‘Inside’ The Game

Previously, I wrote a review of Playdead’s award winning platform adventure ‘Limbo’. I would like to continue with this intrigue in indie gaming by drawing your attention to ‘INSIDE’, Playdead’s new to-be- released three-dimensional platform game.

An exciting hint at the game comes from the atmospherically dense trailer that the developers have released. The trailer is focused on a young child traversing through a harsh prison-like environment and dressed in a red garment; dissimilarly to Limbo’s protagonist who is drenched in the pure black of the games noir setting. A tonal desaturation of the landscape and environment is seemingly idiosyncratic of Playdead’s aesthetic style, as the trailer demonstrates eloquently.

Inside Game

With this subtle introduction of colour (moving away from the pure noir of Limbo, but continuing with its murky haziness) it allows for the playable character to protrude from the landscape, to inhabit the murky setting of the game with an alluring presence.

Unlike Limbo, where the main character blends in with the landscape, the design of the apparent protagonist here has clearly diverted from a flat rendering both visually and characteristically, to embody the contemporary styling of a three-dimensional platformer. The anonymity of the character that we are familiar with from Limbo is less apparent here, this new character seems to have more substance and more personality, even from this short clip.

As the trailer depicts, INSIDE is a three-dimensional platform game that is defined by a style of visual perspective and depth, a characteristic that is becoming more popular in many modern platform games.

Graphically, the game retains the minimal idiosyncrasies of the ‘retro’ design and aesthetic that is emerging amongst popular games such as Minecraft and so on, alternatively demonstrating more reductive styling, again in order to hone in on the main character, this being a difficult thing to achieve in a platform game, especially one that lacks dialogue.

One feature I have noticed from the trailer is the background and foreground are merged together, providing the player with restricted interactive boundaries that aren’t visually distracting, ultimately offering a more of a natural flow to the game.

Inside Game

 

The sounds used in Limbo, from the soundtrack (a dark drone that matched the visual aesthetic of the game) to the puncturing abruptness of the in-game noises, are matched in the trailer for INSIDE with a steady yet pounding marching noise, which raises the tension as we follow the character traverse the perilous landscape.

Artistic creativity in the gaming industry is becoming more prominent, not that it’s been devoid of it before, but I find that certain games are being simplified in terms of the storyline and it’s content in order to emphasise aesthetics and symbolism; likewise other games are reducing the visual activity in order to subliminally communicate more sensitive or sophisticated messages. For example, in INSIDE the desaturation of the environment directs focus to the playable character, drawing attention to the value of the character’s existence in the game.

INSIDE delivers elements of mystery, tension, adventure and curiosity, delivered brilliantly in the compact and exciting trailer. The sheer anticipation of the climactic scene builds up to an inexplicably mysterious event, leaving the viewer in anticipation; the build up includes a moment where the child joins the anonymous group of people, those whom are pressed against an opaque window, in-fact, so captivated by an unknown entity, they ignore the child.

The game is still in development, so I’m sure there are many more features to discuss when the game is released.

INSIDE will make its anticipated debut on Xbox in early 2015. Given the success of Limbo, I’d like to think that it will move onto other platforms like iOS and Android soon after.

Limbo

‘Uncertain of his sister’s fate, a boy enters Limbo

 Darkness, terror, isolation and tenaciousness, these are some of the traits present in Playdead’s atmospheric platform adventure Limbo.

 A contour of what seems to be an unconscious child lays lifeless, its form fused with the silhouetted landscape, the stillness is broken when the game is interacted with. A confirmation of life comes from two vacant white spots for eyes, glowing amongst the darkened surroundings.

 

Limbo Game

Without an introductory animatic, one is immediately immersed in the game, with no precursors or guidance we are forced to proceed onwards. There is a clear reservation regarding the boy’s ambition until later in the game, raising questions about why the boy is there and where he is going.

Unlike other games, at no point does Limbo introduce the controls or objectives, it unifies the ignorance of the characters objective with the unfamiliarity of the player. This introduction sets the tone for the entire game, presenting the ambience and the vignette viewing screen through which we control the child’s movement.

The name of the ‘boy’is never mentioned, much alike the characters in Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, preserving the anonymity of the characters throughout the novel; I’ve found that having nameless characters is an alluring feature in any game or work, it forces the viewer to take consideration of the context in which the characters are placed. This is imperative to the sophistication of Limbo’s storyline, given that it is incredibly bleak and minimal, the immersion the viewer has with the game is drawn on the journey, forcing a relationship to manifest with a very distanced and vacant being.

One notable attribute of the game is the bleak landscape, and the way that the boy must traverse it. The challenges present themselves when one must distinguish the threats from the safe routes, in order to progress onward. When presented with a spike pit or trap, the repetition of failure presents the solution which allows for progression, as the developer stated the ‘trial and death’technique is inexorable and part of the games mechanic. Admittedly, I’ve been compelled to abandon the game on a few occasions, certain puzzles in the game were a little arduous at times.

