Throwing Cubes in Glasshouse

By Kieron Gillen on April 6th, 2009 at 7:24 pm.

Richard Monette sends news of the indie game just released by his student group Rocktopus Games. It’s called Glasshouse and it’s first-person action/puzzle game with one of the most novel set-ups I’ve seen in ages. Put in a semi-industrial/scientific setting with a generally ironic tone, you use a specialist experimental weapon to manipulate your environment to… oh, all right. It’s shamelessly inspired by Portal. But that’s no bad thing – it’s a scratch built piece of neat platform puzzling. Video and impressions beneath the cut.


Official Glasshouse Trailer from Rocktopus Games on Vimeo.

The magic techno-tool which the game’s based around is basically a gravity gun. You can either pull towards or send propelling away specific sorts of cubes. The puzzles are mostly based around getting cubes on the right platform so you can open the door – though there’s elements like sending a cube flying or constructing towers and all the similar. As such, it’s a sort of interaction that’s more familiar than Portal’s hole-in-reality gun. Some of the stuff is the improvised problems you’d do with crates in – say – Deus Ex. More fun is where things get weirder, like your gun being able to manipulate cubes through doors. Generally speaking, it’s 20 levels of cute puzzling which doesn’t over-stay its welcome. Were I to critique, their Portal inspiration and professional leanings makes them take quite a while for it to get going. You don’t get the gun until the fourth or fifth level, after it’s introduced jumping and crawling and button pressing and all that. But despite the fact they clearly understand process of introductions, there’s still fundamentals which only alienate if you introduce. As in, timed jumps in first person over an insta-death substance is rarely a good idea.

But where it gets fun is that it shows its thinking. It’s also very much a Student Game, in both the best and worst possible ways – as such, they’ve lifted the creators-commentary option from Portal where they explain their thinking. I suspect they’d have been better being more outspoken rather than the friendly yet somewhat cautious things they’ve said, but seeing what people were thinking when making a decision is revealing (For example, in the aforementioned moving platforms over insta-death substance, the idea was to introduce the green goo as one of the main things you have to avoid – with “easy” jumps over it. Which is flawed thinking because it can either do one or the other. You only know its’ insta-death if you fail the jump, meaning the jumps can’t be that easy to really serve the purpose. I failed a handful of times – which were a handful too many, y’know. Where this gets interesting is the Director’s playthrough includes a level where they talk about realising some people just can’t get the knack of jumping in first person, so removed the room.)

That’s over-hard, really, but evidence of the sort of response I’m having the game. It’s really a final-project-at-university sort of game – new creators trying to lean towards being professional, wanting to show a deep understanding of process, but only catching the surface levels (and I mean *many* surface levels. There’s a lot of craft here). As such, it’s human and likeable. It’s stuff like the levels’ titles being cribbed from student-favourite fiction – Neitzche, Pynchon, Rand – humanises it. I mean, that’s exactly what I did when I made my bedroom games back in the Amiga days – wear my bookshelf as a badge of identity. I kind of go “Bless”. Which comes across as somewhat patronising, I know, but I mean it in the best possible way.

It’s a quick play so doesn’t over-stay its welcome and – as I said – a neat, tight, considered experience. You can download the game from their site, and its’ a mere 60 Mb or so. It’s well worth doing so.

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31 Comments »

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  1. Inanimotion says:

    At first I thought you might be describing a portal mod. But it sounds amusing.

    I’ll definitely try it out when I’m not at school :(

  2. Darren Kopp says:

    why is stuff you can’t touch in games always lime green? lets get some nice reds, blues, oranges, purples, etc in there.

  3. WarrenD says:

    Just wanted to add that Glasshouse was made @ Carleton University, in Ottawa, Ontario for a final project in Interactive Multimedia and Design.

    Get to know the program! Lot’s of promising grads like the Glasshouse team members. :)

    Great job guys.

  4. Xercies says:

    It’s like Xen all over again, I don’t think jumping works that well in first person to be honest. You don’t have that much perception of how far something is.

  5. Grawl says:

    I can’t run the game – it crashes instantly (Vista 32-bit, quad core, 3GB RAM, Ati HD 4850).

