Worth Exploring: Indie Adventure Kairo

By John Walker on June 21st, 2011 at 2:55 pm.

There really aren't enough games bold enough to be this interesting-looking.

Sometimes it’s just good to wander around, slightly confused. I should declare my interests here: I wander around confused most of the time. I’m in fact President of the Wandering Around Confused Organisation (WACO), a body of people who spend most of their days wondering how they got wherever they are, and how on Earth they’re going to get home. The only problem with my daily version of this endeavour is the lack of puzzles. Indie adventure Kairo puts this right. It’s worth a look.

Set somewhere between a locked room puzzler and a first-person adventure, it’s a bizarre world of stark blocks and careful, abstract architecture. Without an inventory, weapons, or even a ‘use’ button, this is bare-bones gaming with the emphasis on exploration. And it’s worth exploring.

While there’s undeniably tones of (eurgh, I can barely type it)… Myst (spit spit SPIT), they seem to be the better tones, not reading some hideously written bullshit book before randomly flicking switches until you can pretend you solved a puzzle. Oh, okay, there’s a little bit of the latter. But what makes Kairo interesting is not standing on switches to find out what they do – it’s the atmosphere, a combination of design and sound.

An especially nice recurring detail is the way the world will often shape itself around you. Scenery moves into place as you walk toward it, and disassembles as you walk away. This is then applied as puzzles too, with a lovely idea in a large empty chamber that’s in fact a maze, the unknown walls springing up to block your way as you approach them. It’s inventive ideas like this that make it worth exploring.

At the moment, this being an alpha, there are of course improvements to be made. Most of all I’d like to see a change in the way edges of platforms are handled. The game contradicts itself pretty often with whether you can jump off an edge or not. Sometimes it’s necessary, other times it’s artificially blocked with invisible walls. I think it would be preferable to be able to fall off edges and be gently replaced where you fell (this isn’t a realistic world to start with – you’re running along floating platforms while blocks serenely glide around you), rather than the peculiar restriction of invisible barriers.

One-man dev team Richard Perrin is developing the game with the increasingly common technique of taking pre-orders and giving the alpha build in return (for $8/£6). He describes what you’ll receive as “the first (and smallest) of the three areas in the game)”. Which is impressive, since what I’ve played is pretty huge. The game will be completed later this year, and anyone who pre-orders will continue to receive alpha/beta builds until it’s finished.

Take a look at the trailer for a better idea of what it’s like:

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32 Comments »

  1. Nathan_G says:

    This really reminds me of the book House of Leaves. In the ashy, muted colours, enormous rooms, mysterious architecture, moving walls etc. And for this reason I’m in. Looks gorgeous.

    • Renzatic says:

      The first thing I thought when I saw the video was “house of leaves”. Then I go down a bit to comment as such, and see that I and a thousand other people thought the same.

      I hate it when people beat me to the punch. :mad:

    • wu wei says:

      Hey, you both convinced me to try it on the strength of that comparison alone :)

  2. Magical Melvin says:

    House of Leaves is an amazing book.

    I’m in on this too – downloading Alpha now.

    • Nathan_G says:

      Pity Only Revolutions was pish.

    • Magical Melvin says:

      I got on alright with Only Rev. but then it is more prose poetry than a story – and I didn’t like it as much as HoL.

      Got the fifty year Sword kicking around here somewhere, I should really read it at somepoint.

  3. Sheng-ji says:

    I wish I wasn’t so poor right now, I’d get this in an instant!

  4. Premium User Badge

    SMiD says:

    /dusts off copy of House of Leaves

    And yes, downloading as well.

  5. N says:

    Holyfuck that looks so boring.

    • Wulf says:

      Unfortunately what a lot of Myst pretenders seem to miss is that the games, whilst having logical puzzles, were a mix of incredibly well written stories and lore (and gosh, they were well written) mixed with evocative and, in the later games, simply breathtaking worlds which all melted into a fairly sublime experience. But if you take the art of Myst away and leave only the puzzles, without none of the wonder weaved around it, without the little clues woven into the tapestry of the very world they’re a part of, without the passion of world-building that Cyan Worlds had, then… what do you have?

    • Dervish says:

      I’m not sure if this is the point you’re making, but you can’t “take the art of Myst away and leave only the puzzles,” because (as you say) the clues are embedded in the world. Likewise, you couldn’t remove the dialogue from a LucasArts game and leave the puzzles, because many of them rely on conversation.

      Far too many adventure games suck because the designers thought it was enough to have pretty graphics or humor that existed for their own sake.

  6. Wulf says:

    If you played Myst by randomly flicking switches, you were playing it wrong. :p I’m sorry but that’s the complete truth. Myst had some of the most logical and clever puzzles out there, and in fact, they were about as purely logical as anything could be. Sure, some of them probably came close to a Mensa test as anything could, but they still all made sense.

    It was simply a matter of doing you research around the area of a puzzle until the nature of it clicked. Then you’d go back with an idea in mind and that idea would usually work out. That’s how I played Myst, anyway, and it never seemed to fail me. Entertainingly they even had solutions to many of the puzzles written around the landscape in D’ni, so if you’d learned D’ni then there was no puzzle at all. But even without knowing the language of D’ni, the puzzles were still logical.

