The Ozwomp style was based around a few key points. It's not low poly as such, it's rapid creation. The idea was that one person could create things very fast with very low friction. It's meant to be true to its medium. It’s a computer world, so why make it look like our physical world? The balancing act is getting away from reality while keeping it relatable for a player. Become too abstract and you get a totally different kind of interaction.
Above is a render I did when learning 3DSMax which inspired the Ozwomp style.
You can lean on some other sources to help you go through this abstraction process, many people have done it before. How about a little Bauhaus, as shown in the next picture by Wassily Kandinsky. Kandinsky tried to paint sound, his abstraction is based on movement of music. A games style is as much about movement and sound as visuals, so this is a good reference point for combining the three. A tendency in abstraction is to try and represent some deeper meaning than physical form, so what is the deeper meaning of the game? Another inspiration is what I'll call '90s geometric mysticism. It was quite popular in Ireland in art circles in the 1990s and I think it had a big impact on me, see the last picture of a work by Brian O'Doherty being restored at the Sirius Arts Centre as an example.
Don’t forget your medium! In my case I use 3DSMax. One thing that’s easy to do in 3DS is "AutoGrid", snapping basic shapes to the surface of other basic shapes. That AutoGriding is not quite as easy to do in other modelling programs I’v used like Blender. The tool you use very much defines the style, if I was not using 3DS, Ozwomp would look quite different.
Above you see an Ozwomp Online creature in the making. He was based on Manhattan.
The original game had a primary only colour set. The follow up game, Ozwomp Online, was a team project and the colour set was expanded in a mutiny by the level designer.
Ozwomp is Arriving World Design and Story
Creation of the game map.
I liked the idea of tying stories into physical spaces. Each part of the games map could represent a different aspect of the games story, or a story within the world. Depending on how you navigate through the space, that would change the story. It’s a little like a meta-game within the game.
The picture above is a crude example. Each part of the space supplies a part of the story, you can read it in many directions and interpret it how you like. Ozwomp used this idea a bit nefariously, the story hidden in the space is there to distract you. Story spaces are a fun idea though I’d like to play with more.
Games are not just defined by space though. A game has 3 key components. The world, you and time. The designer creates the world, the player provides the you and time is a cooperation between the designer and the player.
Time in games is like a tug of war. The designer tries to pull time out of the player and the player tries to do the same to the designer. I tried at every opportunity in Ozwomp to waste the players time. It has fake loading screens, false progress cues and story fragments that only exist to occupy the player. Players want to find a pattern, and they want to know who the mysterious Ozwomp is, so they keep going (hopefully). In the end you meet Ozwomp and it's over. Everything in the game is pointless, but pointlessness is the game.
I’d love to say it was all planned out, but there was evolution. The original plan was to never have Ozwomp arrive, like the play Waiting for Godot. That idea totally failed though. All stories need a resolution. In a play the audience comes to their resolution by watching a character, its fine if the character is never resolved themself. In a game, you the player must come to that resolution and the player is the character. It gives Ozwomp a slightly different meaning than Godot. Godot is about finding meaning from futility. Ozwomp is about finding futility from meaning. I think it has a positive effect though, making the stresses of life seem a little less important. Ozwomp was made during the pandemic after all.
If I had to define the mood, or feeling I was trying to capture here it was the alien feeling of being at an airport. I think most people can relate to how strange airports are. Since this game was about arrival and in particular the lost sense of travel going on at the time, the mood of airports was something I wanted to talk about.
Ozwomp Online World Design and Story
Ozwomp Online (Ozway) is all about technology. There were big technological jumps in the engine and capabilities of the game. However in the rush to improve the engine, we never got around to making a story within the world. Ozway is an exploration game, it lets you explore the expanded universe of the first game. That said there were some interesting concepts along the way.
Above is an early demo of multiplayer in Ozway. Ozway had a big emphasis on progress through collective community action. For example, in the centre of the galaxy there is The Cosmic Ozwomp. At times he would disappear and only when a certain number of players were online all doing a certain action, would he reappear and greet them.
On its own a disappearing Cosmic Ozwomp doesn’t make much sense as a story to individual players. However if you create a way to explain the story to players as they move through it, things get more interesting. Getting back to the story world idea from the first game. You can start to write down and broadcast the story that players are creating as they move through the world.
Above is an image of the Ozway map in full. For scale, the area in the top left is the Ozwomp is Arriving map. The choice to go this large was mainly based on the feedback from the first game from people wanting to see more of the universe.
