Shadowplay: Somnia

By Jim Rossignol on June 15th, 2009 at 9:00 am.


It’s good to start the week with something strange. How fortunate, then, that we have Somnia. This peculiar little 3D puzzle game contains one of those little moments of realisation – “Oh, that’s how it works” – which makes you smile, because it’s different, and so clever. If you don’t want that to be spoiled you should follow the link and play the game. Otherwise click onwards for more thoughts.

The first thing that will strike you us the presentation: weird architecture set to an ambient, guitarish theme. It’s the kind of environment that videogames seem to do effortlessly, and yet so few developers seem to make the effort to conjure up. It suits the nature of the puzzle perfectly.

A first person puzzler. I thought we’d see a few more of those after Portal, but it looks like I was wrong. Fortunately Somnia takes up the baton with strange panache. You step through one of its watery portals, and into the first arena, to face a series of blocks, and a glowing number, which must be collected. I have to admit, I had to move to the help page to figure out what was going on. I was expecting jumping, or some kind of physics puzzle. I wasn’t expect to translate to another dimension.

Yes, the challenge here is to get across the platforms by moving into the two dimensional plane of shadows, and back again. What’s so elegant and strange about this is that the portal by which you entered the level becomes the gravitational well for the 2D shadow plane, meaning you’ll be exiting by that portal if you don’t make the leaps and moves you need to make in the 2D plane.

Of course, as the demo goes on, the concept becomes more complex, and throws curveballs – such as glass blocks which cast no shadow – into the mix. Not all of the puzzles are clear, thanks the the nature of the 2D/3D mix, and consequently some require ‘orrible trial and error. But the novel presentation of the experience seems to diffuse my irritation with that.

What the developers of Somnia have made was a surprise. A surprise superbly conceived and executed. I hope we’ll see this ideas developed further in the future.

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16 Comments »

  1. robrob says:

    Interesting puzzler. I did not realise you maintained momentum as you turned into shadow until the very last moment which meant I had to do II last. It’s not very easy to figure out unguided but clicking randomly and working back from there served me well.

  2. Moss says:

    Great concept. Well done by the developer

  3. madhaha says:

    I would really love for them to get some funding to develop this into a more complete game (not necessarily Valve! Competition is good!) IV was the big stumbling block for me. Working out the best way to slingshot yourself using the sun/gravity well took some doing.

  4. Angel Dust says:

    Quite lovely indeed! I too would lovemore of it!

  5. Luke says:

    Already seen. There was an identical prototype (at IGF?) years ago, called simply Shadow game, but maybe the developer is the same.

  6. T-B0N3 says:

    meh, how to operate the light block? :(

  7. robrob says:

    T-B0N3: Walk on it in the 3D view.

  8. Jim Rossignol says:

    Luke: no, this is quite different to Shadow Physics, which was actually shown just four months ago.

  9. GibletHead2000 says:

    Unfortunately there’s no “invert y”, so I just keep walking around staring at the ceiling or floor, and bumping into things. I’m sure it’s interesting though.

  10. pimorte says:

    It’s an interesting idea, but the actual switching from 3D to 2D is too fiddly for me to enjoy the game.

  11. Melf_Himself says:

    There is an excellent flash game that operates on a similar sounding principle (2D):

    http://armorgames.com/play/751/shift

    Check it out, it is quite entertaining.

  12. Vandelay says:

    Nice idea, but is a little bit fiddly. In puzzle 2 and 4 I was thinking that there was an aspect of the mechanics that I wasn’t quite grasping and no matter what I tried I seemed to be failing. Then randomly I suddenly get them both (helped slightly by someone on here mentioning a slingshot using the light on 4, but I don’t think I was doing anything different on 2.) But I would be interested in the rest of the puzzles. I was certainly disappointed when the game faded out so suddenly.

    TB0N3 – I don’t think I ever used a light block?

    I second Melf_Himself’s recommendation of Shift. There are a fair few of them (I think they are on 4 now) and each offers a new twist on the simply idea. I wouldn’t say it shares very much with this game, but certainly worth a play if you haven’t before.

  13. krazyman says:

    @madhaha I had the same problem on IV. Otherwise this was a great puzzler.

  14. Steve Swink says:

    Luke: Alex did show of the precursor prototype to this, which had no name at the time but which was essentially the same minus the art, at the Experimental Gameplay Sessions ~ two years ago.

    This year (4 months ago) was Shadow Physics – our game – which is, despite the obvious similarity of being about shadows, a different concept with different implementation :).

    I really love how this turned out, especially the awesome surreal artwork. Great job you guys! Want more!

  15. Lucky Main Street says:

    This sounds a bit like a PSP game called CRUSH.

  16. Campin Carl says:

    Is it bad that I read Shadowplay: Somalia?