Limbo Game

The desolate and noir landscape, with its harsh grain and distanced vistas is paired with an equally disturbing monotone soundtrack. The tension intensifies and the sound distorts when in close proximity with any other being. The use of harsh brazen sounds is complimented with a drone that is perpetually present throughout the development of the chapters. It’s almost as if it follows the boy through his cumbersome struggle for progress.

The latency of the tension is something to be admired, it seems appropriate for the horror element of the game to manifest sporadically; the first encounter with any being is with an unnaturally massive arachnid, which is only threatening when in near proximity. This notion of threat often comes from dangerous objects such as oversized hacksaws or bear traps.

On occasion, the game managed to make me jump, mostly from the abruptness and the harshness of the death animations, primarily from the exaggerated and accentuated sounds.

The aesthetics of the game are the most striking of its features, bringing focus to the developers style, redeeming the fact that the gameplay is relatively slow in some areas.

Publicly, the game has received strong praise with undertones of criticism, mostly down to the streamlined yet monotone nature of the gameplay. Most of the attention has been evoked from its aesthetic presentation and purely visual plot, supported by the immersive atmosphere and haunting ambience.

If you want a lengthy, aesthetically pleasing, artistic platform game, Limbo is the one to get.

Limbo is available to download for Xbox, Ps3, iOS and Android.

Monument Valley

Having being born in the 90s I can safely say I’ve experienced the most exciting development in gaming. My first gaming platform was the Gameboy Colour, which was bought by my Father on our holiday in Majorca at the cusp of the millennium, along with the original Pokémon Red game and one or two 15-in-one games. Owning a Gameboy at the time was the most fashionable thing a kid could own, alongside any of the new gaming platforms such as a PS1.

The gaming world has moved quick and fast since then and with the introduction of Apps in the late 2000s, gaming has been revolutionized by this accessible platform. Anyone who owns a relatively decent smartphone or tablet can choose from literally thousands of free or affordable games. One game that I chose in particular was Monument Valley, a game that won the 2014 Apple Design Awards, developed by Ustwogames. The game is available on iOS for iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, Android and Amazon.

 Most app-based games have relatively simple fundamentals, such as a progressive story or addictive gameplay. Monument Valley has digressed from this basic tradition to offer a more mature and artistic stance on gaming.

Upon opening the game you are welcomed by an art-deco frame surrounding the words ‘Monument Valley – ustwo’, followed by the title screen. The level select screen is an interactive podium as such, that rotates in ascending order in accordance to your progression, marked by roman numerals (I – X).

Monument Valley art

My curiosity drew me to rotate this podium. On rotating the form I was immediately presented with a soft strum of a stringed instrument, only to discover that the tempo of the sounds changed in relation to the movement of the structure. This early interaction with the object set an expectation of what was to come.

The first level introduces the player to the two most simple yet fundamental movements ‘tap the path to move Ida’ and ‘hold to move’ (one can assume from this that the protagonist is named Ida). This instruction would be the only one of the entire game. Never before have I played a game of such beauty and such simplicity, in so much as it has a subtle introduction to the controls of the game.

The most immediate quality of the game is the simplicity of the illusionistic landscape Ida has to navigate. From moving a path to create another with a lever, the ‘infinite triangle’ object manifests itself in the terrain, defying traditional physical restrictions. The premise of utilising the surreal and illusionistic landscape is apparent throughout the game, only to become more stunningly complex whilst preserving its visual simplicity.

Chapter II entitled ‘The Garden’ introduces the first hint at a storyline with ‘Ida embarks on a quest for forgiveness’, setting the mysterious tone for the game. This early chapter gives a taste for the symmetrical layout that creates the ‘impossible’ quality of the architecture.

Ida is drawn to a tile that activates a shift in the terrain. As a plinth rises, an implausibleconnection is made to the upper tier of the map, demonstrating the intricacy of the design and the consideration for perspective as well as introducing the puzzle element of the game.

For me, the most exciting feature of the game is the minimalistic design of the architecture, and the interpretation of MC Escher’s Relativity. The ongoing visual theme echoes the gravity defying qualities of Escher’s work, drawing on the surreal existence of the characters and their interaction with the illusionistic environment; in this case we are presented with Ida. The smooth and seamless transitioning between each environment maintains the beauty of the game and allows the gamer to enjoy the artistic qualities of the design.Monument Valley

In later chapters of the game, it goes on to tell short stories revealing more about Ida’s character. The game also consistently pushes the boundaries of aesthetic design with it’s depthless confines, complex structure and illusory formations seemingly impressing you that little bit more as the game goes on.

Monument Valley is one of the most immersive and strikingly beautiful games I have played on any platform. The combination of soft aesthetically pleasing landscapes, architecture and ambience paired with simple yet captivating game play presents an impressive combination that should be explored, whether you game for entertainment or to pass the time.