Aether

By Alec Meer on September 4th, 2008 at 2:44 pm.

This is me.

I’m hardly surprised that my spam filter decided a message with the subject line “Hey it’s Edmumd (c*nt)” should be kept from me (asterisk added by me, needless to say). Even if it had reached my inbox, I probably would presumed it was another inexplicably angry WAR fan having a shout at us or something. Fortunately, Edmund was persistent, and thanks to his follow-up mail I was discovered he was in fact Edmund McMillen, the creator of the vaginally-titled shmup we posted about last week.

He’s also the creator of the acclaimed Gish, winner of the 2005 Independent Game Festival grand prize. So when he revealed he was about to release a new game, darn-tootin’ I was interested.

Aether, a flash affair hosted at the increasingly all-consuming Armor Games, is described by Edmund as “a labour of love.” Which means it’s certainly not another opus of filth like C*nt. While to say it has a narrative might be stretching things a little, it certainly has a theme – childhood yearning and fear. There are shades of both Braid and Psychonauts to it, the characters you meet apparently aspects of your character’s own insecurities, and expressing arrogance, introversion and depression by turns. Sad, angry and really angry faces abound in the scenery itself, lending an affecting pathos to the levity of your rope-swinging, gravity-defying movement; nominally it’s about space exploration, but really it’s a journey through tortured emotions.

McMillen’s own tortured emotions, it seems – “It’s a very honest and personal project I’ve been a little worried about making public because it exposes a lot of the fears I had when I was a child and puts me in a vulnerable places. But I feel like there are some out there that can appreciate something honest that has a lot of heart.”

It’s beautiful to look at, and the rope-swinging (well, actually alien tongue-swinging) spacefaring is a pleasure. As with Coil, another of McMillen’s art-gaming projects, there are no hints as such to its handful of puzzles. I found at least a couple a little frustrating, but the others were pleasantly intuitive, in keeping with the dreamlike flow of the game. It does need a mute function for the looped piano music, however.

Go play – it’s a pretty, sad wee thing. In a browser here, or a standalone version from here.

We’ll hopefully have an interview with Edmund soon about Gish, his naughtier games and his upcoming projects.

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21 Comments »

  1. sockpuppetclock says:

    There’s no contrast at all on the characters, which makes it very hard to see what’s going on closely.

    But otherwise it’s a very beautiful game.

  2. Ian says:

    It’s pretty but I don’t really understand.

  3. espy says:

    Can you actually do anything one you arrive on any of the planets?

    e: ah, got it.

  4. ylw says:

    This is really beautiful. The art, music, gameplay, story, even instructions (perfect in its simplicity) – it all comes together really well. Its spirit unfolds as you play through it and the final gameplay moment is really special. It means a lot and ties everything together.

    There’s nothing quite like propelling yourself through space then crashing into a planetoid at full speed.

  5. Thiefsie says:

    I played it for a good 20 mins, figured out 2-3 planets and then gave up.

    Striking but rather hard? I don’t like swinging around that much from planet to planet after it starts to feel futile

  6. PetitPiteux says:

    Very nice for a variety of reasons, even if a bit abscure a time. But the controls a so frustrating! ever thought of those azerty guys? (or is there anyway to change the controle scheme?)

  7. duel says:

    i have to say i was satisfied alone with flying around visiting new places but after a while i caught onto the puzzle aspect of the game and ended up spending half an hour completing it.

    so, there is an ending afterall

  8. Theory says:

    Its spirit unfolds as you play through it and the final gameplay moment is really special. It means a lot and ties everything together.

    I didn’t get any of that at all. I just swung around a few planets with depressed critters solving puzzles, then landed on another that promptly went poof and ended the game. That was the downloaded version.

  9. Kast says:

    Something went poof? That’s more than I got. I visited the four or five planets, saw a lot of depressed mirrors of the boy’s mind and thought I’d seen it all.

    Wait, puzzle?

  10. Gap Gen says:

    Heh. It’s a pretty cute game. And yes, puzzle.

