Game Recommendation: Osmos

Those who follow this blog know that I don’t recommend games very often. So you know that when I do, I really mean it.

So if you haven’t played Osmos (by Hemisphere Games), do yourself a favor and go try it out. There’s a free demo; the game is available on Steam as well as the developer’s own site.

Osmos Trailer on Vimeo.

Relatively speaking, a lot of independent game designers are trying to be experimental these days, and the problem I see with most of these games is that they don’t understand their own ideas — after playing, one feels that there was a lot of potential in the ideas that went unexplored, that the game never saw in the first place.

Osmos isn’t like that. It starts with an idea that several games have done before: you’re a cell and you eat guys that are smaller than you in order to get bigger. To this it adds the idea that makes the game stand out: This game is going to generally adhere to the nature and feel of physics in space; for example, momentum is conserved, so you need to eject your own mass in order to move. The game then explores the consequences of these ideas and ventures through a rich territory of additions that are all naturally suggested by the game’s premise.

The result, by the time you’ve finished, is not merely a satisfying game. It rings with that faint and distant sound of truth: because the game is based around laws of physics, it immerses you in these and you learn something about them. Perhaps not anything you didn’t already know in an abstract intellectual way, if you took physics classes in school; but here, you get a feel for them, so they become more real, more tangible. This game can change your perspective.

14 thoughts on “Game Recommendation: Osmos”

  1. It’s interesting that you see Osmos mostly as a physics simulation, as it felt almost entirely to me as an evolution simulation. I must constantly expend energy in search for more energy so that I might grow larger and dominate my ecosystem. On more than one occasion I was directly competing with a fellow whatsit for a morsel that was almost the size of myself, but I was caught in the trap of trying to expend energy to get there quicker at the expense of growing weaker and being consumed myself.

    However, this was based on the demo, so the full experience may make me appreciate the physics-based nature of the game more fully.

  2. “after playing, one feels that there was a lot of potential in the ideas that went unexplored, that the game never saw in the first place.”
    I’m able to get a lot from thorough works, but I guess a lack of comprehensiveness isn’t something that affects me as much as you. Also, I would caution you to be wary of letting this sense of lack hinder your understanding of what *is* in a game.

  3. Jim: I don’t know what was in the demo, but I played the IGF submission way back when (which might be comparable to the demo), and liked the full version a lot more. I find it hard to see this as an evolution game since evolution implies change in the inherent structure of an organism, and there’s no such thing in this game. Competition for resources, though, sure.

    increpare: I see what you are saying, and at that point it just comes down to personal tastes, I suppose. I personally don’t get very much out of the games I am alluding to. I see what they are offering, for the most part (at least I think they do) but it’s generally not something I find compelling. Or rather, sometimes I find them just on the edge of compelling, or within a stone’s throw of compelling, and I see where they could have gone, and they just didn’t go there.

    In the same way that I don’t want to play unthoughtful big-budget AAA action games, I also find myself not wanting to play unthoughtful indie gimmicks. That may sound paradoxical coming from the guy who hosts the Experimental Gameplay Sessions every year, but there you have it.

    See, it’s the thoughtful part that is valuable, not the gimmick part. (Mostly.)

  4. Also, I don’t think I would characterize it as a “lack of comprehensiveness” because I don’t think it’s really comprehensiveness that is necessary. For any particular subject matter, there is some amount of exploration that counts as “enough” — if it’s a very rich area, then “enough” might be well short of comprehensive; maybe comprehensiveness would be impossible because the game would be too hard to make or too complicated to play or because the subject of exploration would be too defocused.

    However, I don’t see many indie games having that problem…

  5. And I just thought I had my game budget worked out, too. Thanks.

    But really, thank you. I can always count on insightful opinions from your blog, and every game recommended by you that I’ve tried has been worth the play time… more than I can say for quite a few games on my shelf.

    Just playing the demo has me interested. In a lot of ways, this is just a fancy flash game, which is having the expected pyschological effect of a reluctance to pay any money for it. I’ll probably break down and buy it in a month or two, and enjoy it fully.

  6. “Comprehensiveness” is an interesting term for the idea, probably better than “depth” which has acquired too much baggage.

    I think the fact that many indie games are gimmick-driven and/or seem to be remiss in exploring the idea(s) they purport to explore stems partly from their goal of being quick to make, easy to play, instantly appealing things that you want to try after seeing a single screenshot on TIGsource. They’re the two minute punk songs, that take half a day to record and cut, of our medium.

    That’s great and makes them a fine counterpoint to turgid, unambitious AAA games but one can’t help but feel there’s another axis to be explored. And a bigger budget wouldn’t advance that in most cases. Development time, and the frequency with which an artist puts out new work, may be a better metric – when you take a year or more to make a game, you’re often putting more deliberation and care behind every atom of it, even compared to someone totally brilliant who releases something every month.

    Me, I just want more indie games that aren’t shmups or platformers. Seriously, those things are so easy to make, and there are many bloody fantastic ones, but those design spaces have been mined so thoroughly… where are all the turn-based indie games? All the indie abstract puzzle games?

  7. I bought the game, even though I was initially skeptical of your description. It was in the “final” levels, when one really has to perform, that I started clearly recognizing problems in rocket propulsion and gravitational slingshots that I only read about. Thanks for the tip.

  8. Amaing game. Please keep recomondations coming.

    Also, because I have never posted here before I have to say Braid was one of the finest games I have played this generation. Soundtrack was literaly perfect.

    This game is great and let us know what else you think is worth it out there.

  9. I bought this game on your recommendation after your blog entry – only played it with my girlfriend today. I love it and so does she. Hoping it will run on my dell mini, which I will try when it comes back from repair.

    Many thanks

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