Superliminal and I have some interesting history.
5 years ago there was a video of a perspective based game doing the rounds, one that many people regarded as being the next evolution in games after Portal. There were even rumours that the game which gave rise to the demo was actually playable however looking at the developer’s website no one could find a link to it anymore. So, like the good Internet citizen that I am, I started digging around and eventually uncovered the still active link that the developer had hidden. Not wanting to blow up their server (which is what I assumed the reason was for hiding it) I downloaded and rehosted it on this very blog, telling a few people on reddit about it so they could have a crack at it. Little did I know that, from that point on, I’d become the single source of the demo the world over.
Fast forward a couple years and, for reasons I can’t remember, I was looking for that link again and started Googling my own site to find it. Curiously though I started to find references to it everywhere, some even on YouTube videos that had racked up millions of views. Now I never really noticed anything on my end, my hosting is all done elsewhere and the bandwidth consumed was never that large. I did feel a little miffed though, figuring they could’ve at least given me a shoutout. I have however since learned that the devs said that they’d prefer people don’t play that one anymore, given how far their actual game, Superliminal, has come in the interim.
For what it’s worth guys, apologies if I’ve caused you anything untowards for rehosting it. Because honestly they’re right, Superliminal is far and away the better game.
As you fall asleep with the TV on at 3AM, you remember catching a glimpse of the commercial from Dr.Pierce’s Somnasculpt dream therapy program. By the time you open your eyes, you’re already dreaming – beginning the first stages of this experimental program. This is a world where perception is reality, where how you view things is just as important as how you interact with them. The puzzles put before you are meant to reframe how you perceive the world around you, forcing you to think of different perspectives that you might not otherwise consider until you were forced to confront them.
Visually Superliminal has a very standard Unity feel to it with many of the assets looking like they came from store packs. There’s nothing wrong with this, just that everything has this kind of bland feel to them with their unoffensive, basic construction. No doubt part of this is to try and combat some of the rather severe performance issues the game suffers from, most likely due to the intense calculations required for some of the game’s more unique mechanics. The level design is good however with the run of the mill assets turned into visual marvels through the incredibly inventive use of perspective, quite often getting a good chuckle out of me for how they’d managed to twist my own view of their world against me. I guess you could call it more of a cerebral experience than a visual one.
When the team from Pillow Castle Games first demonstrated the idea it was definitely an unique one; the idea that your perspective of objects influenced their size in the real world. Funnily enough this isn’t the first game I’ve played that has this mechanic, the other being the absolute horrorshow of a game that was Elementium. However the perspective mechanic isn’t just limited to objects that you interact with, it extends to numerous parts of the world, often parts that you wouldn’t expect. The devs have gone to great lengths to create visuals that on the surface look one way but are completely different when viewed up close or from a different perspective. For someone who’s played enough of these kinds of games it’s rare for me to be surprised by perspective tricks like this but Superliminal managed to do it often, even right up until its final moments.
The puzzles built around this mechanic are mostly simple endeavours, mostly focused on being in a single room with a few tools at your disposal to find your way out again. They’re made somewhat easier by the fact that objects you interact with, which therefore have some kind of special property associated with them, are very limited in any one space. There’s no puzzles that require you to bring in objects from previous areas or any other kind of non-linear puzzle mechanic that will spin you out. There are a couple where the mechanic isn’t well introduced and can lead to some horrendous confusion if you can’t figure out the logic path but nothing that’s more than a video or two away from realigning your internal logic compass back to the developer’s.
The game does have quite a few rough edges though, most of which I think are due to the novel nature of the mechanics which introduce all sorts of wacky edge cases that are going to be hard to come across in internal playtesting. The performance issues are something I didn’t expect, even on my now older rig, and I’m sure it’s to do with some objects getting their perspective calculated when the player isn’t interacting with them. Indeed the performance issue disappeared completely in sections where there were little or no objects to interact with. The game’s implementation of portals and other teleport mechanics is a little janky, freaking out in the weirdest circumstances and sometimes sending you right through the world. Strangely Superliminal also suffers from the same issue Elementium did, whereby some objects continue to scale themselves when they’re outside your vision. I don’t doubt that this is due in part to the object being flagged as “interactive” when you pick it up and that flag isn’t turned off until it stops moving. You can also completely ruin certain puzzles if you’re not careful, either making objects too small to interact with or just straight up putting them somewhere you will never be able to reach. Most of these problems are just a checkpoint restart away from being fixed but just be warned that there’s still a lot of rough edges to be found here.
MINOR PLOT SPOILERS BELOW
The story spends an awful lot of time in the standard “subject trapped in a mad scientist’s experiment” trope that was made popular by Portal all those years ago. Indeed that’s one of the game’s most distracting features as you feel like you’re playing with a B-grade GLaDOS and the plot reveals itself in a rather predictable way. That changes right in the game’s final stages though when the main narrator begins to talk to you directly about why the experience was crafted that way. In a way it’s a subtle play on the game itself, setting you up with a perception that’s influenced by your biases and then flipping it on it’s head in order to give you a new perspective. Up until that point I was pretty much settled on Superliminal being a “good but not great” kind of game but it really won me over in those final moments.