  6. Grawl says:

    I fixed the problem by running setup.exe (not the .msi file). However, I had some problems changing the resolution in-game plus I wanted it to by widescreen. Editing “C:/Users//AppData/Roaming/Glasshouse/GameSettings.xml” manually did the trick and the game is working like a charm.

    But now I have Arrested Development to watch ;)

  7. Max says:

    Pretentious, murky, clunky, annoying.

    The level titles are silly. The mechanic of putting boxes on pedestals is fiddly (and ripped off of Portal). Everything is way too dark and the art design is stupidly generic (hooray for cautionary black and yellow stripes). The level with the turrets (also ripped off of Portal) was annoying due to the instant death mechanic.

    Not worth my time.

  8. Doctor Doc says:

    What Max said. I got bored at the first level with turrets. Actually I got bored during the first level. I also found two pixels that were too bright on the elevator thing and the edges had lots of them. Performance was very bad too. The controls have a terrible feeling. At the end of the ride I walked right down the track, died and had to watch the damn thing again.

  9. Kieron Gillen says:

    The first level with the turrets is actually the last level.

    KG

  10. roBurky says:

    I couldn’t get this to install, unfortunately.

  11. Ryx says:

    Performance is awful on my machine, while portal ran like a breeze even with everything on superhigh graphics settings, and it is an obvious ripoff of portal. The jumping code is really poorly made and I often make a jump and then fall off of the platform somehow, and the in-air physics are absolutely awful. You only move when you hold down a key! Where the hell did forward momentum go? Half-Life and Half-Life 2 are the only games that ever did first-person platforming correctly in my book, and and this game does everything wrong that HL did right, and centers entirely around it.

    Also, you can cheat on most levels with large cubes in them by holding the cube beneath you, spamming jump and running towards the exit.

  12. yutt says:

    Why are you people saying this is a ripoff of Portal? It was already stated Portal was the inspiration in the opening paragraph. Do you not understand this was a student project?

    The comments here are unnecessarily critical of professional games, do we really need to critique a free student project as if it was supposed to be the same quality as a multi-million dollar, professional game developed over the course of 3 years?

    Given that RPS has a heavy focus on experimental and indie games I would (ignorantly) assume that the readership would be understanding of the difference and respond appropriately.

  13. DaFox says:

    So basically its like a slower version of Kreedz Climbing where you have less control?

    Don’t get me wrong it looks fun, but its nothing new.

    http://www.kzmod.com

  14. Mr. Sinister says:

    Please tell me the music from the trailer isn’t in the game. Horribly annoying, that.

  15. Klaus says:

    I don’t actually have the time or inclination to play this, but if the game has problems… then the game has problems.

    I also have no idea how to ‘respond appropriately’? At least to a bunch of adults.

    Hmm… anyways, a critical analysis is better. At least the developers can fix these mistakes everyone appears to be finding.

  16. Matzerath says:

    I love the snide critiquing of student projects that go on these days, as if they were major releases. You’re playing like a sub-alpha, people.
    That said, the screenshot on top shows an interesting door — is that a screen door? I’ve realized that I’d love to play a corridor shooter that was full of screen doors that hydraulically slam behind you.

  17. Ian says:

    I’ll try and rememebr to give it a go but that trailer left me a little cold.

  18. pi says:

    When did it become too much to ask of RPS readers to give helpful criticism and far easier just to slam a student project?
    There is a very inspiring blogpost by Eskil Steenberg containing the phrase “Steal like crazy”.
    http://news.quelsolaar.com/#post11

    When there is nothing new under the sun, it’s the people that can successfully mix together old ideas that win.

  19. Ian says:

    Proper criticism (i.e. not ‘sux!’) doesn’t have to be worded constructively to be used constructively.

  20. The Sombrero Kid says:

    to call them unprofessional for using insta death pit jumping in first person, while correct is simultaneously calling about 92% of professional first person game developers unprofessional and so in my eyes a bit harsh. e.g. portal had this innovative gameplay technique in spades

  21. yhancik says:

    @yutt
    By one hand, I definitely agree with you. By the other hand, I still feel.. how to say… a bit concerned.