Ozwomp Online remains unfinished due to pandemic circumstances. I'll leave you with a glitch of The Cosmic Ozwomp.
Above is an Amiga version of the Peruvian folk tune El Condor Pasa. I played it for the team at the start of Ozwomp Online and they didn’t care much. However I think it describes the games mood really well, mysterious homeliness. Music is always about mood.
In Ozwomp is Arriving the audio is full of false cues, intended to put you on edge. Most people hate it, and I love that. The portal hum was accidently too loud, which turned out to be great. It fills the scene and creates an audio focal point. The sounds changes in each scene to make you feel like hours have passed, but the portals always there. It was all made very rapidly in Garage Band.
For the follow up game Ozwomp Online, we had a proper audio engineer. I find it fun to compare the two, the difference is so stark. Ozwomp Online is much more fun, spacey and melodic. Unlike the first game which tries to unsettle you. The audio in the second tries to pull you in and says Hey Explore!
JS games have their limits, they are best suited to smaller worlds and experiences. If I was to do a big traditional story driven game, I would still pick Unity. I think we have reached a point where there are too many traditional games, we need to experiment more. JS games are not the only or the best alternative, but they are one way to break out of that mold.
One thing you’ll find with JS, is the distribution is totally different. You can’t put it on a games store like Steam. You can broadcast it online cheaply though, and it’ll run on basically every device instantly. There are some other quirks, like its ability to live publish updates to game code, no need for patches or updates. Those things on their own suggest a totally different form of game marketplace that could evolve if more JS games were being made.
Etymology of Words
A few people have asked me about the words and names used in Ozwomp. I’m not sure I can provide a good answer to them all. There is a song called Ramblin’ Man by Lemon Jelly, where the singer lists place names. One of those names is Antwerp, which I’ve always misheard as Antwop. Antwop is a fun word, so I’ve used it over the years, after a while it became Azwop. From Azwop it became Ozwop, finally an m slipped in making it Ozwomp.
As for other words, I imagen it’s a similar story of mispronunciation and onomatopoeia. Lemly was supposed to be a sort of middleclass dentist name. Yolto was grand and round and shouts a bit. Yonkrip? I have no idea what that word is, a bit like York? Once there are a few words, they suggest more words as they build a common structure.
Excerpts from the lore for Ozwomp Online.
EDIT: The lore for this game was later expanded with a zine, The Yonkrip Tribune pretending to be a newspaper from the Ozway, you can read it here.
This document was a shared jumble of ideas plonked down into a GoogleDoc. Many of them did not make it into the game. I have selected a few snippets that I found interesting.
Above is two concept sketches for “Great Tipi” a central plaza space. The bottom image also includes a UI idea for floating message boxes that did end up in the game. Iv included these because they are the missing link between level design of the first and second games. The following quote describes those images in greater detail.
Lore of Great Tipi “Ok so, you are in this town/island place, I'm not sure if you’re a resident or visiting. I guess every town is known for something, so this town was historically a smogle factory, (see map idea for sights), smogles are a long abandoned product. You can still see the far domes that used to house the finished goods. The large smoggle poles and the wheel which powered the systems. These days monocones reside again, and the residents focus on growing bangle plants and stacking deco blocks. Great Tipi is the town centre as such where everyone does the [mysterious] dance. Around the island is the deadly sea of darkness from the smogle days and the planetoids.”
Notes on relationships in the game “I think it would be nice if you met a Nombeg at the start of the game and they follow you around. Through the action of familiarity the player becomes accustomed to them and then towards the end they go away and you feel that loss. That seems like a more natural depiction of friendship. Like you’ve gone on this weird little trip you didn’t expect and people you didn’t expect to meet are there with you. How does it end though?
Maybe it just tells you it’s over? Like after a while when you’ve seen a few things and played for a while it’s just like Nah you’re done.”
We didn’t end up going with this idea, though the game does have a Plattyhoop (see the image above) that follows you around based on this excerpt. I suspect the whole issue with this idea is that it’s too ambiguous for a player. A player needs to feel their actions have some kind of predictable result. That result needs to become more predictable the closer the player feels with a game mechanic. In the case of the Nombeg described above, who is a close friend, the player should feel they know this Nombeg. When you know someone they are generally quite predictable. You can invert this idea to create a sense of isolation. Even then though, the inversion needs to be very clear to the player.