PLOT SPOILERS OVER
Superliminal brings with it a new breed of game play that’s sure to have its share of imitators from here on out. The perspective mechanics are numerous, each of them playing on how we perceive things in order demonstrate how that can be twisted in fun and interesting ways. Even with it’s rather long development cycle though there’s still a lot of rough edges to be found, although I’m sure that over the coming months many of these issues will be stamped out. The story, in its summation, is a beautiful meta-commentary on itself and it’s final moments round out the game perfectly. I honestly can’t wait to see where Pillow Castle Games goes to from here.
Superliminal is available on the PC right now for $19.99. Total play time was approximately 2.5 hours.
Years ago I used to troll through the new releases section of Steam, looking for anything that piqued my interest. I played a lot of things out of my comfort zone and grew to enjoy the wide and varied experiences that the Indie scene brought to bear. Back then the signal to noise ratio was quite a lot higher, mostly because there were far fewer games released per week (it’s something like 200+ on average now). Those days were mostly gone however as I could usually find something on the first page of “Popular New Releases” section but last week I came up empty. Enter Elementium, the game that managed to catch my eye with its Talos Principle like visuals. It isn’t anything like that though, more akin to an alpha release of a Kickstarter game than a full release on Steam that the developer is charging $15 for.
Elementium is a physics based puzzle game where the main mechanic is where you can change the size of objects through the use of perspective. That’s pretty novel, indeed the tech demo of the Museum of Simulation Technology is the only other “game” I can think of that uses it, however that’s where the interesting part of the game ends. What follows is a series of 40 levels, most of which can be beaten on first try in under a couple of minutes. The others? Well they’re fiddly messes, either requiring precise timing (something you’ll struggle to get done due to the ham fisted nature of the controls) or doing things that have a high chance of failing which will require you to restart the level (which takes approximately 30 seconds to load every, damn, time). Honestly I was going to be kind to this game at the start but after 40 levels I’ve simply run out of patience.
It does manage to look good however I think that’s more a function of the Unreal Engine’s asset store more than anything else. The sound design is god awful with each sound always sounding exactly the same including very noticeable things like your character’s footsteps. Indeed anything without a smattering of glowy lights looks like something that was developed over 5 years ago with that telltale Unreal engine feel about them. Suffice to say the audio-visual experience isn’t going to save this game and, unfortunately, the overall game doesn’t do itself any favours either.
Most of the puzzles are so blindingly simple that you’ll often wonder if there’s some kind of hidden switch or alternate solving method to unlock a secret. There are none and it’s hard to see why the developer built most of the puzzles the way they did. For example there’s one puzzle with 3 boxes in a room and a laser stopping a door from opening. To solve it all you have to do is put one box in front of it, that’s it. What were the other 2 boxes for? Just fun decoration? When that first happened I thought, maybe, that was just an early test puzzle or something but unfortunately that wasn’t the case. Instead there are numerous puzzles with extraneous items strewn about, never to be used for anything.
Crappy puzzle design would be one thing but the real irritation comes from interacting with those items. Picking up items can be a bit of a guessing game, often requiring you to get just the right angle on it to be able to pick it up. This because quite a chore when you’re working with big items as quite often you’ll be unable to put them down. The game says that the middle mouse button is the “drop item” button but it rarely works. What this often leads to is furious clicking as you try to figure out how to pick up and move stuff about often to no avail. Worse still the perspective/size mechanic works on items even after you’ve finished interacting with them. This is especially clear when you’re say dropping big boxes into holes as they’ll magically shrink as they fall down, even if you’re not looking at them.
The same feeling of extremely low effort applies to the other aspects of the game like the UI. Every element is simple text boxes, all of which will require at least 2 mouse clicks to register properly and even after you’ve done that it can be hard to tell if the game is actually doing anything. The final scene of the game is a simple portal that has 2 switches which, when pressed with the boxes, display the simple text shown in the screenshot below. This makes me think that at one point the game did have some kind of story, which might explain why there’s a pointless corridor walk at the start of each puzzle, but the developer simply didn’t have enough time to get it done before he shoveled this pile of crapware into the public eye.
This isn’t even a game where a few simple tweaks here or there would result in a game that I’d deem worthy of playing. Pretty much every aspect has to be torn down and rebuilt from scratch as there’s not one part of this game that doesn’t have some kind of issue associated with it. Visuals? Repetitive asset-reuse that makes every single level feel pretty much identical. Sound? That would require using more than a dozen sounds at a time. Mechanics? Every single one is implemented in a rudimentary, unoptimized way. Story? Don’t make me laugh.
