I’m sure everyone has heard of the idea of an unstoppable force meeting an immovable object. For anyone who’s interested in scientific principles it can be a pretty irritating thought experiment as you wrangle with definitions, principles and the limitations of your own knowledge of science. Personally I never really thought about it much past the point of thinking that they’d both be converted to pure energy (this makes the assumption they’re both physical objects with mass) but as it turns out there’s a much, much better explanation. One that makes me feel a little dumb for not researching it a little further:
The idea itself is in fact a paradox since the existence of one or the other of the two parts of the equation means that the other simply can not exist. If you have something that is immovable then its impossible for an unstoppable force to exist and vice versa. Indeed diving into the semantics of it like the video does makes their existence even more problematic, even if we ignore the energy requirements and just go by the laws of physics. I have to say that the end result of them simply passing through each other was not something that I would have expected but then again I only did 6 months worth of physics at university.
It sounds ludicrous right? Being able to travel faster than the wind using only the wind sounds like an incredibly crazy idea as for it to work there has to be some kind of other external force acting on it for that to work. Indeed the idea perplexed me for quite a while, in a much similar way as the airplane on a treadmill problem did, but once you get your head around the idea of apparent wind it starts to get a bit easier. Of course nothing beats a good example and it just so happens that there’s been a cracker of one to cross my decks recently.
The video above shows an intriguing vehicle called Sailrocket 2, a sail boat that has a rather intriguing design that allows it to travel at almost 3 times the current speed of the wind its in. The simplest way to explain this is that, as the design kind of suggests, it’s not travelling directly down the wind. It’s in fact travelling across the wind which causes it to experience another apparent wind due to the direction its travelling in which allows it to gain speed. Although this sounds a bit perpetual-motiony things like the hull resistance, efficiency of the sail and how close the boat can sail to the apparent wind it generates. Done right however you can get up to 6 times the speed of the prevailing winds which can be pretty damn fast as Sailrocket 2 demonstrates.
But what if I told you that, through some engineering trickery, similar things can happen travelling directly down the wind?
That my friends is a vehicle that is capable of just such a feat. The concept had been making waves for quite some time as whilst the idea of going faster than the wind whilst travelling across it is well known and proven doing the same thing travelling with the wind was seen as impossible. 2 years ago however a team headed by Rick Cavallaro built one of them and proceeded to set records with it not long after. It works by actually being two cars in one with its first mode of operation being directly driven by the wind and the second using the wind as a power source to drive the wheels directly (at least that’s my understanding anyway). This is what allows it to travel faster than the wind that’s driving it and makes for a pretty neat piece of engineering.
It’s this kind of non-intuitive science and engineering that really gets me going. I spent hours trying to understand all the principles behind this when I first heard of them and even now I’m still not 100% on them. That’s part of the fun though as the more I read about it the more I understand and the more interesting projects based on those ideas I uncover. It’s a rather deep rabbit hole to fall into however and I wouldn’t recommend it unless you’re as fascinated with science as I am.
Keen readers have noticed that my last couple months worth of game reviews are following a trend. Quite a lot of the titles are from independent developers and the vast majority of them have been shorter, simpler titles who’s play time doesn’t exceed more than 4 hours. I’ll be honest and say that the reason behind this is mostly because I’ve been thoroughly enjoying countless hours in DOTA 2 but it’s also because we’re in that lull that happens in the middle of the year where AAA titles have already been released or are due to be released soon. For me this lull used to be filled with MMORPGs and replaying old titles but the indie scene doesn’t care as much about marketing cycles as their publisher backed brethren do and that means I’m usually flooded with all sorts of interesting titles to have a crack at. Unmechanical is one such title that just happened to cross my path late Friday evening and based purely off the fact that it reminded me of Machinarium I felt it was worth a look in.
You play as small, propeller headed robot just casually going about your business with what I assume is your family of other propeller headed robots. Out of nowhere a pipe, very reminiscent of the ones in the Mario Brothers series of games, abducts you away from your family who seem to be blissfully unaware that this is going on. You then wake up in a cave deep underground which you then spend the entire game attempting to get out of.