    Now I actually don’t know if their studies have been focusing more on the technical or the “creative” side of things.
    If it’s technical, the “Portal rip-off” is not a big deal.
    (although it’s a pity that there seem to be technical issues with the game. But it’s still a great achievement)

    If their studies were focusing on the more “creative” part of videogames making (be it design, story, mechanics), I’m a bit worried.
    Coming from an art/design school, I’d expect students to actually be more free, creative and experimental than professionals with profitability in mind. Narbacular Drop (with all its imperfections) is a pretty good example.

    and…
    @pi :
    The way I understand Eskil, he’s basically saying that your inspiration is more interesting if it comes from very varied sources.
    “The difference between stealing and being inspired is defined by how many different things you get your ideas from”. And the problem with Glasshouse (from a creative point of view, which, again, might not have been the focus in the creation of that game) is that its getting 90% of its ideas from a single source: Portal.

    I hope that sounded a bit more.. constructive ;)

  22. Kris says:

    I think you can have your insta death goo and jumps, providing your implemented game mechanic’s can support it. By the sounds of it – the lack of momentum with jumping / movement would really screw with timing and execution of jumps. Diasagree that HL is best at doing FPS platforming though, Metroid Prime does it much better.

  23. ZIGS says:

    I installed it but when I launch the game it gives me an error

  24. Lucas says:

    OT, for my money, the book Glasshouse by Charles Stross is the scariest thing I have ever read.

  25. pi says:

    @yhancik
    Yep.
    Even with the lights off there’s no denying test-chambers still look like test-chambers.

  26. abovenyquist says:

    As far as student projects go – remember the Portal team started out with Narbacular Drop, which has its share of rough edges too.

  27. The Bag says:

    Some comments, I played listening to the commentary:
    – no option to invert the y-axis is unforgivable and immediately creates an issue for anyone who plays with look inverted.
    – no brightness controls meant it was almost black all the time on my monitor.
    – doors which are as wide as the player’s avatar meaning if you’re not lined up perfectly then you don’t get through.
    – the opening ‘train ride’ level, really, you either have to do something interesting with that or be Valve, it fails on both accounts. It does nothing to draw me into the game, in fact it did quite the opposite.
    – I agree with Kieron about the room teaching you the green goo is bad, if I never touch it how will I know (which I won’t cause the jumps are simple) – the sign telling you is at the end of the room.
    – The room removed because it was too hard, yes it’s nice to show it, but maybe add an easy way out rather than opening up the possibility of people getting stuck in it.
    – The room teach you to reuse the blocks you can stand on so you can traverse the goo (gravity gun, sand, HL2 anyone?) could have had fewer sections, it only required a couple to get the mechanic across – when you’re still teaching the player, coupled with a not great first person jump mechanic having it longer than that was just punitive.
    – I too would have liked a more candid commentary, most of what they’re saying is pretty obvious, especially some of the stuff they discovered through play testing…
    – I fell out the level becoming trapped beneath the geometry, a restart level option would have been nice.

    I’ll play the rest of the game tomorrow.

  28. A friend of the developers says:

    @yhancik The game was designed as a technical challenge, not a creative challenge (our degree has no real inclination towards the design side, regardless of the name). The actual game play and the fact that it’s a first person puzzle game is what was inspired by Portal. The art and textures is as such because of a lack of consistent art direction in the project (sorry to the artist, but you know it’s true).

    And to everyone else, every single one of the bugs and problems that have been mentioned here, I can assure you were brought up during their playtesting tests. I hope that we can all remember that in University, deadlines are unfortunately more important than releasing perfect versions of anything. They are, however, currently working on creating an optimized Xbox version… and I believe creating more intellectually stimulating levels.

    So I’m not nay-saying the critiques, but try not to sound so self-righteous when you comment because none of them are unique (not that you could have known previously).

  29. MeestaNob! says:

    Interesting video.

    I got a real Portal meets Solstice (from the old NES days) vibe about it.

  30. The Bag says:

    “I hope that we can all remember that in University, deadlines are unfortunately more important than releasing perfect versions of anything.”

    …and if you move into the world of professional game dev you’ll find that for the majority of places that, sadly, remains true.

  31. Not Bernard says:

    Just finished playing it now, was pretty fun. Puzzles weren’t too difficult, the turrets were a bit irritating (couldn’t tell when they could see you or not) and the collision was a bit dodgy, but overall, I enjoyed the challenge, and there was nothing which made me really want to stop playing. Keep it up the good work, guys.