The Only Way Is Up
Look! A climbing frame!
Some games need plot – A princess to rescue, a universe to save or a wrong to right – some way to drive you onwards from beginning to end. Without a plot, you’re left with little more than an interactive playground.
Sometimes, that’s enough.
This week I’ve been strangely climbing in StrangeClimber, an appropriately named project by Strangethink. What’s unusual is that the game was less created and more just kind of turned up. Springing into being as nothing more than an unwanted bug in one of Strangethink’s many projects, a coding error in a procedural building generator resulted in something rather unexpected.
Instead of finely crafting procedural buildings as expected, the game instead decided to churn out architecture that would be more at home in one of Lovecraft’s novels. Towering, angular, unnatural sculptures that reach high above you, defying any practical explanation for their existence.
And what do you do with such a strange edifice? You climb it.
You’re not told to climb it, you’re not told to do anything at all. It’s just there, it’s climbable, so you do. Anthropologists can probably explain it better than I can, but if you present a human being with something that looks even vaguelly like you could clamber up it then within minutes someone will. I’m surprised Everest isn’t topped with a step-ladder for people wanting just that little bit of an extra challenge.
There’s no point behind StrangeClimber. You don’t win by reaching the top of what’s presented to you any more than you lose by falling off it. It’s just there, its presence alone acting as a challenge. Here I am, it says. I’m big, I’m pointy and I bet you’re too rubbish to get to the top of me.
In fairness, it’s probably right. It’s not built with a difficulty curve in mind or a helpful tutorial, it’s just a massive great climbing frame standing in front of you, produced by a quirk in code. You might get half way up before realising that there’s no possible way you can get any higher, but that’s no great problem. Tire of the edifice before you and a simple keypress will generate a brand new structure for you to start all over again.
Like all the best playgrounds, StrangeClimber is completely free of charge and open to the public all year round. You can visit it yourself here along with the rest of Strangethink’s experiments. I’d also recommend following Strangethink on Twitter for frequent windows into surreal and often terrifying abstract worlds.