Unmechanical is quite visually pleasing thanks in part to its development on the Unreal Developer’s Kit which it will constantly mention during the non-game events. It felt very reminiscent of Trine in that regard even though Trine uses its own in house engine but the visual styles seemed very comparable. The graphics aren’t exactly cutting edge and they have most definitely been heavily optimized for the 2D game play but the heavy use of stylization, modern lighting effects and vibrant colour palette mean that Unmechanical is always a pleasure to look at.
Physics based puzzle solving is the core game mechanic of Unmechanical. There’s nothing particularly unique about this particular mechanic, nearly every game with a physics engine these days incorporates some kind of puzzle solving element in it, but that doesn’t make it any less enjoyable. For the most part you’ll be picking up objects, moving them around and even doing a couple timed events that require precision placement in order to get everything working just right. In terms of the actual mechanics its pretty seamless as I never had any of the puzzles break on me but I did feel like there was a more subtle issue that could cause some people to get frustrated with Unmechanical.
Unmechanical is an incredibly simple game and this is by design. There’s no dialogue to speak of nor is there much in the way of explanation given for many of the things happening on the screen. This is fine however it also means that the way that most things work in this world are based around typical gaming conventions. Now depending on what kind of gamer you are some of these will be obvious and some will not. For me many of the puzzles made sense the second I saw them however there were a few where I had no idea what Unmechanical wanted me to do, leaving me to move wildly around trying to move everything in sight to see what would work. This could very well be part of the challenge but its one of those design choices that could very well lead to people dropping the game long before finishing it. I guess its not a fault per se, more something you need to be aware of going into it.
What really got me about Unmechanical though was just how good it was at telling a story without a whiff of dialogue. The screenshots don’t really do it justice and I won’t go into details about the actual story itself but suffice to say that there are enough visual clues to lead you to draw your own conclusions about the situation the main character is in, the world that surrounds it and ultimately the decision you make about how your journey ends. In essence the story can be as intricate and complex as you like or you can ignore it completely and just enjoy the puzzles. Both of these play styles would be rewarding in my view.
Unmechanical then was one of those pleasant surprises that I get every so often when I take a risk on buying a game that I know almost nothing about. The game mechanics might have been decidedly simplistic but the visual style and storytelling captivated me, enough so that I can’t bring myself to write it off as just another physics based puzzler with decent graphics. The heavy reliance on gaming conventions might make it something of a chore for some but for those who’ve got a few years of gaming experience under their belts I can’t see you struggling that much and indeed I believe there will be something in Unmechanical for nearly all gamers to enjoy.
Unmechanical is available on PC right now for $9.99. Game was completed in approximately 2.3 hours with 40% of the achievements unlocked.
This video is awesome not just because they built a water slide that lets you do a loop the loop but because it’s a very simple demonstration of the centripetal forces that are in play. You’ll notice that there’s quite a bit of lead up to the actual loop itself, a requirement so that when you start to loop up the sum of the forces ensures that you can overcome the effects of gravity. Too little and you’d only find yourself getting part way around the loop before tumbling down. Too much and you’d risk breaking the supporting structure but you’d have to be going at quite a clip to accomplish that.
If you want to see a good demo of the forces in action the Physics Classroom has a good post on it.
When I started out with this idea of doing 1 review a week it was mostly because I always seemed to find myself with a backlog of big name titles to play through. There aren’t however enough titles like that to sustain that kind of pace throughout the year and for the first 3 months of this year most of the titles I was reviewing were actually things released last year that I hadn’t got around to playing. Consequently I’ve found myself playing a lot of games that I wouldn’t have otherwise given a second thought to and Warp, the action-puzzle-stealth hybrid from Trapdoor, is one of those titles that I wouldn’t have considered playing.
Warp has you playing as an oddly shaped alien who’s named Zero (something I don’t think was made clear in the game, I certainly can’t remember anyone saying his name) waking up in an undersea laboratory. You’re surrounded by scientists who begin to perform surgery on you to remove a disk shaped object from you which turns out to be your internal power source. After a short obstacle course, which serves as the tutorial for the basics of the game, you are then reunited with your power supply and regain your ability to teleport short distances. Warp flows on from there, following Zero’s quest to escape the confines of the laboratory.
