Void: A Potential Idea For A Portal 3?

By John Walker on December 12th, 2011 at 4:04 pm.

I kind of wish it were a time torch, looking at this screenshot.

I really don’t think I’m exaggerating. In the same way that Narbacular Drop made you sit back and go, “Woah!”, so too does Void. It’s certainly not the first time manipulating time bubbles in the world has been done, but it’s certainly the best I’ve ever seen it, and it’s the first time it’s just felt right.

It’s the work of students at the Singaporean wing of the DigiPen Institute Of Technology, and has recently won a couple of awards at the Chinese IGF. You can tell why.

Let me give examples. As you wander the crumbling, broken remains of a large, elaborate building, your passage may be blocked by a fallen staircase. Fire your temporal widget at the area and a sphere of the past appears for a short while, including the stairs, which you can now run up. Very simple. That gets you thinking the right way. Then you might encounter a large, overgrown plant in your way. Cast the past in front of you, and it’ll be a small sapling you can pick up, thus removing it from the future. A sapling you could then plant in a crack in a wall in a bubble of history, which once it dissolves reveals a wall broken apart by the plant.

The game also offers you the rather handy convenience of some time glasses. Held like ye old spectacles, these allow you to view the past through their rectangle, letting you spot items you can grab if you then restore using what the game calls “rips”. But more entertainingly, it allows you to experience both realities simultaneously, which is a dizzying experience. A particularly noticeable moment comes when wandering the sewers, where the water levels have lowered over time. To be in two different depths of water at the same time is quite the thing. Even walking through a tunnel that is both bone dry and completely filled with water. And again, this is smartly implemented as puzzles, letting you fall greater distances by opening a space of the soggy past beneath you as you drop. It’s just that right balance of head-twisting and comprehensible, leaving me feeling in that strange uncanny place of understanding the world, and yet being bemused by the temporal impossibility of it.

This version of the game, available from the DigiPen site, is pretty short, ending with a promise that it will be continued. It’s hard not to want, having seen the smarts on offer here, that this continuation might take place in Bellvue, Washington. It’s built in Source, but a pretty old-looking version. It’s a shame, as there’s smart architecture here, which is made much less impressive by the dated look. Updated to the latest version, given some round edges, and certainly expanded and made more elegant all over, and we have ourselves the next logical first-person puzzler to be worthy of some big-name attention.

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68 Comments »

  1. Tusque D'Ivoire says:

    Absolutely fine with the graphics…

    • propjoe says:

      I’ve never been clear on why people get so bent out of shape about that, either. Ever since Source originally came out, I honestly can’t see much of a difference between those graphics and, say, Battlefield 3, except for certain lighting effects. It’s a fun gameplay concept. Who cares how it looks?

    • SuperNashwanPower says:

      @propjoe – Do 83 year old women also look not a day over 30 to you? You may want to get your glasses prescription updated. “Frostbite 2 looks no better than circa 2004 Source” definitely brings an automatic diagnosis of astigmatism.
      That aside, this game looks fine to me. Its art style is nice, if not cutting edge. Oddly reminds me of much older PC games.

    • PopeJamal says:

      Does Frostbite 2 look better than UT2004? Maybe. Depends on your definition of “better”.

      Does it look more realistic than UT2004? Well, for me, “realism” is a binary thing so the answer is “No. Neither of them looks real.”

      At this point, I’d be just as happy with either idtech 2 or Frostbite 2. As long as the engine and the team can convey what needs to be conveyed, then it’s fine.

      And on top of that, I’m running an SLI rig, so take THAT graphic elitists!

    • SuperNashwanPower says:

      Agreed – Its either hyper-reality, or on a par with a ZX Spectrum, with no grey area in between. That makes perfect sense. Also, renaissance portraits look no more realistic than stick men doodles, and a synthesized guitar is no more convincing than me shouting “TWANG”.
      To finish, here is a DX11 facial render from CryEngine 3:

      :-)

    • TaroYamada says:

      Graphics look fine to me, but then again I am glad PC games have been held back graphically by consoles, it makes PC gaming more easily accessible and cheaper to get into since the graphics cards required aren’t brand spanking new tech. I’ll take slightly worse graphics for a larger and healthier community of gamers who will buy titles and convince publishers that PC isn’t a bad place to be.

    • Aemony says:

      Graphics != Aesthetics

      It doesn’t matter how good graphics a game have if it doesn’t have good aesthetics. Good aesthetics can make or break a game as it is that which allows players to immerse themselves into the game, regardless of the graphics.

      In this case, the graphics does look a bit dated, not that it really matters. However I’m sad to see that the aesthetics also doesn’t look very good. They should have gone back to the drawing board and come up with their own aesthetic style, as I believe the game would only benefit from it.

