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Recently I stated simulator games have been making surge, like suddenly they are the hot thing to make. And, as I said, some are made as serious simulators and some as jokes, but there is one recent simulator game that gets its own category, Mountain. Let's figure out that category.

Why did I climb it? Because it's there.

Mountain came to my attention because a friend was posting pictures from his game, so I asked him about it. What he described sounded like a straight up joke to me. I even jokingly said it was Game of the Year (GOTY) material. I checked out the official web site and, even there, it seemed a little jokey. Its creator, David OReilly, described its genre as, Mountain Simulator, Relax em' up, Art Horror etc. The humor seemed to continue with the features that were listed.

no controls
automatic save
audio on/off switch
time moves forward
things grow and things die
nature expresses itself
~ 50 hours of gameplay
once generated, you cannot be regenerated

At only a dollar to buy the full game, I did. Downloaded it, installed it, and started it up. No control is mostly true. You can move the camera around and zoom in and out to examine your mountain, but that is the only control you have. The rest of the features are true though. The game will automatically save (although you can manually save if you wish to), you can switch the audio on and off, time always moves forward, trees and plants do grow and die (die is a bit subjective here), nature expresses itself (more on that in a second), about 50 hours of gameplay (there is an end), and once generated you can't regenerate the same mountain.

Tumbling down the mountain.

At the start of the game, players are given a set of random questions and then those answers are used in some fashion to generate their mountain. The questions are also a bit psychoanalytic. One of the questions I got was Draw your first childhood memory. I tried to draw a dog, the first pet I remember, but it looked more like a bear so I drew a teddy bear (yes, I had one of those too). The mountain that you see on screen looks like someone literally ripped a mountain out of the ground and set it in the sky. At the start, my mountain had some trees, looking at the bottom there seemed to be a small gold deposit and maybe a chunk of turquoise. Then I clicked on the little game logo in the upper right corner, this opened the pause menu. Here you can save, switch the audio, change the picture quality and window size, etc. Here is where the Mountain s one joke is actually added, the controls settings. Its default setting is Controls: Nothing and clicking on that changes nothing. Clicking back out I watched my mountain spin slowly clockwise. I took a quick screen shot and posted it with the caption It has started. Not much happened in the next few minutes. It was late and I was tired, so I clicked to the pause menu and left it to get some sleep.

Time keeps on ticking, into the future

What I didn't know, and only learned later, is that the game has a timer for that automatic save, roughly about twenty minutes or so. That automatic save also kicks the game out of the pause menu. So the next day I went about my business and eventually came back to my mountain. At the time I noticed the game was running and just thought my cat walked across the keyboard again. Then I sat and looked at my mountain. It had changed; there was a giant slice of cake near the summit and a large cup of coffee near the base. I knew random items would eventually appear on my mountain, because of the pictures my friend posted. His mountain had an airplane, sailboat, and skull among other things. At this point I wasn't sure how things appeared. I thought they just sort of sprouted out of the ground, nope. Eventually I watched as a bed flew in and crashed into the side of my mountain; later, a second cup of coffee crashed into it. At one point a heart crashed into my mountain, but instead of just crashing into it and sticking there, when it hit a big poof of hearts flew up like dust.

As I watched there was point when I thought there might be a graphical error. In a group of evergreen trees there was one that looked like a strange stained glass version of evergreen. As the mountain rotated I kept moving the camera to try and get a better look at it. I realized it wasn't a graphical error, it was slowly dissolving away or dying. It was then that I started to notice other subtle things happening with the trees, plants, and mountain in general. In roughly a twenty-minute period the mountain would go through all four seasons. This was also the length of an in-game day. The non-evergreen trees would turn autumn colors and lose their leaves. Winter would come and it would snow, covering the entire mountain.

Tending my Zen garden

Occasionally there would be a musical chime. The first few times it happened I didn't notice because I had opened other windows on my laptop to work on other things. Mountain was running in the background and I would check on it every few minutes to see if anything new had appeared. One of those times I was checking on the progress, the chime rang out and words scrolled across the top of the screen. I don't remember that first saying, but I remember it be a bit Zen like and a bit life affirmation-esque. So I paid more attention to my mountain. If I clicked out to do anything the moment I heard the chime I quickly jumped back to my mountain. It had a few sayings such as, I am studying this beautiful day, I am OK with this, I wish I would stop raining... for good, and I can't get enough of this eyeless night. I realized these were the thoughts of the mountain itself or, like the feature states, nature expresses itself.

At some point I decided to play with the zoom. Zooming in was a short action, I was close enough that I could only see about 3/4 of the mountain. Zooming out was very interesting. The background sounds are typical nature sounds; wind blows, rain falls, etc. As I started zooming out a buzz started softly and stared to grow louder. I really started to notice it about the same time I noticed that my mountain had an atmosphere around it and I was outside of that atmosphere. I was in outer space. As I continued to zoom out the buzzing became more intense. Eventually I stopped zooming out because my curiosity to see if anything was happening with my mountain over rode my curiosity to see how far out I could zoom.

Final word.

Mountain was something very different. OReilly explained to The Verge, I don t think Mountain needs to be explained. It s going to mean different things to different people, and I can t get in the way of that. So how would I describe it? Well I agree that it is a mountain simulator, but that it really sits somewhere between an art piece and Zen meditation. It has a nice simple art style that balances between cartoon and realism. Combine that with the sounds of nature and add in the thoughts of the mountain itself the game gives off a sort of peaceful, meditative state that, once I really started paying attention, felt nice. I'm not mowing down tons of bad guys, not twitching at every flash or sound, and I'm not getting so frustrated I'm ready to throw my controller, I'm just there; watching my mountain be a mountain... with two cups of coffee, a bed, a giant slice of cake and a heart sticking out of it. Strange but still an interesting journey.

Mountain does live up to all of its features and, for as simple as the game is, I found no faults with it. It is a unique experience that is surprisingly deep and is even a bit introspective for the price of a dollar. If I have to give it a score it would be 4 out of 5 since there really isn't much you can do with it other than observe it. As an art piece and meditative program I would say it is a 5 out of 5 for the experience.

Mountain is available now. For more information see the official Mountain web site.


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