On first appearances Warp isn’t too much to look at, mostly due to its roots as a Xbox Arcade game. For the actual game play the graphics are fine with Warp making heavy use of lighting effects to cover up their less-than-stellar models but the cut scenes unfortunately didn’t appear to get any extra treatment to make them any better. Thus the artwork, graphics and sound work are all around the level I had come to expect from say around 5 years ago when I had friends tinkering with 3D models. Sure I can understand that there are limitations thanks to the target platform but when you don’t even bother to try and do rudimentary lip syncing for dialog scenes I get the feeling that a lot of this was done due to budgetary constraints rather than a lack of technical ability.
The core game play of Warp revolves around Zero’s ability to teleport short distances and also hide inside objects and people. At first it starts off with rudimentary things like finding non-obvious was to get around your environment but as the game progresses the challenges start to scale up dramatically. Zero also gains additional abilities as you complete levels augmenting himself with things like producing a controllable decoy (so you can get guards to kill each other), using said decoy to swap places with other objects and being able to launch objects a great distance. The combination of all these abilities makes for some rather interesting puzzles, some that are actually quite challenging to figure out.
Also thanks to the integration of a half decent physics engine there’s actually the opportunity for a lot of emergent game play which makes it a whole lot more interesting than your rudimentary puzzle game. Since every object can be moved and flung around quite easily there’s a lot of opportunity to break the intended solution by bringing objects along with you that the game doesn’t expect you to. There are also times when it goes horribly wrong like the travelator towards the end that you can change the direction of, try destroying both power supplies. The animation stops but you’ll still move if you stand on it. Still problems with the physics based game play are thankfully few, although Warp is far from free of issues.
Scattered throughout the game are challenges like the one above that push your use of certain skills to the limit in order to get extra “grubs” that are used to upgrade your abilities. These are usually timed affairs and in the words of someone I can’t remember “You know how to make something not fun in a game? Slap a timer on it.” and that’s exactly how all these challenges feel: not fun. I probably spent about a fifth of my in game time trying to get better than bronze on these challenges and I managed to get a few of them but at no time did I have fun doing it. It was kind of like Super Meat Boy all over again where the replay value is derived from it’s rather frustratingly hard difficulty. Not all of them were like this but the initial ones definitely were and it’s likely that it’s me being retarded, but there is another reason why I think its not.
The game is a very obvious port from Xbox360 to PC and that brings with it all the issues that are usually associated with them. For starters whilst the mouse is available in the initial start up screens it doesn’t work in the actual game for anything, not even the upgrade menus. Instead of redesigning the control paradigm around the mouse and the keyboard all the interface controls are simply remapped to the keyboard. This means that sometimes the game engine expects input in a certain way and doesn’t get it which can lead to all sorts of unintentional behavior. It’s not game breaking once you get used to it but it does smack of lazy porting just to grab another market.
The upgrade system is interesting at first glance, being able to augment your abilities in ways that change the game play significantly. As you can see above I chose to invest my grubs in certain keys skills, namely the ones that form the basis of the core game play (teleporting and moving faster). These definitely made the game somewhat easier as there were many times I could fudge my way through or get out of a situation that I wouldn’t have been able to do otherwise but looking over the other skills I couldn’t be sure why anyone would get them or how’d they make the game easier.
In fact I played the majority of the game sans these two skill upgrades mostly because I didn’t bother with the challenges nor religiously tracking down grubs in order to get said upgrades. This isn’t a problem with Warp per se, more the with the idea of combining a puzzle game with an upgrade system. For all the main challenges you’re going to have to give the player the required skills anyway and all the upgrades then can really only be making the player’s life easier. Deus Ex: Human Revolution did the upgrades that unlock other potential pathways/secrets bit quite well but they still had to accommodate for the possibility that the player didn’t choose a specific upgrade, at least for story critical sections. All of Warps sections appear to be story critical though, rendering the upgrade system kind of moot.
All that being said however I still found Warp extremely fun to play. I’m not sure how I’d describe it but the combination of puzzle solving, the over the top reactions from NPCs when they spotted you and the decidedly dark enjoyment you get from making people explode from the inside out made my time with Warp very enjoyable. This is in spite of the story that’s so thin on the ground that it might as well not even exist in the first place, something which indie games like this don’t usually forgo. Considering this game can be had for $20 as part of a 5 pack of games I think it’s incredibly great value for the time I spent with it and would recommend giving it a shot.
