Lovely tidying game A Little To The Left has added a skip puzzle feature because of an article we doneThere's more than one way to tidy a cat
I've long been excited about the possibilities offered by upcoming tidying things up nicely game A Little To The Left, and back in May this year Alice0 (one of us is RPS's Mirror Universe Alice, but nobody knows which) finally had a crack at it. The way she wanted to organise keys wasn't what the game thought was the right way, and her article examined this frustration; she described the canonical correct solution as being that of a "domestic Joker".
The developers at Max Inferno Studios read this article and decided that, you know what? Alice0 was on to something. They contacted us to let us know that her piece was the inspiration for adding a feature called Let It Be, a skip puzzle function that you can access at any time. Anne Macmillan, who's a co-founder of Max Inferno Studios as well as artist and animator for A Little To The Left, was kind enough to talk to me about it.
"If there is a level you’re stuck on, or that doesn’t suit you at that time, you can simply “Let It Be” and move on to come back to it later," she says, noting that if you do skip a puzzle, you won't get the completion star. "Inspired by real life, when there is that pile of laundry, this is the equivalent of turning around and deciding it’s fine to leave it as it is, or that you’ll put it on your to-do, to tackle later."
Macmillan says that there's a lot of variety in the puzzles you'll come across in A Little To The Left, and they understand that people may have different preferences in how to approach them. Her favourite involves organising a rock collection into columns, but figuring out where to place things like googly eyes or candy wrappers within that.
"We’ve always understood that tidying spaces can be a very subjective topic, with people having very different personal takes on what would constitute a 'correct' or 'incorrect' arrangement," she says. "The Rock Paper Shotgun article sparked a great debate around people’s personal tidying preferences, and it’s something we discussed at length; we were fascinated by some of the opinions shared in both the article and the comments." Macmillan says they read every single comment, so I hope you were all on their best behaviour.
The exact moment they decided to include the feature, however, was after the passing of a friend. At the funeral it was mentioned one of the phrases they had lived by was "let what is, be,". "I couldn’t help but apply that sentiment to the work I was steeped in with the game. When I explained this to Lukas [Steinman, the other half of the studio], he was immediately on board," Macmillan explains.
As well as the Let It Be feature, levels can have multiple solutions, and there's a cat who occasionally turns up to ruin your tidying efforts. Some puzzles may defy your expectations as the game progresses; what do you do when the frame is straight but the image itself is crooked? An idea that hit the cutting room floor was live snails, each crawling on its own circular path, that represented the planets of the solar system. At one point, Macmillan says, you're presented with a shadow to tidy up.
All of this is intended, Macmillan explains, to contrast with the idea that there's one way to tidy and structure your home or life. Thus the Let It Be feature works conceptually as well as practically for players who want to move to the next puzzle. "For me, I’m less interested in just putting things in a tidy order," Macmillan says. "And instead use that to get at the flip side of the coin, which is, the value of a good mess and how subjective tidying is to begin with."
Indeed, when I looked at Alice's own preferred way to organise the keys, I was actually quite revulsed, because I felt the same wrongness at her solution as she did at the game's preferred version. We all have different ways of tidying or organising, even Max Inferno Studios. Macmillan describes Steinman as "consistent" herself as "more particular and chaotic". Steinman has one glass of water that he keeps with him all day, while Macmillan seems to have a different one in every room. "Cleaning calms me down, and I find it very satisfying to be moving and doing something with my hands as I’m thinking about other things," she says.
"In general, I like when items have been attended to, considered, and have a kind of internal logic with their placement." An example is a pile of stones Macmillan keeps on the left side of the kitchen windowsill, moving one stone to the right for every glass of water she drinks. "Lukas is particular in different ways. He arranges things alphabetically, and he is the guy you want to help you if you are packing the car to the brim for a long trip."
But, Macmillan says, they both still appreciate the value of a good mess. "Being tidy just helps us to make a more efficient mess the next time 'round."