Stop Everything And Explore: Small Worlds

If you don't find this gorgeous, you're fired.

Ohmygoodness, this is special. Small Worlds by David Shute is a proper, genuine exploration game, where you really do only explore. A tiny pixel man moves around an ever-growing area, finding… almost nothing. I want to say nothing more, as the joy comes from just seeing the area fill in as you explore. It’s short, but it’s absolutely beautiful, enhanced enormously by gorgeous music from Kevin MacLeod. It was created for one of the Jayisgames Casual Gameplay Competition, where it deservedly won first place, and also gathered trophies in the other two categories. Big thanks to Mr Bakke for pointing it out.

EDIT: Yes, yes, it’s old. So what?! Eh? What are you going to do about it? Fight me? I’ll fight you. I’ll fight all of you!


  1. CMaster says:

    This totally deserves more attention and all, but you’re running about two years behind KG here, John. (Also, Jim recently mentioned it on the forums).

    • Gnoupi says:

      Indeed, I thought it seemed familiar when playing it.

      On a side note, it is a nice reminder that I just love this kind of exploration. And I realize also why I liked Terraria that much. The feeling of exploring caves, lands, mountains, skies is just great. With the added twist that you can make your own way whenever you want.

      Although about this very game, the design is really nce, because while it feels like you explore something “new”, existing only for you, you clearly see the design made so that you are never blocked somewhere. Very pleasant style, as well.

    • John Walker says:

      I hate it when I do that.

    • CMaster says:

      No, I give in! I couldn’t possibly win in a fight with a professional adventure gamer! They’re so highly trained!

      It’s an excellent little “piece” anyway – it is one of these things that asks the question “what counts as a game”, that deserves plenty of coverage.

    • sana says:

      Kotaku called, they want their gimmick back.

    • bill says:

      Please look up the meaning of the word “retrospective”. Thanks!


  2. MD says:

    Heheh. I know you hate ‘OMGZ OLD’ comments, and rightly so, but you’ve already been scooped twice on this one by your own blog. :P

  3. ArcaneSaint says:

    Now why do I get this sudden feeling of déjà vu?

  4. Inigo says:

    I see that the mind-destroying fumes from John’s illicit moonshine still have finally begun to take effect.

  5. max pain says:

    Heh, I remember playing this, but it was so long ago I can’t remember any details.
    So I just might play it again. Not a useless post afterall.

    Maybe you should do this for 2+ years old small games more often.

    • thegooseking says:

      That’s a pretty good idea. Not necessarily old games that are good (though that’s cool, too), but old games that have lessons for future games that might have been missed would be a really awesome occasional feature.

    • phlebas says:


    • Pinkables says:

      Some of us missed this the first (and subsequent) time(s) round. I for one am glad for John’s amnesia.

  6. MrThingy says:

    I’m glad this was reposted, as I’d forgotten how eerily beautiful the winter music is.

    • Napalm Sushi says:

      And how chillingly (no pun intended) dissonant it becomes when you find out why it’s snowing.

    • The Hammer says:

      Haha, Napalm, I was compelled to play the game because of your comment, and yesssss, I agree.

      That game just held me captive, and I doubt I’ll forget the ‘discovery’ in a hurry!

  7. CaspianRoach says:

    Next on RPS: “Wot I Think: Doom 2”. Coming right up, don’t switch the channel!

    • CMaster says:

      It will turn out it’s already on RPS. By Quinns. In crayon.

    • MD says:

      “Uncle Kerion said I was old enough to play this, but now I can’t sleep because I know I’ll have nightmares about demons and shotguns. 7/10.”

  8. JYzer says:

    What are you going to do about it? Fight me? I’ll fight you. I’ll fight all of you!

    Ah, the unofficial Johnnie Walker motto

  9. Web Cole says:

    Heartily recommend to anyone who hasn’t tried it.

  10. Bhazor says:

    Only two years out of date? Alec’s getting better.

  11. Bilbo says:

    It’s admittedly fairly pretty pixel art, but it’s just a maze and some jumping puzzles

    • AndrewC says:

      A great deal of the debate around ‘explore-y’ games is about whether games are reducible to their mechanics.

    • Wulf says:

      I think Knytt Stories constitutes a game.

      I’ve said this a billion times before and I’ll say it again – even when a game isn’t a puzzle or a casual game, you don’t need to incorporate killing into something to make it a ‘game.’ And in my opinion, for what little it might be worth, I think that Knytt Stories would have been a substantially less gratifying, appealing, meaningful, and beautiful an experience if Juni had been given a gun.

