Jason “Jake” Roberts, creator of the ambitious puzzle game Gorogoa, was working as a Silicon Valley software engineer and in desperate need of a creative outlet. He would fill notebooks with drawings and concoct elaborate fictions. He dreamed of bringing the two together.
“I wanted a project that’d involve every skill I have and force me to develop new ones,” he says.
He labored for five years on Gorogoa, named after an imaginary monster from his childhood, and handled all the programming, design, and artwork himself. This is even more impressive considering that Roberts had no experience developing videogames.
You wouldn’t know it from playing Gorogoa, though. The game is an awe-inspiring marvel, with a benchmark design that dazzles and delights.
The story line revolves around a character seeking hidden meaning—in the nooks and crannies of his world, in the way everything fits together, and in the way our relationship to the magical and spiritual transforms as we mature. Oh, there’s a giant monster lurking somewhere in it too.
Roberts drew and redrew dozens of illustrations to create the game’s painterly, storybook presentation. But it’s not just eye candy. Everything you see has meaning and is interconnected.
To play, you manipulate illustrated panels to discover their relationship. In some cases, align two or more panels to expand a scene; in others, place one atop another to reveal an element that was hidden.
You’ll scratch your head as you try to unravel a puzzle—then your jaw will drop when you stumble upon the solution and the panels reveal new locations and items. It’s an endless rabbit hole—one that required meticulous commitment to the design structure to create.
“What I feel best about now is the unbroken flow from scene to scene,” Roberts says.
“Even though each took a heavyweight amount of design, planning, and visual art to create, there’s a feeling of freedom in the way the player can smoothly transition across time and space, into and out of memories, back and forth between real and imagined worlds.”
Gorogoa’s beautiful, mysterious world may prove daunting at times, but Roberts has advice for those who find themselves stymied:
“If you get stuck on a puzzle, you’re almost always pretty close to the solution,” he says. “You’re probably just holding on to what you think is a partial answer, but really you need to let go. Take a break and come back.”