Digital Distractions: Designing a Subway and Pruning a Tree

'Oases' (GIF by the author via YouTube)
‘Oases’ by Armel Gibson and Dziff (GIF by the author via YouTube)

In a monthly series, we’re highlighting a few new games, apps, and interactive digital experiences recommended for the art crowd. For December, we’ve got a psychedelic plane ride tribute to a man who died in a crash, a paper craft city, subway line design, and tree pruning (it’s fun!).


'Oases' (GIF by the author via YouTube)
‘Oases’ by Armel Gibson and Dziff (GIF by the author via YouTube)

For: Mac/PC
From: Armel Gibson and Dziff

I’m not sure when I first heard that my grandmother’s brother had died in a World War II plane crash, but as I’ve reached and surpassed the age of his death, I’ve wondered more about those last vulnerable moments of a family member I never knew. Oases by Armel Gibson and Dziff is a meditation on a similar void: Gibson’s grandfather’s plane was lost in the 1960 Algeria Independence War, just a few days before his first child was born. In Oases, instead of crashing into the desert, your smoking plane plummets into a portal of psychedelic landscapes — you soar between waterfalls, over pink trees, and never reach the ground. I wish the game was a bit longer and had more interaction, but it’s still a beautiful digital art experience. The bright electronica soundtrack by Calum Bowen is perfect for this vibrant afterlife that, as Gibson writes, “is what I like to think happened to him.”

Lumino City

'Lumino City' (GIF by the author via Vimeo)
‘Lumino City’ by State of Play (GIF by the author via Vimeo)

For: iOS and Steam (Mac and PC)
From: State of Play

The greatest joy in Lumino City is exploring the details of its paper craft world. London-based developers State of Play spent three years building a miniature town with tiny lights, motors, and paper gears that power the game’s puzzles. A sequel to their Lumealso created with paper and cardboard, the game was released last year for PC and Mac on Steam and is out this month for iOS. As a girl searching for her missing grandfather, you can flip a reversible house, experiment with an electric eel–powered Ferris wheel, and swing on colorful bunting, all while the camera, which was originally guided by a human eye, offers new and surprising perspectives. I found the puzzles increasingly frustrating on my small iPhone screen, although the colors remained rich and the creators’ painstaking attention to folds and creases was always evident.

Mini Metro

'Mini Metro' (GIF by the author via YouTube)
‘Mini Metro’ by Dinosaur Polo Club (GIF by the author via YouTube)

For: Mac, PC, or Linux
From: Dinosaur Polo Club

I spend a lot of time riding the R train in New York City, and the achingly slow jog through Lower Manhattan after it zooms under the East River always feels a little unnecessary. Mini Metro, by the New Zealand–based developers Dinosaur Polo Club, is a transit simulator that helps show how those seemingly random curves, connections, and hubs make sense in designing efficient travel for a constantly expanding city. Using Harry Beck’s minimalist style for the London Underground, the game offers challenges in familiar cities like London, Paris, and New York City — each has a waterway to complicate things, as well as unpredictable growth. Passengers are represented as circles, squares, triangles, and other shapes that suggest different destinations, with the squares anchoring business travel in the morning and circles standing in for homes at night. My fragile system collapsed like the L train at rush hour after 461 passengers overcrowded its stations; at least for this fictional city, there was a reset button.


'Prune' (GIF by the author via YouTube)
‘Prune’ by Polyculture (GIF by the author via YouTube)

For: iOS, Android, and PC
From: Polyculture

Prune was released by Polyculture out of Madison, Wisconsin, this summer, but it took a 13-hour flight to China for me to really spend time with it. It’s a simple game in principle: you guide the life of a tree with your finger, and then cut off branches so that the tree can grow and flower, avoiding shattering cliffs and poisonous red orbs along the way. Designed by Joel McDonald, it has the feeling of a modern Japanese ink painting, with delicate music and sounds. It can be a little frustrating and repetitive, as the entire gameplay really is pruning a tree in increasingly precarious conditions; however, it got me through a transpacific flight in economy class, with my sanity preserved one tree at a time.

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