A Short Hike Has Me Excited About Game Design Again

A Short Hike is an acclaimed, small-scale open world platformer, with plenty of fascinating design decisions

A Short Hike has always been a game I meant to play. It received serious positive buzz from smart folks when it arrived in 2019, and its pitch is very appealing: it’s a small-scale — yet complete — open-world platformer. In its adorable, outdoorsy world, you play as a bird who runs, jumps, flies and climbs around a gorgeous, chunky pixel mountain, traversing a world based on the joys of the great outdoors. She’s trying to get to the top so she can get cell reception, naturally.

And you can finish the whole thing in an hour or two, making it a perfect length for a small adventure.

I realized yesterday that the game is on the Switch, and, naturally, grabbed it for my preferred platform. I’m a little bit in love with it, just as I expected. Movement feels wonderful, the exploration is fun, the character writing is a small joy, and overall, the vibe is just warm and infectious. It really is like a tiny Breath of the Wild, with its own distinct feel. 

Perhaps most of all, it’s even been a small revelation for me. I was inspired to watch this (wonderful) talk by the game’s solo dev, Adam Robinson-Yu, on how he made the game, partially from the ashes of a failed project. He was working on an RPG, and having a rough go of it. As a “Christmas present” to himself, he allowed himself to take a break from that, and work on a small prototype that would become A Short Hike. In the talk, he walks through the process of developing most of the core features of the game in a short timeframe, and explained how he kept himself on track by adhering to features of the core game (with a limited, definitely achievable scope), and differentiated those from some nice extras that he called “stretch goals,” which would be very cool, but not necessary to finish and enjoy the game.

And even though he worked largely by himself on the project, Robinson-Yu used a robust task-tracking system to keep himself accountable.

I love that this scope of project can be this enjoyable, and feel this whole. It makes me want to fire up Unity (it’s been awhile! But I enjoy making small — much smaller than this, mind you — projects) and start prototyping something fun myself. Game design is one of the ways I best stay in touch with my own love of games. If I start feeling a bit of burnout, I like to pick up a design talk or a tutorial and just make a tiny thing.

Now, understand, I don’t expect to make anything as polished and complete as A Short Hike, or a Frog Detective game (another short, excellent project, referenced in the talk!). But I do know I’ll have some fun, and rekindle that love. 

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