Star Search

So-called casual games--the small-format, web-accessible time-killers that form the bulk of the indie games movement--typically focus on two related, goal-based activities: solving puzzles and reacting to stimuli. Rod Humble's Stars Over Half Moon Bay takes both factors and slows them down, eschewing a conventional win/lose structure in favor of a more open-ended opportunity for contemplation and creative play. In the game's three phases, the player first uses her cursor to tag nighttime stars, which transform into squares as the sky recedes, and finally become stars again when the deep-blue sky returns, whereupon she can connect them as constellations. Humble (who works by day at megacompany Electronic Arts heading their Sims Studio) writes that Stars is about "the relationship between observation, symbolism, exactitude and the creative process." Reviewing the game, fellow experimental game designer Jason Rohrer agrees, calling it a "meta-constellation of its own" that offers a metaphor for the creative process, "bringing disparate components together and adjusting them to work in harmony." Unlike Tale of Tales' richly detailed The Graveyard, Stars functions with a visually minimalist, 2D design (merely sky, land, stars, squares and lines), but both attempt to orchestrate a more art-like, meditative experience by evoking a quiet tranquility in which simple gameplay gestures become heavy with potential significance. - Ed Halter

Image Credit: Rod Humble, Stars Over Half Moon Bay (still), 2007