Warp is available on PC, PS3 and Xbox360 right now for $9.99 or equivalent on all platforms. Game was played entirely on the PC with around 5 hours of total play time and about 2/3rds of the grubs found.
I was a real late comer to the Trine party, only getting around to playing it early last year after it had been out for almost 2 years prior. Looking back over the review I wonder how much my opinion of the game would have changed had I played it soon after its release as for its time it would have really been quite a stand out title. In 2011, with the indie revolution in full effect, it’s unique take on the platformer genre was probably lost among other titles like Super Meat Boy. Still the game stuck with me and whilst I might be somewhat late to the party again I decided to venture back into the Trine world yet again.
Trine 2 puts you back in familiar territory, starting off with the wizard Amadeus being awoken from his slumber by an unearthly glow coming from his windows. Rushing out to investigate he finds that the glow was coming from the Trine itself, the magical artifact that had bound him in the previous games to Pontius the Knight and Zoya the Thief. Upon reaching the Trine Pontius appears from within the artifact and informs Amadeus that they have to once again save the kingdom from an as of yet unknown threat.
Everything about the look and feel of Trine 2 feels so much more ambitious than its predecessor. Whilst you could chalk much of this up to the 2 and a bit years between releases it still feels like a lot more effort went into the art direction, cinematography and art work. There’s heavy use of advanced lighting effects, depth of field and extensive camera work that I don’t remember being present in the original. The original Trine was colourful and vibrant and Trine 2 builds on that base to create something that, whilst possibly being a bit too colorful in some points (making it hard to determine what’s what on occasion), is a definite step up.
The core physics based platformer/puzzle solving game play remains true to the core of the original Trine whilst streamlining some aspects and adding in new types of puzzles that makes the sequel quite distinct. The wizard still conjures up objects, the thief can still grappling hook onto things and the warrior is still used purely for combat and has little to do with puzzle solving unless it involves smashing through a wall (although even that is made redundant by certain talent choices). The changes are for the most part positive with only a few minor issues that I feel need to be raised.
Both Trine and Trine 2 have the same shared experience leveling system but Trine 2′s deviates from the original’s significantly. Instead of getting 1 point to spend in each character’s talent tree you’re instead given 1 point per level to spend on any one of the 3 talent trees. The difference is quite stark as whilst in the previous game the puzzles could be designed around knowing what kind of abilities a player might have in Trine 2 you can pretty much short circuit most challenges by going a specific build. To be upfront about it you can pretty much make the game easy mode by dumping all your points into the wizard, letting you do things like this:
Now I have no idea how the developers intended to have that puzzle solved but I have the feeling it wasn’t supposed to be anything like what you’re seeing above. That’s part of the charm of the physics based game play, letting you create solutions that weren’t exactly intended, but when most of the puzzles were trivialized by a power leveled wizard it made me wonder why there weren’t some limits in order to stop you from doing this. I guess Frozenbyte thought that was part of the fun and I can’t say I disagree with them on this.
The combat of Trine 2 is pretty much identical to that of its predecessor; being a fun distraction from the core puzzle based platforming but not a whole lot more than that. For the most part it’s very hack ‘n’ slashy with you being able to spam your way through hordes of enemies even without the aid of additional talent tree upgrades. The boss fights start off interesting although they’re also prone to being beatable through mouse and keyboard spam. The final boss fight was actually pretty intense even if it felt like it was designed with only one of the 3 characters in mind. Overall I’d rate combat as passable, being more of a distraction than a core piece of the game play.
There are some notable bugs with combat however. Some enemies are easily confused by standing near or on top of them and not in an intentional this-is-part-of-the-game way. The type that I most often found this worked with was the dual fire blade wielding goblins who if you got close enough to then jumped behind would think you were still right in front of them. They’d then get stuck in a loop of attacking in that direction, allowing you to wail on them from behind with no consequence. Some of the boss fights bugged out in a similar way to a lesser extent but it was obvious that the enemies were coded with a rather simplistic AI. It’s a relatively small complaint in the grand scheme of things but it was definitely noticeable.
