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Playdead's Inside Achieves Success Through Simplicity

by Matthew Kato on Jul 01, 2016 at 12:31 PM

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Inside by Playdead is a game of complex mysteries similar to the developer's previous game Limbo, but at its heart Inside is a title that draws power from simplicity. That's visually evident through Inside's relatively spare and matte graphical style, and it's also important in its controls and the tools by which it expresses its themes. Less is definitely more when it comes to Inside.

Note: This article discusses some basics about the game, but does not delve deep into the game's details or spoilers. However, if you don't want to know anything about the title, then it's best to click away now. If you WANT SPOILERS, check out our installment of Spoiled for the game. You can also read Kyle's glowing spoiler-free review.

Inside does a great job setting up the player's expectations in terms of the controls and how to use them for the title's puzzles. Since there is no formal introduction to the controls like a tutorial, and the commands themselves are few (move, jump, and grab), your mind doesn't overly complicate the search for a solution. That's not to say that the game's puzzles are simple, but this approach unclutters your mind. It also helps the puzzles not wear out their welcome over the course of the game. You're not scrolling through a weapon wheel of dozens of guns or trying to combine multiple moves in the hope of reaching some distant platform. Elegance is the rule, and Inside does a great job – particularly early on – in setting your expectations.

In a larger sense, because Inside teaches you not to overcomplicate matters, it often forces you to react. In this case it's a great tool for creating suspense and a sense of danger like when you have to run or jump away from certain death. Choice can be powerful for many games, but thankfully not in this case.

Inside's lack of exposition certainly helps the title maintain its mystery, suck the player in, and raise plenty of questions along the way. Some of these involve the main character, but by not outlining who he is and/or what his motivations are, you're able to question everything that's going on. The blank slate is certainly a video game trope many developers have relied upon to mask undeveloped characters, but in this case it's apt.

I believe that the fact the main character is a child is also important. While it may be just an outgrowth of Playdead's perverse sense of humor to make gamers watch this kid get repeatedly eviscerated for failure (like in Limbo), I think it's important for players to assume the character is innocent. After all, what could you blame a child for? However, as the game goes on, there were times I questioned what I and the boy were doing that made me feel not so innocent.

Forcing players to act and not wallow in choice as I explained earlier also aids in the ambiguity of the actions/motivations of the main character. As a player, certainly your goal is to solve the title's puzzles and get to the end, but looking at it from the boy's perspective and what he's had to do in the game's universe, it's up to you to assign meaning and process what is being done and why. This slots in nicely with the inevitable questions you'll have by the end of the game.

Simplicity may be a necessity for many games, but in the case of Inside, it's a tack that is expertly utilized to great effect.