      The whole idea of Knytt Stories–and this–is to be a casual observer, to wander the world and see it but only to interact with it when it’s absolutely necessary. It’s not about making your man stamp on everything with a gun, and changing the world constantly to suit your needs, it’s about accepting the world you’re in for what it is, and accepting a great deal of ineffectualness except for when your actions truly matter. (Such as Juni saving her world by pressing a button.)

    • Bilbo says:

      I don’t know what Knytt Stories is, and my comment wasn’t “This doesn’t have guns in it, Boo”.

      I just think too much praise is heaped on these game design competition entries just for managing to be something approaching atmospheric while offering very little of note in the gameplay department

    • AndrewC says:

      Atmosphere is gameplay.

    • Bilbo says:

      No it isn’t. If it affects what you do in some way – such as in Amnesia – it’s part of the gameplay. In and of itself, it isn’t gameplay. Books, films, TV, songs, can all be atmospheric. Does that mean you play films?

    • AndrewC says:

      What I do is walk around this world, so what this world is affects that.

      You are getting confused between what we call ‘Games’ and traditional ‘games’. Just because they are called ‘Games’ doesn’t mean they need rules and win conditions. If you insist they do, and belittle those that don’t, you are only making yourself look grumpy and conservative.

    • Bilbo says:

      I’m not insisting that Games need rules and win conditions (although interestingly, Small Worlds has both) – I’m just saying rather a lot is made of not very much work when it comes to this sort of thing and it just feels sycophantic and deranged

    • AndrewC says:

      Complexity does not equal quality. Amount of work does not equal quality. You can not say ‘different’. You can only say ‘worse’.

    • Bart Stewart says:

      I’m grumpy and conservative, and I prefer exploration over other forms of play, but I still think Bilbo has a point worth considering.

      I believe that true exploration is about more than just the simple action of mapping a physical terrain by walking over or through it. The heart of exploration — the thing that makes it interesting and *fun* — is the process of discovery, of interacting with the unknown in ways that persuade it to yield its secrets. Removing blocks to see what’s behind them is the real source of exploration in Minecraft, not just walking around, and I suspect that’s what Bilbo is questioning about Small Worlds: where are the verbs (i.e., gameplay actions) beyond walking and jumping that allow the player to actively discover things about the gameworld?

      Just moving through a static canvas seems more like jumping through the chapters of book or a DVD — it’s exploration, but only of a very limited kind. It doesn’t quite capture the spirit of active discovery that comes from creating multiple gameplay verbs that enable player interaction with a dynamic gameworld.

      Small Worlds is a start in that direction, but I’d suggest that real “exploration” requires a bit more game content — more defined ways of interacting with a more dynamic gameworld.

  12. sinister agent says:


  13. Excelle says:

    I rather enjoyed that. I would actually happily pay for a game that was solely based around exploring and finding things, possibly procedurally generated, that also rewarded you for that. I know Minecraft and Terraria are probably the closest to that, and I do from time to time just float off in a boat in Minecraft to find new lands, but I have both of those and they’re not quite the same. Given I spent more time than anything else just doing the exploring and finding achievements/quests in Oblivion and LOTRO, it seems I have an affinity for it though! Does anything like this already exist?

    • Sepulchrave76 says:

      If you haven’t played Knytt Stories then you’d like that

    • Wulf says:

      I’ve completed this, Dark Forest, Knytt, Knytt Stories, Seiklus, and a bunch of other games like it and I’d still like more of this sort of thing. I’d pay decent money for a good amount of this sort of thing. I just hope that if anyone does more of this sort of thing though that it won’t be so melancholy.

      I loved the hell out of Small Worlds when I originally played it, and I loved the hell out of it now, but it’s still so incredibly depressing. I mean… spoilers? the guy wakes up on a doomed space station, decides to visit various holographic worlds, each of which has been fucked up by its human inhabitants in a different way, and finally decides to commit suicide presumably out of the belief that his race deserves to be dead, and he’s the last of them. So he throws himself at a star and then… silence. Silence indeed.

      I mean, it’s a nice little story and all, but good grief it’s melancholy and depressing.

    • Dervish says:

      One world looks like an exploded rock, and another looks like the busted-up guts of a dead alien. I don’t know why you’d assume that humans lived in those places and ruined them.

    • Wulf says:

      That was the overall theme and seemed obvious to me?

      I mean, how could you not get a “Humans corrupt things.” vibe from it? (It was slapping me around the face with it. The destroyed station. The pollution. The nuclear winter. Committing Suicide at the end…) The destroyed asteroid I haven’t managed to quite twig yet, but the big beastie is obvious. It’s something that was a threat to them, so they had to kill it, likely some giant space entity. It was something that the game wanted to show us. Didn’t mean to imply that the humans lived in all of them and I don’t actually think that I did imply that, simply that the theme was that humans had a hand in destroying all of these things.