  11. mrrobsa says:

    At first I milled around and enjoyed the swingamathing, I travelled as far away from everything as I could til my character was off screen and all the markers converged as one.
    Realising there wasn’t anything to find I reversed course and aimed for planet yellow at a kajillion miles an hour, where, upon impact I realised there were some problems to be solved, but I couldn’t seem to interact with much. I guess I got a little bored/frustrated and I almost *almost* quit.
    But I’m glad I didn’t. I grasped the puzzle aspect, and with a bit of exploration, discovered what I could affect in the game. Playing the the game through to it’s conclusion tied it all up for me and I found it to be a charming and thoughtful piece of work.

  12. The Shed says:

    Very nice. Simple stuff is simply the best, all the simple games I can think of have stuck in my mind- Breaking the Tower, I mean I’d PAY to play a full game of that. Theres no obvious reason for the satisfaction it brings, it just is. It makes the impact of the game far more profound if it’s short and concise- like a poem.

  13. M.P. says:

    Walking around the tiny round planetoids gives me motion sickness :( Also I fell down a hole into the inside of one of them, meaning I’ve got an even smaller sphere to walk on exacerbating it. I can’t explore long enough to find a way back out cause I get queasy!

  14. Will says:

    Gets a LOT easier once you figure out the use of ‘up’ and ‘down’; i.e. that they work to swing you up and down as well as just make you jump. You can also spin around and around on an object to build up speed, and use this to easily escape from gravity. Don’t just swing like a pendulum, fling yourself around and around.

    Once you can move with extreme ease, the game feels really nice :-)

    SPOILERS !!!! Exclamation mark!!

    Jump on the moons and they will crash into the planet. DING!

    Eat the little fish underwater by swimming into them. DING!

    Get inside of the planet via the surface-mouth, then swing from one crystal to another. They chime as you swing on them. Not sure exactly what did it, but after 10 seconds or so of swinging… DING!
    For this planet, spinning round and round is really KEY for when you want to get back outside. Spin until you’re going fast, then let go and you’ll shoot up high enough to catch a cloud easy. Note: You can go outwards from any point in the crust.

    Around the small gas giant, there are little asteriod-smiley-faces that beam down some aura. Attach to their FACES, swing round and round (left, left up, up, up right, right, right down, down, down left, left…) until they explode and fall down. Keep finding them and doing this til… DING.

    Go back to starting small ice planet.

    WIN!

    Edit: Added tip about spinning, and Theory has no joy in his life.

  15. etoile says:

    Me neither, apparently. Pretty though.

    Also, the message I took from it was that Space Nessie can cure depression which doesn’t really seem right to me (although LSD has been investigated as a treatment).

  16. hidden_7 says:

    Spoilers

    I saw how Earth diminished with each investigation as kind of the idea that experience gives you a fresh perspective on previous problems. Since this seemed to be childhood issues and not lasting life long depression, it’s that going out in the world and doing stuff diminshes the problem you once thought so big.

    Of course that’s not supported at all by the ending text.

  17. Lunaran says:

    I’m glad you posted about this, I played it this morning and loved it.

    But I feel like there are some out there that can appreciate something honest that has a lot of heart.

    I did.

  18. Bobsy says:

    Anyone else get massive lag on the downloaded version? It’s really rather grating.

    Oh, and the small planet with the happy moon? I have idea what to even do there.

  19. M. P. says:

    Thanks for the hints Will, I had in fact figured how to travel from planet to planet, it was being on the planets that really made me queasy – especially the one where you fall inside it, walking around on the core is at such an incline that the rotation of everything around you is ridiculously fast!
    I hadn’t figured out the crystals puzzle, although I got the other 3 planets on my own (well… on the water planet I didn’t really figure out what to do, I thought it would be sometihng about pulling the submerged and surface planetoids togehter or something, but I ended up solving the puzzle correctly completely by accident). I reckon there should have been slightly more clues as to what yuo should do. On most planetoids the interactive and non-interactive objects looked identical, so, while I don’t think he should’ve signposted them, a little more guidance when you DO do something right would be helpful. For instance, [MILD SPOILERS] a stronger auditory cue when you eat a fish (I comlpetely missed those, until I accidentally ate the last one!), or, instead of a “ding” when you latch onto a crystal there could be a continuous sound, which stops when you hit the ground, so as to hint to you that you need to stay airborne.

  20. larrymayson says:

    It is a great thing to see that there are stuff like this. I am making a blog out of this as well as about hiv pep singapore. Thanks for sharing tho.

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