    • bonjovi says:

      @SuperNashwanPower

      you made my wife angry at me for laughing so hard.

  2. Quine says:

    Where have I seen this idea before?

    • Ralphomon says:

      It’s kinda similar to the Tear thing in Bioshock Infinite, but more free-form?

    • Brumisator says:

      Singularity, and most Zelda games.

    • Protome says:

      Singularity.

    • coldvvvave says:

      Prince of Persia 2008 had something similair iirc.

    • Eraysor says:

      Not PC I know, but Metroid Prime 2 also did something similar.

    • PatrickSwayze says:

      Soul Reaver?

      Soul Reaver 2?

      Legacy of Kain: Defiance?

    • Quine says:

      Okay I’m being too meta these days…

    • danthat says:

      @Quine It’s been driving me crazy trying to find it (vaguely remembered it being set on a mining colony) but Void reminded me of Paradox Shift http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p5c3OQGXmUU, a similar indie first-person time-flipping puzzle game.

      That what you were thinking of, too?

    • Heliocentric says:

      It might be a time joke.

    • brulleks says:

      So, what is it?
      I’ve never seen one before – no one has – but I’m guessing it’s a white hole.
      A *white* hole?
      Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. A black hole sucks time and matter out of the Universe; a white hole returns it.
      So, that thing’s spewing time…
      … back into the Universe?
      Precisely. That’s why we’re experiencing these curious time phenomena on board.
      So, what is it?
      I’ve never seen one before – no one has – but I’m guessing it’s a white hole.
      A *white* hole?
      Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. A black hole sucks time and matter out of the Universe; a white hole returns it.
      So, that thing’s spewing time back into the Universe?
      Precisely. That’s why we’re experiencing these curious time phenomena on board.
      What time phenomena?
      Like just then, when time repeated itself.
      So, what is it?

      etc

    • Koozer says:

      Brullecks: you are my favourite person of the day.

    • Eddy9000 says:

      Time Gentlemen Please

    • Rhin says:

      You saw this idea before when you played Void when it first came out next year.

      ….

      Did I get the joke?

    • Ruffian says:

      There was also one with like cameras I believe that had a similar concept. I think it was an indie too. I believe RPS covered it sometime earlier this year. I can’t remember what it was called for the life of me though. the video I saw was a guy messing around in a tall rectangular room with some cubes. I think it mighta been more a duplication thing though. idk.

    • tharbjules says:

      The new Zelda has an entire zone dedicated to this exact mechanic (Lanayru Desert, which has some of the best puzzles in the game).
      I would love to see what other ideas developers can do with this.

    • Saint_loup says:

      Is it me or *Quine* just made a meta joke ?

    • Prince says:

      @Ruffian
      Pretty sure you’re talking about Kim Swift’s (of Portal fame) upcoming game, Quantum Cocundrum.

  3. fallingmagpie says:

    And so the Chinese invasion of Valve begins. Beware the Red Dragon!

    Seriously, though, this looks ace.

  4. Jahkaivah says:

    Isn’t “puzzle game which allows you to interact with the present and the distant past/future at the same time” practically a sub-genre by this point?

    Not that I’m saying this is a bad game, I suppose I ought to give it a shot.

  5. Tautologist says:

    Pff, I liked this better when it was called A Link to the Past.

  6. rei says:

    One of the creators posted a bit of stuff on it on TTLG, if someone’s curious:
    http://www.ttlg.com/forums/showthread.php?t=137190

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    el_murph says:

    Looks like it could be Fringe: The Video Game.

  8. ResonanceCascade says:

    This looks really neat. Like others said, it’s a lot like Singularity, but Raven didn’t really do much to explore the possibilities of the time changing stuff. They just repeated the same couple crumbling staircase puzzles over and over.

    (aside: I can’t say Narbacular Drop made me go “woah.” Unless you can’t saying something like “Woah, I can’t believe they turned this *thing* into something as great as Portal.”)

    • BobTheJanitor says:

      @ResonanceCascade If Narbacular Drop made you say “Woah, I can’t believe they turned this *thing* into something as great as Portal.” then you’re coming at it from the wrong angle already. You have to realize that the ‘Woah’ factor was because no one had made a game like that before. There was no Portal when Narbacular Drop was created. That was why Valve hired the team and why we have Portal today. You can’t judge the grandfather idea on what it’s later successors did. Of course they were better, they stood on its shoulders!

  9. Syra says:

    And there I hoped you were talking about that grim russian game in the afterlife full of naked melancholy vengeful spirits.

    Now that is a game I’d like to see integrated with portal!

    • Mirqy says:

      Portal to Pripyat?

    • Chriller says:

      What game is this?

    • Milos says:

      If you aren’t asking sarcastically – the game he’s referring to is The Void. You can find a Wot I Think in the bowels of rps.