As a I alluded to earlier the talent tree has also been greatly simplified allowing you to level each character as you see fit. The choice of power leveling the wizard was a simple one, the more I leveled him earlier the more experience I got access to, leveling the others faster. As you can see from the screen cap above, taken about an hour before the end, I had nearly all the abilities. In the end I think there was only 2 I didn’t manage to get but even that doesn’t really matter considering that there’s a respec button at the bottom, one that can be used as often as you want with no consequences.
Additionally All the ancillary aspects of Trine 2 have been stream lined from the original. The mana bars for every character are gone completely which I thought was weird to begin with but after playing through the entire game without it I’m glad they took it out. All the mana bar did was add tedium to the game, forcing you to go back to check points in order to restock if you accidentally created the wrong object (which was far too easy in the original) or lost it all from spamming flame arrows.
The story of Trine 2 is somewhat thin on the ground, at least in comparison to recent releases, but it is serviceable enough to keep the game driving forward. Although there’s not a whole lot of dialog in the game the voice acting is above the level of what I’ve come to expect from games like these, with each of the character’s voices fitting well with their perceived personas. Just like the original Trine I’ll have to commend Frozenbyte for not taking the cheap option and leaving the ending open for yet another sequel, something that never fails to annoy me.
Trine 2 is a definite improvement over its predecessor in almost all respects. The visuals and art direction are a lot better, a definite sign that Frozenbyte has confidence in the IP and is willing to invest more heavily in it. The streamlined game play takes away the tedium making the game much more enjoyable overall. Overall I was quite impressed with Trine 2 not feeling the compulsion to play through to the end just for the review like I did with the previous one. Even if you haven’t played the original I would still recommend Trine 2 as it stands alone well, especially if you’re a fan of platformers or puzzle games.
Trine 2 is available on PC, PlayStation 3 and Xbox360 right now for $14.99, $14.99, and 1200 Microsoft Points. Gane was played on the hard difficulty with around 7 hours of total play time with 23% of the achievements unlocked.
I don’t know why but the way brakes on cars, bikes, etc. has always puzzled me. For nearly all breaking systems in the world the main way they work is by converting your car’s kinetic energy (I.E. its movement) into heat through high friction pads attached to the wheel. This means that, for all practical purposes, the energy that went into creating said movement is unrecoverable and reduces the overall efficiency of the system. I figured that there had to be a better way to do it, one that would at least recover some of the energy lost in order to make all forms of transport more efficient.
Such a system became available with the first electric cars through a system called regenerative braking. The system comprises of a small generator that is attached to an axle or wheel hub that is engaged when braking is applied. This is then fed back into the battery, recharging it and extending the range of the vehicle. These systems are quite large however but I always envisioned some sort of system that could be scaled to fit transportation of any size, and someone has come up with it:
It’s really quite ingenious in its simplicity: braking spins the flywheel which functions as a kind of mechanical battery which can then be used on demand. Of course for a retail system you’d probably want to encase the flywheel in something, for both safety and efficiency purposes, as whilst flywheels are usually safe they can be rather destructive should anything mess with them. Still such a system could be easily scaled up, down or horizontally (use several in one vehicle) to suit almost any application.
There are some issues of course, ones that became painfully apparently back when several countries experimented with a scaled up version of this in the form of the Gyrobus. Granted these were using the flywheels as the sole power source so most of these issues are diminished at lower scales but all the concerns that applied to them still apply to the scaled down versions. Most of these can be overcome though and it will be interesting to see how the idea develops from here.
This is just another example of innovations that should be everywhere. The idea is so simple that it makes me wonder what’s stopping companies from pursuing this idea themselves, like there’s something that I’m not aware of. I’m sure the safety aspect plays a big role but a properly designed and secured flywheel is no more dangerous than a battery of similar size. I’m sure that videos like the one above will inspire companies to look into the idea more closely and hopefully start producing vehicles that are far more efficient than the ones they produce today.
Growing up as a gamer my gaming intake consisted predominately of platformers. The reasoning behind this is simple, the hardware at the time wasn’t capable of doing much more, and thus most games developers went the platformer route in order to make the most of their chosen platform. As the power of PCs and consoles started to increase and things like real 3D were possible the platformer started to take a back seat to other genres that had, up until then, played second fiddle to the platformers. The genre has experienced something of a resurgence in recent times with the independent developers rebooting the platformer genre for modern times. Limbo is one such title, and one that I feel I should have played earlier.
