I got my zen on this morning when I played Mini Metro for a few minutes. Paradoxically, I ended up feeling like I didn’t really understand what was going on, but that I could play it for a long time. According to the Dinosaur Polo Club website, Mini Metro is a “minimalistic subway layout game.” True, it is minimalistic some ways, but it isn’t simple. You draw routes to connect your subway stations, place trains on the lines, and then try to keep your people moving. Preventing overcrowding is your constant challenge.
The gameplay is described as being compelling, constructive, hectic, and relaxed. “If that makes sense.” Yes, that’s it! (The game reminded me of tidying up the house. The house is always getting cluttered, and you’re always working to unclutter it.) You get to design subways for 10 real cities. The cities include London, New York, Paris, Berlin, Osaka, and more. There are three game modes. Commuter mode is for quick, scored games. Scenic mode is for “stress-free sandbox play.” And Rush Hour mode, not surprisingly, is the challenging mode.
The art is in the “classic subway style of Harry Beck.” (Harry Beck was the 19th century designer of London’s iconic subway map.)
Although the developers, twins Robert and Peter Curry, have been in the game industry since 2002, they designed this game independently during a game jam. “We aren’t artists, and we didn’t have any art assets…so we were sort of borrowing the concept from metro maps,” said Peter. “We wanted to look outside traditional gaming culture for gaming ideas, so we thought a game in which you build a map would be an interesting concept for a game, and it has proven to be very engaging to a wide range of audience that don’t traditionally play games.”
It certainly seems as if it’s a game that people could get lost in. I could imagine spending a lot of time tweaking the subway lines and fiddling with trains. Peter agreed. “We’ve had people play the games and say they were up playing the game until two in the morning. I think it can be quite mesmerizing, watching your trains going back and forth. It‘s a zen kind of game because it’s more about trying to watch and study the game to see how you can improve your map rather than mad panic and reacting to things.”
The music wasn’t working when I tried the game at PAX, but it is an important part of the experience of playing the game (there’s a sample in the video above). Created by Disasterpeace, the music is procedurally generated, which means it’s created on the fly, as you play, to go with what you’re doing.
Mini Metro might be a good game for a couple of family members to play together, with someone playing and someone making suggestions about how to improve the subway lines. Peter says that he’s seen kids as young as five play the game well. You can apply real-world assumptions to the game and learn about resource allocation and optimization, if you’re so inclined.
“We just kind of wanted to do a fun game,” Peter said. I think they succeeded. Mini Metro is available now through Steam Early Access for PC, Mac, and Ubuntu. It’s due out on iOS, Android, and other platforms soon.