It’s become a running joke at this point just how terrible 2016 has been, with all of the political strife and deaths of beloved public figures. It seems a bit of a cold comfort to mention that it’s actually been an incredible year for games. For me, specifically, it’s be an incredible year to discover games. When tasked with playing a different one every day, it’s important to consider a variety of sources and see what hidden gems you can curate.
Free indie games in particular have been my lifeblood this year, not only due to their relatively short length, but also their ability to craft worlds and stories that likely wouldn’t survive half a second of corporate focus testing. Off-Peak was the standout this year, so much that I felt the need to revisit it several times after I’d already written a post and recorded a video about it. It was a world I wanted to see more of. It was a world that I didn’t want to leave.
Before there was Off-Peak, there was Balloon Diaspora.
I first heard of the game a few years ago, sent a link by a mutual friend that stated “this seems like something you’d be into”. I’m always weary of that statement, since it feels like that work is then a reflection on me, or, at least, what that person thinks of me. In this particular case, he was spot on. Balloon Diaspora is about complexity hidden beneath a veneer of minimalism; about a sparsely populated world full of people simply trying to get on any way they can, but hurting all the same. No one wants to trouble you with their problems, they simply want to make small talk in a hope that you, an outsider, will feel welcome. Beneath their warm hospitality is the feeling that they’re all incredibly lonely and confused, only finding purpose in the work of others.
Balloon Diaspora starts at a low hum and never elevates beyond that. There is no tension or grand evil to rid the world of. You’re simply trying to repair a balloon with the help of a kind stranger named Silas. You’re only ever offered the slightest glimpse into his world, details here and there about his relationship with his family mostly. By the end of your little journey together, you likely come to the conclusion that he’s just as lost and confused as you are. It seems depressing at first, but my takeaway was always one of hope. You find common ground with Silas. You ask questions of each other in hope of reaching an understanding.
By the end of it all, it doesn’t matter what problems you still have left to face. You know you won’t have to face them alone. You’ve made a friend.