Without any hint of explanation of who you are, what your motivations might be or even what the controls are you are placed in control of what appears to be a small boy. His only defining features being the glowing eyes that pierce through dark world that he exists in. You then being your journey to nowhere, navigating your way through numerous obstacles many of them designed with a single purpose in mind: killing you in the most gruesome ways possible. Indeed the dark world that this boy finds himself in seems to be some kind of semi-futuristic place that’s hell bent on ensuring that the kid never makes it to his final destination, wherever that might be.
For a game with such simple graphics and limited colour palette the atmosphere that Limbo generates is nothing short of staggering. There’s little music or sounds to speak of, leaving the only constant sound being the soft wind and your footsteps. It’s strangely engaging, not exactly something I expected but taking a step back I can see a similar style in games like Silent Hill. The elements that are included then are done so deliberately and elegantly, giving you the feeling that the game’s creators spent an incredible amount of time on the all the little things that make up the Limbo world.
Whether intentional or the game play of Limbo has a sense of dark comedy about it. Whilst you’ll try your best to make sure that the little bugger makes it through each section safely it is inevitable that you’ll end up killing him in some of the most hilarious ways possible without even thinking about it. For me the first time was simply cratering him when I misjudged the distance to the floor below, his limbs flying off in opposing directions and the little glowing orbs blinking out. As the game progresses the ways in which you can die become more and more ludicrous, to the point where you’ll meet your end at the hands of fantastical futuristic contraptions.
On the flip side though I can see people playing Limbo as something of a survival horror rather than the dark comedy that I played it as. There are some moments that, if played with the lights off and late at night, would definitely give you a bit of a scare. Granted its nothing like the original Resident Evil series, something which gave me nightmares for a week after playing it through in one sitting, but the atmosphere alone is enough to set some people on edge. Maybe my view of Limbo as a dark comedy is just a coping mechanism I developed so as not to get attached to the little guy…
The core game play of Limbo is that of a classic platformer mashed up with modern day physics puzzles. Neither of these aspects are terribly complex with the platformer sections being relatively forgiving and the physics resembling all other games that utilize the Box2D physics engine. Still many of the challenges will having you engaging in a good helping of trial and error to see which solution works best. There are also many ancillary challenges available for those achievement junkies that will test your problem solving skills more rigorously should the core of the game not prove challenging enough.
Thinking back on my play through of the game it’s interesting to remember how the environments changed from the dark, foreboding forest at the beginning to some kind of futuristic factory belonging to a mad scientist. As far as a plot goes that’s about all you’ll be able to get out of Limbo (save for a couple moments in the game and at the end) and what it means is left as an exercise to the reader but looking at the title you can probably guess what the changing scenery is a commentary on.
Limbo is one of those games that just simply begs to be played at least once and all in one sitting. It’s a short game, something that can be easily knocked over in an afternoon, but for a game of this type that short length works well in its favour. Whilst there’s little plot to speak of the story telling that Limbo achieves without a single line of written or spoken dialogue is quite an achievement and is one of the reasons why it has received such critical acclaim. Limbo then is a game that I believe anyone who calls themselves a gamer should play, just because it’s such an unique experience. One that is unlikely to be repeated at any time in the near future.
Limbo is available on PC, PS3 and Xbox360 right now for $9.99, $15 and 1200 Microsoft Points respectively. Game was played entirely on the PC with 3.3 hours played and 23% of the achievements unlocked.
So I’ve decided to try my hand at being a game developer after spending way too many hours thinking about it and wanting to do something more exciting than developing yet another web application. This isn’t the first time I’ve tried my hand at developing games either, I did a semester long course in games development back when I was in university. That course still rates as one of the most fun and interesting semesters I ever spent there, especially when your games were put up against the harshest critics I’ve ever met: the lecturer’s two kids. After finishing that course however I never really continued to try and make games until a mate of mine introduced me to Unity.
