Well, as well as being the mystical emotion that’s the only thing that can break magic spells, wake sleeping princesses and persuade brainwashed robots that they’re about to kill their one true friend and that they need to snap out of it, it’s an obscure little indie game that’s both beautiful and frustrating.
It’s a puzzling thing. While being nominally an MMO, from what I can gather it’s in the process of being closed down, or dismantled, or whatever happens to virtual worlds when they’re abandoned but not completely turned off. I wandered, lonely as a cloud, for an hour or so, and never once glimpsed anything that might have been another player.
Love is essentially a cross between Minecraft and a tower defence game. The name of the game is building and defending villages from marauding AI tribes, each of which have villages of their own that can be attacked and plundered for ye loot. Given the right tools, players can shoot things, build towers and tool depositories and alter the landscape.
Dotted throughout the sprawling and complicated landscape are various power sources, conduits and tram lines that I’m sure are very useful at some point.
The first thing to say about Love is that it’s beautiful. The whole 3D world is rendered as a soft-edged, constantly shifting, watercolour painting vision. Everything from trees to grass to clouds drifts back and forth like a particularly surreal dream. Fog, clouds and mist roll in and clear again, hiding long drops into murky valleys and making towering staircases and pagodas cast dramatic silhouettes against the sky as the sun rises and sets.
The inhabitants of your village float around clifftops like guardian angels from a half-remembered sci-fi film. Their hair and robes drift in the breeze as they roam, bearing things that might be guns or sticks or tools.
But it’s also incredibly annoying. Like a lot of other indie games that have great potential but give you virtually no help to puzzle out a difficult interface, obscure building system and complicated tech tree (which I only know about because I saw on a forum, not because I actually figured anything out).
There’s a super-short tutorial that tells you some lies about useful tools being added to your inventory before buggering off, leaving you with nothing to your name but a mysterious glowing monolith. Then you’re on your own, roaming the landscape, looking for… well, actually I’m not sure what I was meant to be looking for. I got bored and gave up, because it turns out that one watercoloury blob looks a lot like another, and I couldn’t distinguish what I was picking up from what was shooting me. And something was shooting me, presumably, because I died.
I wanted to like Love, I really did, but games like this are the very essence of frustration. I play games to have fun, and while I enjoyed running around looking at clouds for a while I wouldn’t say I was having fun. It’s an excellent prototype for something that needs a lot of work still (as I think the developer, Eskil, would admit; he’s closing down Love to work on new projects) – I just hope he spends some time looking at his next game with a non-dev head on. Games, even more than websites, need a disproportionate amount of UX attention to feel right, and to work right, so the user/player doesn’t have to spend their time struggling against the interface – or lack of.
Two vaguely similar (in that they’re MMOs) games spring to mind here: World of Warcraft and EVE Online. WoW was produced by Blizzard, who do an absolutely phenomenal job of polishing their games until they sparkle. From the second you start a character in WoW you’re treated like a valued customer, wafted along on clouds of tool-tips and hand-holding missions from friendly NPCs.
EVE, on the other hand, is brutal. You’re basically given a spaceship and told to go away before being flung into a world of sociopaths and spreadsheets where you can easily lose thousands of hours of progress in a few seconds. Tiny text and obscure icons make everything difficult; the UI is almost as merciless as the other players.
The difference between the two is huge, and consciously or not, both interfaces reflect the spirit of the games behind them. World of Warcraft, despite how it sounds, is a friendly place where you’re as likely to be picking flowers or buying a pet parrot as you are to be a-slaying. EVE hates you and wants you to die.
Love… is what it is. It annoyed the hell out of me, but it’s also a beautiful game with stacks of potential. I’m keen to see what Eskil does next.