    • codename_bloodfist says:

      A game that is both amazing and amazingly hard. There’s a really good let’s play on youtube.

  10. LimEJET says:

    The download page seems to be broken.

  11. The Innocent says:

    What a fascinating idea! I hope it’s really that smooth in actual play. It sounds like the kind of game that could slow my PC to a crawl.

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    c-Row says:

    The question is whether or it is possible to solve puzzles in multiple ways, or if there’s just one right path through a number of fixed set pieces.

  13. Faceless says:

    Looks strangely similar to Quantum Conundrum. I think I prefer Void’s approach, though.

    Disagree with the name, however, since there’s risk of confusing it with The Void, another brilliant yet vastly different game.

  14. Arcanon says:

    Wibbly Wobbly Timey Wimey…Stuff

  15. celozzip says:

    what was that game made in the udk where you do physics puzzles like opening doors and stuff by using multiple iterations of yourself? i liked that… but these things get pretty repetitive quickly, i think. the reviews for singularity just sounded boring.

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    Big Murray says:

    This has Valve-acquisition written all over it.

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    Keymonk says:

    Nice to see something else than NYC can be used in games.

  18. R_Yell says:

    Sorry for the shameless autopromotion, but no one knows this mod, it seems: http://www.moddb.com/mods/dual-reality

    • Nallen says:

      Not self promotion, just promotion. Go check this out people.

  19. Davee says:

    I’d be posting a more substantial comment right about now if it wasn’t for the download going 40 kB/s. I think we might’ve put their site at the brink of death-through-traffic. :P

  20. Post-Internet Syndrome says:

    Nice little thing. Hoping for more!

  21. hypercrisis says:

    so its singularity

  22. Strife212 says:

    Isn’t it basically just changing states of an area between two different versions, seems a pretty basic concept really.

  23. SquareWheel says:

    A game by DigiPen students? IT’S THE NEXT PORTAL

  24. vodkarn says:

    Valve buyout in 3, 2…

  25. Urthman says:

    That was a fun, pleasant little game. I enjoyed it. Thanks for featuring it, John!

    I thought the graphics were good for such a small team / project. Certainly they were sufficient for what the game is doing.

    The glasses were the best idea. And the water pipe was the 2nd best idea.

  26. Bubbley says:

    I wouldn’t say this could be in Portal 3, should Valve decide to make a Portal 3 for some reason.

  27. Kollega says:

    I don’t know about you people, but i wouldn’t like Valve to swipe up this idea too (even if it fits in with Cave Johnson’s dabblings in time travel). It’s not fair that they can buy up all the good stuff and produce it under the Valve brand to improve their already-great reputation. New studios deserve to rise and be the heroes of their own success stories. And besides, more independent studios means more games in the same time.

  28. HalNeinThousand says:

    What? I had it installed since the 20th of May.

  29. Kroakie says:

    Hi, I’m one of the programmers who worked on Void. Thank you, John, for the post, and thanks for all the comments! It’s always nice to hear what others think about your own work.

    Just some background information. We were in the DigiPen-Ubisoft Campus programme (https://singapore.digipen.edu/dp-ubicampus/about/) in Singapore, which consisted of a 5-month academic phase, and a 5-month production phase, during which we created Void. The team consisted of 2 programmers, 2 artists and 2 designers. We called ourselves Minus-5, so named because we were originally a 11-man team, but just before production starts, for various reasons 5 left the team.

    The game is a little rough around the edges, because about 2+ months before the end of production, we finally faced up to the fact that the version of the game we had at that time (which were completely different from what you see now. It didn’t even have the two-world concept) just weren’t any good, so we rebooted and threw almost everything away. Code, levels, character models. We kept some prop assets, but then we now have to make two versions of everything, so our work load isn’t that much less. Almost everything we have in the final version were hacked together in that 10 weeks we had left.

    I know the concept seem really similar to Quantum Conundrum, but Void was actually completed late 2010, which predated the reveal announcement. Not to say that QC ripped us off, it’s certainly a case of convergent ideas.

    Anyway, thanks again. Hope you all enjoyed the game!

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    maninahat says:

    Anyone get all six portraits? I only saw 3. What do you win?

  31. Klams says:

    I always thought that the ‘Scry’ mechanic in Clive Barkers Undying was amazing, I personally think that a game using the mechanic not as ‘alternate time zones’ but alternate dimensions of some other sort has a lot of interesting potential.

  32. MrEvilGuy says:

    Gaaaaaaaaaaaah. They better have a unbelievably satisfactory reason for calling this “Void”.

  33. Suits says:

    You need Source SDK 2007 i guess

  34. UnknownAX says:

    Just would like to point out that it’s spelled “Bellevue”, not “Bellvue”.