Thursday, March 10, 2011

Nested Design in Stacking

My latest post at PopMatters is about the many delightful layers of Double Fine's new game, Stacking.

It's a celebratory piece, and I hope it convinces at least a few people to give the game a try. To be fair, Stacking isn't perfect; it starts a bit slowly and the controls can be finicky, but those niggling problems shouldn't deter anyone. It's a very approachable game that takes elements of various genres (e.g., adventure, third-person action, and open world) and makes them accessible for a wide variety of players. Rather than cater to a certain type of player, Stacking accommodates a variety of interests and skill levels. Novices, veterans, tourists and completionists are all invited to shape the game to suit their tastes.

In terms of its artistic design, Stacking seems right at home next to Pixar movies. Like Toy Story or Cars, Stacking's anthropomorphic objects are imbued with a quirky spark of life. Additionally, Stacking's characters and story strike that delicate balance of appealing to folks of all ages. The slapstick humor appeals to kids (as well as the kid inside all of us) and the various puns and bits of satire ensure the story also operates at a higher level.

Stacking represents some of the trends that make me optimistic about the medium. It's great to see a developer like Double Fine find a niche that allows them to make such creative games despite not having a huge budget. On a broader scale, games like Stacking represent a compromise between the "hardcore" and "casual" approaches to game design. There are plenty of challenges to be had in Stacking, but they don't come at the expense of a relaxing experience. One can play Stacking like a traditional adventure game or as a sandbox experience and still be exposed to the concepts that make the game so unique.

Said concepts range from industry in-jokes to fart mechanics. What more could one want?

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