For a straight up programmer like myself Unity is a bit of an odd beast. The Unity editor reminded me of the brief foray I had with 3D Studio Max back in college, as it sported many of the same features like the split screen viewport and right hand column with all object’s properties in it. It’s very easy to navigate around and it didn’t take me long to whip up a simple littlesolar system simulator, albeit one that lacks any form of gameplay or semblance of realism. Still being able to go from never having used the product before to making something that would’ve taken me weeks in the space of a single weekend was pretty exciting, so I started about working on my game idea.
So of course the first game I want to make is based in space and the demo I’ve linked to before was the first steps to realizing the idea. It was however very unrealistic as the motion of the planet is governed by simply tracing out a circle, with no hint of gravity to influence things. Additionally the relative sizes and distances were completely ludicrous so I first set about making things a little more realistic to satisfy the scientist in me. Doing some rough calculations and devising my own in game scale (1 unit = 1,000KM) I made everything realistic and the result was pretty tragic.
The sun took up the vast majority of the screen until you zoomed out to crazy levels, at which point I couldn’t find where the hell my little planet had gotten off to. After panning around for a bit I saw it hiding about 4 meters above the top of my monitor, indistinguishable from the grey background it sat on. Considering this game will hopefully be played on mobile phones and tablets the thought of having to scroll like a madman constantly didn’t seem like a fantastic idea, and I relegated myself to ditching realism in favor of better gameplay. My artistic friend said we should go for something like “stylized physics”, which seems quite apt for the idea we’re going after.
It might seem obvious but the idea of suspending parts of reality for the sake of game play is what makes so many games we play today fun. The Call of Duty series of games would be no where near as fun if you got shot once in the arm and then proceeded to spend the next hour screaming for a medic, only to not be able to go back into the mission for another couple weeks while your avatar recuperated. The onus is on the developer however to find that right balance of realism and fantasy so that the unrealistic parts flow naturally into the realistic, creating a game experience that’s both fun and doesn’t make the player think that it’s an unrealistic (or unfathomable) mess.
I’m sure my walk down the game developer road will be littered with many obvious-yet-unrealized revelations like these and even my last two weeks with Unity have been a bit of an eye opener for me. Like with any of my endeavors I’ll be posting up our progress for everyone to have a fiddle with over in The Lab and I’ll routinely be pestering everyone for feedback. Since I’m not going at this solo anymore hopefully progress will be a little bit more speedy than with my previous projects and I’ll spend a lot less time talking about it
It seems like the classic genres of games are undergoing something of a renaissance thanks to the now extremely viable independent game developer market. Whilst a lot of gamers will still go for the current staples (FPS, RTS, RPG) many independent developers are making a good living out of things like top-down shooters, adventure games and the good old fashioned platformer. What’s really surprising though is what sets them apart from their classic brethren and one such example of this is Trine which takes the idea of a platformer and turns it on its head by adding in all sorts of curious game mechanics.
You start off the game by being introduced to the 3 characters you’ll be playing throughout the game. They are (from left to right in the picture above) simply named as The Wizard, The Thief and The Warrior. The thief, in attempting to steal treasure from the Astral Academy, stumbles across a mysterious artifact that when touched bound her to it. Hearing the noise the warrior runs down to protect it, only to himself be bound to the object. The wizard, who has remained in the academy to study the skies, also came down to see what was going on and upon touching the object all of them vanished. From then on only one of them could exist physically while the rest would have to reside in the artifact, which the Wizard recalls being named The Trine.
It’s an interesting set up for the core mechanics of the game which are heavily physics based. You can only control one of each of the three characters at any one time and each of them has their own set of unique abilities. The wizard has the ability to conjure objects (platforms and planks) and control them via levitation. This also extends to a good number of environmental objects throughout Trine which will need to be used in order solve certain puzzles. He also lacks any form of direct combat ability being only able to thwart enemies by dropping things on them or conjuring objects that fall on them. The Wizard then is almost wholly dedicated to solving puzzles.
The warrior is at the complete opposite of the spectrum, being almost entirely used for combat. His initial abilities are quite simple, he has a sword which he uses to kill things and a shield that he can use to deflect things trying to kill him. As you progress he gets the ability to charge at enemies, useful for when they get a bit tougher and have shields of their own, as well as a two handed hammer that does more damage and can be charged up to shake the ground when released. Considering there are times when you’re swamped with enemies the Warrior is far from useless in this predominantly puzzled based platformer.
