By Nathan Grayson on April 30th, 2013 at 3:00 pm.
Given that Ludum Dare 26 spawned several trillion games, we’ll probably be talking about it for the next 30,000 or so years. I will, however, almost certainly do a round-up sooner or later, seeing as the theme – minimalism – has led to a teetering tapas tower of bite-sized, sometimes seconds-long experiences. Don’t get me wrong, though: I have come across a few slightly meatier efforts. Of those, The Unseen stands out as well worth a mention, if only because I’d love to see it take on a life beyond LD26. Doubtless, it’s got some oily, hair-strewn warts on its style-savvy skin, but the core idea is brilliant on a number of levels. See, you’re dead. And how’d you die? Well, while searching for your body, you’re almost certainly going to find out. Agonizing step by agonizing step.
The Unseen begins with an entirely blank slice of world. If you don’t want to spoil the surprise, stop reading here and just go play it. If, on the other hand, you’re OK with that, then proceed.
A battlefield, frozen in a bleeding grimace of perfect suffering. Slowly but surely, you’re able to reveal different portions of the gruesome scene using two powers: pulse and explosion. Pulse is just a quick echo, while explosion permanently illuminates a few nearby chunks of carnage.
These are hugely important because they’re your only lifelines. If you stumble into any other humanoid entity – visible or invisible, alive and kicking or impaled and choking out life – you immediately keel over. Yes, you even leave behind a body. By the time I finished, I’m pretty sure I was a ghost of a ghost of a ghost of a ghost of a ghost of a ghost of a ghost of a ghost of a ghost of a ghost of a ghost of some guy.
So Unseen’s about methodically plotting a path forward while carefully managing resources, lest you run out before you can move far enough ahead to collect more power-recharging orbs. Death itself isn’t a huge setback (it merely places you back at the starting line, with all revealed areas still fully visible), but it’s definitely possible to waste so many orbs that finding your body becomes impossible.
The end result is a tense, intriguing mixture of survival, resource management, and environmental storytelling. Problem is, it was developed in 48 hours, and it shows. Collision detection is often imprecise and frustrating, alternating between being far too forgiving and merciless to the point of being clearly broken. Also, pulses are so weak and fleeting that they really need to be much, much more plentiful. While playing, I felt like mixing pulses and explosions should’ve been the optimal way to go, but instead I ended up almost entirely reliant on explosions. As a result, I ran out just before I entered probable “find my body” territory. That was pretty upsetting.
As is, The Unseen needs work, but it’s quite the spectacle. There’s a lot of potential buried beneath the blemishes, too – especially where storytelling and more complex puzzle-solving are concerned. Here’s hoping creator Lamprabbit sticks with it. It might not be as minimal as some, but it’s certainly an original idea.