Have you ever really liked a game, tried to convince your friend how good it is and then discovered, as you talk about it, that the game might make less sense the more you talk about it?
1up's David Ellis put in a heroic effort in last week's Listen Up podcast to describe the game Osmos. He was describing the game that I voted as best entry in this spring's Independent Games Festival (it didn't win.) And I pitied his attempts to describe it to his co-workers.
A little set-up, not that I think I can do much better than Ellis.
Osmos is a 2D PC puzzle game played from the overhead view that makes you think of flOw or the cell stage in Spore. You control one globule - or mote, in Ellis' descriptions—with the goal of moving that globule into contact with smaller globules, automatically absorbing them and eventually being the largest globule in the playing field. Two complications: 1) If you go near larger globules in the playing field, they will siphon off your size, making you shrink as they gain size... 2) You can only propel yourself by jetting some of your mass behind your globule, shrinking yourself in the process and injecting more globules into the playing field in the process (Imagine retreating from a larger globule but having to fire off some of your mass into that larger one to escape—thereby making it larger).
OK. If I haven't lost you yet, then here's Ellis trying to describe the game's wonderful Milky-Way-galaxy-style level at 9:34 of the podcast:
David Ellis: There are other levels where you start in orbit around this sun and all the globules are like asteroids and planets and meteorites, also orbiting around the sun, and you actually have to adjust your orbit on the fly to avoid larger motes but also...
Garnett Lee, Listen Up host: So you already have momentum.
Ellis: You already have momentum. So you're trying to actually adjust your orbital track while trying to catch up to other ones, but also not adjusting it in such a way that you lose your orbit, because then you'll have to use a lot of the make-up of your character to actually get back into orbit. So you'll actually be a lot smaller then. So you want to try to keep it pretty consistent all the way around. But you also want to adjust it so that you're not just following in the same track but you are changing it every time around so you're picking up more and more motes to make yourself much larger.
Don't blame the messenger. Blame the complexity of even the simplest games. I've told people that the breakthrough of Osmos is that it tweaks the design fundamentals of Katamari Damacy. That game is all about gaining mass in order to absorb whatever is, at the moment, smaller. That dynamic is here, but coupled with the stress that larger things in the level are always a threat to roll you up. It's like a Katamari MMO, except that it's single-player.
Does that make sense?
Maybe you should just watch the trailer and try the demo from Hemisphere Games.