In the middle of these two extremes is the Thief being both a capable fighter as well as an essential part of the solution to some of the puzzles. Her main weapon is the bow which can be upgraded to fire up to 4 arrows in one shot. She also has a grappling hook which can latch onto any wooden or other appropriate surface which she can then use to swing around from. Her bow can also be upgraded to fire arrows for those few levels where there’s little ambient light but torches sprinkled around for convenience. Out of all the heroes I found myself using her the most since she was so versatile, even if I don’t have a single screenshot of her here (thanks to her being a bit tricky to use whilst also mashing the screenshot key).
The game itself is quite pretty especially when you consider that it was released back in late 2009. All of the environments are lush and rich with little bits of detail from the forests with plant life littering every corner to the dank dungeons with bones and all sorts of nasty things strewn everywhere. Trine also has an extremely vibrant colour palette which is amplified by the extensive use of bloom throughout the game. Whilst this might be seen as gaudy by some Blizzard has shown that a lively colour palette keeps people interested whilst also making it a lot easier to distinguish enemies from a bland background. Personally I quite enjoyed it, even if it seemed a little too outlandish at some points.
Trine also combines a few RPG elements so that they can throw ever increasingly harder puzzles at you as the game progresses. Littered through each level are green experience jars that you have to pick up with some of them dropping directly from enemies. Every 50 of these will grant you a level and a point to spend in upgrading your characters skills. These allow you to do things like conjure more boxes as the wizard, shoot more arrows as the thief and be more effective in combat as the warrior. There are also various chests hidden around each level that contain special items that can augment your abilities, grant special powers like resurrection or reduce downtime like restoring health if it drops below a certain level. Whilst you can complete the game without hunting all of these down they do make the game quite a lot easier if you do, as you can see below.
Thanks to its heavy reliance on physics for the basis of nearly all its puzzles Trine is also subject to the same emergent game play phenomena that all its predecessors were prey to. Whilst it’s obvious that the level designers had a certain solution in mind it’s obvious that there are easier ways of doing them if you mix certain abilities in an unusual way. The screenshot above showcases one such idea where I built a bridge using 5 of the wizards objects which I carefully counter balanced so it wouldn’t fall to pieces when I ran over it. This starts to take on a whole new level when you get the conjure floating platform ability as the wizard, especially when upgraded so the thief can hook onto it.
Whilst this game play idea does make the game infinitely intriguing at points it is also its ultimate down fall. The heavy reliance on the physics engine means there’s always quirks in the way it functions such as when you hit a ledge there’s a moment when your character is considered “standing” for a brief moment allowing you to jump again. This trivializes many of the puzzles and whilst you can avoid doing it the tendency to spam the space bar is not unique to me, so I’m sure many people have found it before. Additionally whilst the game designers coded a fail safe to stop you levitating objects you’re standing directly on you can put a single platform on top of anything and the levitate to your hearts content, wizard surfing your way past almost anything.
Combat, whilst well done for the most part, also let’s Trine down in some parts. Initially it feels like any other part of the game but towards the end there are points where enemies will continue to spawn endlessly until you get far enough away from that point. That’s all well and good but when you’re right at the end of a puzzle and the next check point in sight it’s a damned shame to have to cut through 50 skeletons just to get there, especially if you’ve killed 45 of them not 5 minutes ago. It’s the same complaint that many had with Dragon Age 2 spawning multiple waves of guys, ruining the idea of planning a strategy out before engaging.
Despite these complaints however I still enjoyed Trine throughout the 7 hours I spent with it. The wonderfully lush environments and emergent game play made me feel like I was figuring out solutions that had never been thought of before. Whilst there would be some frustrating times where I’d die over and over again I still kept coming back, trying every avenue I had available to me. The story, whilst simple in its ideas and execution, was enough to carry Trine through to the end and wrap it up succinctly, a rarity in today’s market. Overall Trine is an enjoyable experience for both the things it gets right and the flaws you can so lovingly exploit.
Trine is available on PC right now for $19.99. Game was played on the Hard difficulty with about 7 hours of total play time. I’d guess I got about 80% of the total experience and secretes available in the game.