William Chyr made what seems in retrospect like a very obvious comparison when I saw Manifold Garden last week at Sony’s booth during E3. The idea was somewhat inspired by the scene in Inception where Ellen Page’s Ariadne learns to construct dreams by bending the Parisian skyline, allowing herself and Leonardo DiCaprio’s Cobb to walk to a new plane of gravity by shifting from one orientation to the next.
It’s a great scene that works well to describe the basic premise of Chyr’s game – solving puzzles by shifting perspectives in first-person M.C. Escher-inspired environments. What shakes things up a bit, aside from the fact that gravity is not the same sort of constant you’re used to, is that architectural spaces in play here actually fold back in on themselves. If, for instance, you drop an object off a platform, you’ll be able to see it “falling” from both above and below simultaneously.
For the less math-inclined among us (myself very much included), what this basically means is that in Manifold Garden you have to rewire your brain, a lot. Though I wasn’t able to see all that much of the game at E3 itself, I got enough sense of how quickly the puzzles are likely to scale.
The tutorial area wisely keeping you indoors, you’re first free to roam around simply rotating the world; walls become floors and back again, solving simple puzzles like hitting buttons that only activate when you’re standing on corresponding color planes to open doors, and quickly graduating to moving blocks that work in a similar fashion – both of which require some rotational re-orientation on your part.
Even when you’re starting out, it’s a mind-bending thing to behold. If you’re not careful you’ll find yourself falling through a space you might have thought was still the floor, and once you’re outside, the spatial gymnastics really begin to mount. Since the environments don’t operate within the normal bounds of physics, it’s fascinating and more than a little strange to make any attempt at moving through the world. I can only imagine how tricky the problem solving could get in later stages.
As such, Manifold Garden really doesn’t need that much of a sales pitch beyond simply learning that it exists. The complex geometry makes for some truly spectacular architectural landscapes, if ones that can be very difficult to wrap your mind around. Chyr showed me a few compelling examples from later on in the game that stretched out infinitely, and it only made me want to play more.
Now that Sony feels they’ve “won” their competition with Microsoft, perhaps they feel there’s less room for an indie like Manifold Garden on the press conference stage (many have been relegated to this type of announcement). Perhaps not. If the game had been shown at the briefing, I’m pretty sure it would’ve wowed the audience for its artistry alone – just look at it! In any case, the game was a bit easy to miss amidst all the noise at Sony’s booth; it’s definitely not one you want to overlook upon release.