While my personal focus is on story-centric, or narratological games, I would be remiss to not also address some gameplay-centric, or ludological games. Without some ludological elements, a game would not be a game; it is essential to the definition of what a game is, and good gameplay is often pivotal to an immersive storytelling experience. With this in mind, I’ve decided to take a closer look at Katamari Damacy, which was published by Namco in 2004, and is arguably one of the most pure modern examples of a ludo-centric game.
The basic premise behind Katamari Damacy is simple and surreal: your father, the King of All Cosmos had an accident, and destroyed all the stars in the sky. Your task is to gather up material to recreate the stars, using a rolling ball called a “katamari” that picks up any object smaller than itself. The game starts by rolling up items around a house, collecting push pins and ants and stamps and pencils and tape dispensers, and proceeds to target larger items as the game progresses, until you are able to roll up cars and people, and then even buildings. In the final stage, the task is to recreate the moon, which involves creating a katamari so large that you are able to roll up the islands themselves. The story is really an excuse for the gameplay, which is itself an evolution of an early gameplay pattern seen in games such as the Pac-Man series (navigate an environment collecting objects, try to avoid running into things you can’t pick up). The game is simple, but engaging and more fun than its description suggests.
There are several elements at work that make Katamari Damacy fun. The music is upbeat and quirky, with a catchy beat that suits the style and pace of the game. The game control is very intuitive and simple, making the actual playing of the game easy — the learning curve is short and shallow, so the challenge in the game is the game itself, not the interface. The materials you collect in the game are simply rendered, but distinct enough to make it clear what they are, and overall the colors are bright and saturated, yet fitting for the environment and outlook of the game. In particular, the graphics and colors help emphasize the overall simplicity of the game concept by enforcing the surreal nature of the game: it’s hard to treat the game in anything but a lighthearted manner.
Katamari Damacy quickly became a best selling game worldwide, which serves as an indicator into just how important good gameplay is to players. The interface is incredibly simple, which encourages my belief that complexity of control does not make it compelling; the key to a compelling game is immersion, whether it is through story, or environment, or gameplay (and preferably all of the above), so any element that jars or creates an artificial barrier to the player hinders the effect and intent of the game. The theory of simplicity makes Katamari Damacy a game worth noticing, no matter what sort of game you are interested in.
Takahashi, Keita. Katamari Damacy. Namco, 2004.