I’ve been meaning to get into the rhythm of writing regularly (for this site and in general), so I’d like to introduce a new weekly(?) series of free game spotlights: Free Points.
Nested by Orteil (who happens to have made Cookie Clicker) is a free browser game about exploring nested elements. You start with a “universe” and you can dig all the way down to individual planets, animals, atoms…
It’s free, super easy to understand and works in your browser so you might as well check it out right now. The only interaction with the game is clicking to expand/close various levels of nesting, hence it’s name.
If you dig down far enough you’ll eventually find another universe, with more stuff in it. There’s some fun secrets as well, like the Doughnutverse:
At first it just looks like a silly toy (which it mostly is!) but once you dig into a few different planets you’ll notice they’re not all the same. Some are in the age of dinosaurs, some are lifeless, some have advanced civilizations with fun constructs like Dyson spheres.
You can also dig into the thoughts of creatures, ranging from animals simplistically stating basic needs, humans expressing more advanced concerns, and even nanobots expressing surprising existential angst.
It’s interesting how extremely basic Nested is in it’s actual “writing” but it’s just enough to allow one’s mind to fill in the gaps, feel a twinge of empathy for the little citizens. In the end it’s just the names of a series of nodes, but it’s easy to see the greater picture. Here we have a whole world with countries, tensions, traditions:
Of course, not much is really there, it’s all just generated off some simple templates. But humans are great at reading between the lines, even when nothing exists between the lines. It’s interesting to me how close this little toy is to feeling like a procedurally generated universe full of lore, people, thoughts. With just enough exposition and just enough left to the imagination, the ‘verses of Nested are in a way more interesting than they would be with even more elaboration.
Procedural generation has it’s ups and downs, but Nested really makes me wish more games dallied in procedural narrative, world building, stuff like that. The biggest example that comes to mind is of course Dwarf Fortress, which is quite amazing in it’s world simulations. But Nested is something far, far simpler, and it makes me wonder how procedural “flavor” could be added more incidentally to games, where Dwarf Fortress is primarily developed around world gen and simulation depth.