      I’m just trying to figure out how the exploded rock core thing fits in. It’s almost like a frozen moment in time, but I’m still confused by it. The others I managed to figure out easily, including the overall theme, as I mentioned, but that asteroid is the wildcard. I may just see if I can email-poke the creator to ask what the deal with the asteroid was.

    • Dervish says:

      I’m not questioning the vibe; I think 2 out of 4 are transparent representations of pollution/nuclear winter (respectively), but the other 2 just seem a bit random. They fit into the destroyed/ruined aesthetic, but they don’t exactly make me shake my fist at how destructive humanity is.

    • phlebas says:

      I’m just trying to figure out how the exploded rock core thing fits in.

      You Maniacs! You blew it up! Ah, damn you! God damn you all to hell!

    • Josh W says:

      In my imagination he was taking samples from various places, and then when he had them all he, well yes it looked like he went into the sun, but you never know, could have been a desert planet he was repopulating!

  14. Kieron Gillen says:

    I knew John never playing anything I tell him too would EVENTUALLY BITE HIM ON THE NOSE.


  15. Alex Bakke says:



  16. Saint_loup says:

    Yes, this game’s old, but I’ve lost track of it and wanted to play it again. Thanks to you then, John Walker.

    • The Hammer says:

      First time I played this. I don’t trust Kieron linking to indie games! They’re always full of weird music and even weirder sexual allusions!

  17. Hmm-Hmm. says:

    Now, now. At least it means more coverage of Small Worlds, which is quite endearing (the game, that is).

    And well.. not everyone can keep up with the Gillenses.

  18. Donjonson says:

    I’ve haven’t played this before.. quite nice, good tuunes… could have been a bit longer.

  19. DrGonzo says:

    It’s a monday John, I completely understand.

  20. Visualante says:

    Thanks for posting, just provide some cosmic balance to the serious and joking “old” posts. I really enjoyed it, and took my own story from the game. I was looking to see if MacLeod had any notes on the game and his intentions. But I’m not sure I need to.

  21. ChainsawCharlie says:

    Yeah I remember playing this. Very interesting little game

  22. TsunamiWombat says:

    Fear not John, I shall summon my haberdasher and we shall pugilistically lift our fists in a most gentlemanly fashion at your side! Let the internet ruffians fear!

  23. Koozer says:

    So what is the…area in the top-right…location? It looks like…something but I can’t quite work it out.

  24. Urthman says:

    Darn you to heck, John Walker. I saw the screenshot and for a moment thought there was a sequel or some other follow-up to this lovely game.

  25. crainey92 says:

    Mr John Walker wants to go.

  26. Cerzi says:

    It may be old but it does tie in quite nicely to what Jim was saying yesterday about “all games are actually based on a satisfaction which akin to that of tidying up. (All games are tidying up, in essence.)” – here the player almost OCDishly clears away the black space so the whole map is visible and clean.

  27. FKD says:

    I took me FOREVER to find how to get onto the top soil in the beginning. It was quite frustrating to find that I had apparently just missed a stupid little gap the whole time! Anyway I really loved the reminded me of one of the things I enjoyed so much about Syberia.

  28. voidburn says:

    Absolutely gorgeous! Thanks for writing about it!

  29. Odeon says:

    Agreed with those in appreciation: I too missed this in the past and quite enjoyed being able to romp around as an invulnerable jumping, red-shirted stick. Very entertaining, great background music, and nice design, though I too wish it were a bit longer. Perhaps a full-fledged version of this will appear some time in the not-too-distant future.
    I also agree with a previous commenter’s note that clearing away the black is an almost OCD-like experience. I had to re-play the game because I blocked myself off from revealing some of the black in the “blue” world! In fact, it’s been something I’ve done for about as long as I’ve been playing games, as far back as the very first Civilization. To this day, when I begin a new game, I start my first city, then send at least one ‘pawn’ off to go explore the terrain in search of treasure and/or annihilation. I’m never happy in any game until all of the map has been explored and there isn’t a single speck of the black unknown left!

  30. Carra says:

    Didn’t see it before. But had a great time playing it.

  31. Hypocee says:

    It’s not that it’s old, John! It’s that everyone was pointing it out to you whenever you asked for exploration games! How sad were you, eh? How long did you deprive yourself of this? It’s a tragedy, is what it is.

  32. DarkFarmer says:

    Can’t get enough of these creepy exploration games. This here was actually the first one I played, then Yume Nikki, and most recently I bought the 3D one that was posted here, Kairo.

  33. Eukatheude says:

    I recall playing this a while ago, really nice.

  34. Felixader says:

    Um i wwnt to the website that were Linked upon the games title screen to see if there is more awesome to find… i was very very dissapointed.