Like a lot of things, it started with Street Fighter II. I was a kid, not nearly as good at the game as my extremely competitive uncles who would gather around arcades when arcades were still common. It would take a while before my little hands could pull off a hadouken every time, but I kept coming back no matter how poorly I did, because of everything going on behind the fight. The uniformed spectators cheering in front of an airplane on Guile’s stage, the villagers in Blanka’s—they felt vivid and alive, places I wanted to keep coming back to, even if all I could do was fight.
Ever since then, I’ve retained a subconscious appreciation for a well-done background in a 2D game, any simple little animation that really doesn’t do much but possesses that—ahem—je ne sais quois that somehow feels alive, despite its simplicity. Indivisible does this for me.
Given that we’re in the middle of a heavy release season, I’ve not been able to spend a whole lot of time with this clever-looking game (I’ve seen just enough to understand why Kotaku’s own Mike Fahey found himself completely sucked in) but I was immediately struck by how gorgeously animated the game was and how beautiful its backgrounds were.
Indivisible begins in the village home of Ajna, its protagonist. Its early moments briefly acquaint you with the village as it teaches you how to move around, and as Ajna goes to meet her father for some sparring lessons, you’re treated to a background of mostly static villagers in the middle of their daily routine. Leap, and your shadow is cast over them, giving the world a feeling of depth. I immediately stopped to admire it. Then I peeped this trailer and saw there were loads more interesting spaces like that—a city, a pool, a pirate ship? Awesome.
One of my favorite things about art in any medium is seeing what creators do with limitations. A good background in a flatter style speaks to me in a way that a purely 3D one on a 2D plane doesn’t (the sort you might find in a game like Trine 4: The Nightmare Prince). It’s meant to imply a depth, as succinctly as possible. Actually showing that depth is cool, but then you wonder, why can’t I go there? I like when a game makes me wonder, but 2D games present better questions.
A good 2D-style background makes the world feel bigger. Early video games left so much room for me to fill in the blanks—a necessary feeling, given the medium’s limitations. As games get more intricate and detailed, I appreciate how much more they have to offer, but I still look for the corners wherein games do less, where there’s just enough to elegantly hint at something larger and let me fill out that third dimension myself.
Clarification: 10/21/2019, 2:30 p.m. ET: The headline and body of this piece have been updated to reflect the fact that the author is referring to a particular style of background with a sense of flatness, not the actual process with which the background is rendered.