn’t grab me; their second game, Waking Mars, sounded like it might have mechanics that were a bit more to my taste, so while it never quite managed to bubble to the top of my stack, I was happy to give it a shot when I was on vacation and only had an iPad to play games on.

And I liked Waking Mars quite a bit more than Spider. Mostly on the level of mechanics: a pleasant set of plants, animals, and substances to investigate. The gates to make it past each level weren’t particularly difficult, but that’s the way I prefer things: I can poke around trying to figure out what’s going on without being too stressed. And there was one interaction of mechanics that surprised me, the way the plant that changes terrain types plays out. I also appreciated the non-violent nature of the mechanics: I’ve gotten a lot more sensitive to that over the last year or so, so I was glad to be helping aliens instead of shooting them.

I liked it more than Spider more on a narrative level, too: having a mansion that invites you to figure out its history sounded potentially interesting, but in practice I wanted more narrative hand-holding than that game provided. (I’m curious how I’ll feel about Gone Home when it comes out.) Waking Mars had people (and robots) talking, an alien mystery to try to figure out, and enough questions unanswered about that alien mystery to leave some room for the player to insert their perspective.

So: pleasant game. Not enough to vault the studio to the top of my must-play list, or anything: I enjoyed the mechanics, but I don’t think there’s huge depth there for me to keep on digging into.

It was also watching my internal snobbishness play out: the images for your character and for the cut-scene discussions were well drawn, but without a lot of presentation beyond that; that worked great for the cut scenes, but something was unexpected for me about the animation of your character’s movements in game. Which I wouldn’t even mention were it not for my playing Dominique Pamplemousse shortly thereafter: that game was more aggressively lo-fi, but in a way that felt a little more coherent? Still, I wasn’t at all actively put off by Waking Mars in this regard, it was just an interesting data point in how small studios pick and choose where to put their energy.

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