    Saying that you randomly clicked on things in Myst is kind of like saying that The Longest Journey could only be played by randomly spamming items on each other and on activators (including people) in the world, and that there was absolutely no other way of playing that game. But of course, for the vast majority of the puzzles in The Longest Journey, they gave you hints on how to solve them. And if I’m going to be completely brazen, despite TLJ having a fantastic story, the puzzles of TLJ were less logical than Myst’s. Remember the grabbing contraption we had to make? Yeah.

    I just don’t think some people played Myst in a particularly intelligent way and they’re taking it out on the game. :| I think that if anyone who had a bad opinion of Myst went back and played it now (realMyst is really nice!), then their opinion would change because the analytical parts of their minds have likely improved with age.

    What I will say though is that there were hundreds of pretenders to the Myst throne that misunderstood Myst’s rule of laying clues and approaching puzzles in a logical way at the time and just turned puzzles into clickfesty guesswork. Which is, admittedly, what Myst looks like but only if you’ve never actually taken the time to figure out how to play it properly. The Myst series were one of my all time favourite series of games, and captivated my imagination throughout the entire series like few others have. And some of the games were so amazingly, breathtakingly beautiful that combined with their logical puzzles, I would simply call them art.

    • Nick says:

      Myst is terrible.

    • Wulf says:

      Myst is terrible if you didn’t understand it.

      Not everyone is equipped for puzzle games. I mean, no offence to TB, but look at some of his videos when presented with them. No two people are equal.

      It’s a completely subjective thing based upon how much your mind is an equal mix of imagination and analytical problem solving.

    • Kaira- says:

      Myst is a good game. To claim otherwise is HERESY.

    • Hoaxfish says:

      Frankly, I think I find the puzzles in Monkey Island more logical and understandable… but that’s probably just me.

    • Dervish says:

      “Logical” doesn’t mean “It made sense to me.” It’s not a question of gut feelings.

    • rareh says:

      Terrible ?
      Myst franchise was awesome, i played it for the puzzles(i am a gameplay guy) , riven and exile were my favorite(they also were the hardest.).
      All of the people that think Portal 2 has good puzzles(i thought they were awful and extremely easy), should definitely play riven or exile, just to be able to compare the difference.

    • DainIronfoot says:

      Wulf:
      I always said that if Myst had never existed and an indie game did the same thing today, it’d probably be praised for things like dumping you on an island and having to discover for yourself what was going on and how things worked, surreal art and good music (Lets not forget the original Myst was made by a team as small as many modern indie teams) This almost proves that. (with the added indie-style simplified graphics and music)
      I also had a fairly recent playthrough of RealMyst and was struck at how simple the puzzles were, now I approached them as an adult. I mean REALLY simple. The only really hard puzzle in the game for me was the one where you had to match music tones and even that only took me a few goes.
      It’ll never escape the weird prejudice many proper paid up games journalists have for it though. What a shame. Still, the series game me, and indeed my entire family hours of fun. Hows that for inclusive gaming?

      (Riven on the other hand, much harder.. simply because of the sheer size of it, and how some of the puzzles spread right across the world. Still brilliantly designed puzzles though)

    • Urthman says:

      While I like the art design in this, I don’t think it’s worthy of mentioning in the same breath as the astonishingly beautiful Myst games. Even if the Myst games didn’t have some of the best integration of puzzle design and environment design in any adventure games (which they do), they’d be worth playing for the sheer beauty and creativity of the worlds.

      The writing’s not the greatest, but at least they don’t subject you to hours of clicking through every branch of a dialogue tree with dumb robot characters spouting their painfully-voice-acted canned lines.

    • P7uen says:

      Hooray for Myst love! No more shall we huddle together in dark basements whispering our love for it shamefully.

      I have Riven but never played it, I suppose I should dust it off one day.

    • DainIronfoot says:

      I have all the Myst games, but I’m quite tempted to get Riven off steam or GoG in order to avoid the constant CD swapping.

  7. Jesse L says:

    See, this is the kind of art I can get behind. Not like some dude in a box.

  8. Bfox says:

    Looks like what a really really old Amiga game would look like in 3D…

  9. Harley Turan says:

    The age of the first-person indie game is most definitely upon us.

  10. JonasKyratzes says:

    This is a very good game, and I highly recommend it! I really enjoyed playing it.

  11. Magical Melvin says:

    Try ‘The Fifty Year Sword’ for expensive…

  12. pupsikaso says:

    Wow, what do you have against Myst? Myst is the finest puzzle game I’ve ever played. Nothing compares, really.

  13. Ed says:

    It’s really absolutely gorgeous.

    (True story: Something about the background effect on my laptop screen turns my reflected eyes into some Daliesque collage of eyes. Maybe I just need more sleep.)

  14. egg says:

    Well, it’s only natural that the President of WACO is called Walker.

  15. vogre says:

    Will be preordering this for sure.
    His previous game the white chamber is more of a classic point-and-click, with a great story, various playthroughs and a scary atmosphere and really recommended.