Elementium is the kind of game I expect to see on /r/Indie where the developer doesn’t seem to understand why it isn’t selling. The fact of the matter is that this game barely qualifies as such, playing like an early alpha rather than a game you’re paying full price for. These are the kinds of titles that Early Access is designed to help, the ones where the developer has an idea they want to explore but hasn’t got a clue about how to make it fun. Further the extreme lack of polish on nearly all elements makes me think that this game didn’t see any external play testing at all as there’s no way any of these issues made it past even the most forgiving of family members. I tried to keep an open mind when I was playing Elementium, figuring that there had to be a point somewhere along the lines where it started to really come into its own. That time never came and here I am, 4 hours in the hole without much to show for it. Honestly Ignite Studios, if you’re reading this, email me: [email protected], you sound like you need the help.
Elementium is available on PC right now for $14.99. Total play time was 4 hours with 100% of the achievements unlocked.
I really can be my own worst enemy sometimes. It’s been almost a month since I got back from the USA and despite the best of intentions I haven’t really done that much work on Lobaco apart from a little work on the API and web UI. Whilst I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to hit the code hard immediately after touching back down in Australia I still thought that after maybe a week or two of lazing about the coding bug which had firmly bitten me before I left would take a hold once again, pushing me to build on the momentum I had set up. Sadly it wasn’t to be and instead I just resided myself to feeling guilty about what I should’ve been doing and pulling the meter tall weeds that had grown in our front yard.
Partly to blame is that sense of perspective I get whenever I take time away from a project to work on something else or to just have a break. Usually the first thing that pops into my head is “why the hell should I bother” and I’ll spend a good chunk of time focusing on the negative aspects of whatever I’m doing. After a while though I’ll just try to do a feel small things, a few quick wins to get me back into the mindset of getting things done. After that it’s usually pretty easy going (this usually takes about 2 weeks) until I hit a wall again or I feel like getting my weekends back for a while so I can relax and get my head back together. The last few iterations of this cycle are what lead to the 3 major revisions of what is now Lobaco.
Then along came Sencha.
This client was just an elaborate way of procrastinating.
Now whilst the client looked decent and didn’t take too much to set up it didn’t look anywhere near as good as my native app nor could it hold a candle to its performance. Sure my hack job probably ensured that the performance wasn’t as good as it could be but in comparison to the native client hack job I did it was pretty stunning. After coming to that realisation I booted up my MacBook to start getting acquainted with Xcode again and spent last weekend coding up some performance improvements¹ for it which I had put off before I left for the USA. I’m sure this won’t stop me from looking at going down that path in the future but I can at least rest easier now that I’m feeling the urge to program once again.
It’s been a weird learning experience for me since I’m usually pretty good at knowing when I’m procrastinating. Usually I have a good reason for it (like having 1 bit of work to do and not doing it since it’s not due for months) but this is the first time I caught myself doing something I thought was useful when really I was just making excuses for doing the work I knew needed to be done. With a good week of holidays coming up over the Christmas/New Year period this realisation couldn’t have come at a better time and I’m looking forward to making the most of my time off with the hope that the momentum will carry me on into the new year.
¹I’m going to do a big post about this hopefully tomorrow. I hit some really, really esoteric problems getting everything to work but I have and the results are, to put it bluntly, bloody amazing.
This post is going to form the basis of a new category of posts here on The Refined Geek which I’m calling Ideals of Life. A couple years ago I made a habit of writing down one or two sentences that described a philosophical ideal that anyone could ascribe to every day just before I went to bed. These were often reflective of my mindset of the time and embodied one of the ideals that I unconsciously believed in. Writing them down reaffirmed my commitment to these ideas, and I’ll share one of them with you today.
Ever since I was a child I’ve been told that I was a dreamer. I can remember catching the hour long bus to my primary school and gazing out of the window endlessly contemplating the outside world. As I got older I never stopped doing this, I merely wondered more about specific topics, rather then having my mind wander aimlessly. During one of my nights of musing over my journal of thoughts I began to realise the importance of losing myself in something, whether it be gaming, thought or conversation. I summed it all up with this point
Let yourself get lost in something every so often. To experience life to the fullest, we must also escape from it.
It’s a twofold point deeply rooted in escapism. I’ve found that often get heavily focused on a few topics or activities at a time and that losing myself into something else from time to time gives me perspective on things that I might be missing. Initially this thought was confined to escaping through games as at the time I was playing through Dreamfall: The Longest Journey which dealt with ideals similar to this. However over time I found myself getting lost in other activities, such as research. I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve looked up one article on Wikipedia only to find myself still researching the topic hours later.
I’ve also begun to believe that this ideal also encourages passion in any endeavour you might undertake. You can find many examples of people who are so engrossed with something that they lose their identity when they become involved in it. This is an amazing characteristic and it’s something I note in the truly altruistic individuals that exist in this world. Whilst I can’t remember the real source for the following quote I can attribute its paraphrasing:
I have no need to defend my ideals, they defend themselves. – Eamon Logue on the topic of Buddhism
This I feel embodies the essence of losing yourself. Eamon was no longer a man defending a point or a belief, he was merely manifesting the ideals of Buddhism through himself.
So become passionate, lose yourself in something every so often and gain perspective on your life. Once you find something that you can truly lose yourself in, the rest of your life takes on a new level of meaning.