Hands On: Miegakure

By Jim Rossignol on March 18th, 2014 at 7:00 pm.

That's a 4D watermark.

Miegakure is a 4-dimensional puzzle game. What this means is that I am going to struggle to convey exactly what playing it entails. That’s not to say that the game’s designer, Marc Ten Bosch, has made something alienating or overly intellectual. It’s a warm, funny, deeply intelligent game, which I was pleased to have the opportunity play on the periphery of this year’s GDC.

I think it could be very important indeed.

When I asked Bosch whether players would struggle to understand his game, he replied that you didn’t have to understand gravity to know that if you throw a ball, it would go down. And he’s right. There are levels of understanding, and comprehending how this game shifts between dimensions is less important than simply grasping that it does so, and that you need to play with that to proceed. Despite this game being based on Bosch’s own interest in adding a fourth dimension to classical game design, and taking the formidable literature of 4D thought as the basis for his programming and design, this is a game that is immediate and approachable. Flipping through dimensions is remarkably intuitive- you control a character through a Japanese zen-garden vs temple sort of space, and familiar jumping and running about controls make themselves known immediately – and from there I shifted dimensions, messing about with this strange toy until I quickly understood most of the problems that I faced.

These are problems such as someone being on the other side of the wall from you. To get to them you need to shift dimensions, step into the fourth dimension, move to their location in this new realm – where the wall is absent – and then shift back again. Those basic principles begin to escalate as more elements are added. Having to move a block with you between dimensions, shifting it through bands in the overlap phase between worlds, and then pushing into place in your target dimension, initially seems like standard puzzle-game fare folded into Bosch’s neat dimension sliding. But when I found myself with three overlapping dimensions alongside the ‘real’ world in which I was attempting to make progress, I began to gasp at the possibilities.

Bosch explains it like so:

Think about a two-dimensional character living on a horizontal, flat two-dimensional plane. To this character, height would be a foreign concept. A number of actions we three-dimensional beings take for granted feel like absolute magic to this two-dimensional character…

But us 3D beings can see the object from above, and also simply lift it off the ground to move it outside, essentially teleporting it. Now by analogy a four-dimensional being could perform many similar miracles to us living in only three-dimensions. This game allows you to perform these “miracles.”

So yes, Miegakure does have the potential to become overly difficult through mind-bending situations, but my suspicion is that Bosch will know when enough is enough, and will craft this with enough care to avoid frustration. It has a wry attitude, and when it playfully skips to a 2D version of itself, you can tell that there’s going to be room within its four dimensions for gentle joking at its own expense.

And Bosch is taking his time to construct and craft this game quite carefully indeed. He reports that he’s perhaps a year away from releasing the game, and that the great part of his time, and the challenge he has recently surmounted, was the tools (and the mathematics) required to allow him to construct puzzles along these lines. Now, then, he has to really get stuck into the task of making a puzzle game based on the principles he has so far soundly demonstrated. Playing Miegakure made me realise that I’ll eventually have to return to this game and its developer to see what was actually the main challenge of development: the programming skill and mathematical comprehension required to make a 4D game, or the game design genius needed to actually apply these ideas in a form that will provide players with increasingly intricate and interesting puzzles. Bosch reports that he playtests constantly, and watches player reactions, which is certainly going to help him craft this strange little game of impossibly overlapping boxes.

As for my own time with the game, I found myself with a familiar feeling, which was the excitement of having had an early brush with something genuinely inspired. Bosch’s idea started, he says, as a joke, but we all know that jokes are often only funny because they hint at something serious. What is serious here is the matter of coming up with a concept that is new. While I doubt this game will have as much general genre impact as Portal, I had the same sort of response to playing it for the first time: Miegakure’s dimension shifting is a brilliant conceptual flourish that, like Fez before it, snags the imagination to drag us down a rabbit hole of problem solving. I can’t wait to see where it goes next.

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30 Comments »

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  1. luukdeman111 says:

    Wow…
    I’ve been walking around with this exact idea for like… a long time, waiting for someone to finally make it.
    I know dimension shifting games are actually pretty common but none of them do it in the way I had in my head. This seems to be exactly what I mean eventhough it’s kinda hard to tell without any moving footage.

    Especially the example of the 2 dimensional character experiencing 3D space is exactly what I use when I try to explain it to other people…

    I’m suddenly incredibly excited now….

    • SillyWizard says:

      Yeah…it seems like this would have been a good place to stick some footage of the game….

    • Samwise Gamgee says:

      I’m pretty sure this guy has been taking inspiration from Carl Sagan as he describes it in precisely the same way:

  2. Premium User Badge

    Philopoemen says:

    Interesting, but *how* is it 4-dimensional? I’m assuming the fourth dimension is time, and while I studied quantumn mechanics at uni, that was a long time ago, and pretty sure I failed that class.

    It’s doing my head in trying to figure out how he’ll being able to show the four dimensions, let along play it.

    • Premium User Badge

      AngelTear says:

      It’s implied that it’s the 4th spacial dimension, you’re technically right to say that time is the 4th dimension, but then when you watch films in 3d you should say that you’re watching them in 4d, because time.

      The 4th dimension is that sort of parallel world mechanic.

      • luukdeman111 says:

        I absolutely HATE it when theme park movies advertise themselfs 4D when they refer to the added water and vibration effect thingy’s in the chairs… It kinda brings an unreasonable anger into me… Not really sure why…

        This isn’t really related to your comment necessarily but you reminded me of it

    • Premium User Badge

      The Sombrero Kid says:

      It basically works like Fez but where Fez could alternate between viewing the xy or zy axis’s this lets you see the xyz or wyz axis’s.

    • RealoFoxtrot says:

      Time can be described as a 4th dimension. However, it’s more akin to the idea that a film-strip is a 3 dimensional image.

      Described in another way, the definition of time is the perception of moving objects (even still objects are moving cosmically)

      So. What is the 4th Dimension?

      Described in 3 dimensional terminology:
      The first dimension is a line.
      The second dimension is a square.
      The third dimension is a cube.
      The fourth dimension is a line of cubes.
      The fifth dimension is a square of cubes.
      the sixth dimension is a cube of cubes, and so on.

      How does this game work? it has cube-based levels, when the player wants to move between dimensions, she swaps out into a view that shows multiple dimensions. After walking to the dimension they want, they can revert from that view and go into the new dimension cube

    • His Divine Shadow says:

      it looks like it would be more appropriate to describe it as 3.5-dimensional, since you can only make discrete jumps into several predetermined ‘coordinates’ in the 4th dimension. similarly, a platformer is only a 1.5d game (as you only move continuously along a line, and vertical changes are limited to discrete ‘levels’ which you can switch between by jumping), a shmup/isometric rpg is a 2d game, an fps is typically 2.5d (you still mostly move over a plane/surface and switch between different surfaces by jumping), and only space sims (like descent/star citizen) are full 3d.

      • PoLLeNSKi says:

        Sorry, but I disagree…

        Although movement is limited to multiple discrete planes in (some) FPS, others feature jetpacks or more esoteric flight forms and yet others permit underwater combat with no fixed planes of movement.

        Couple that with the infinite(ish) range of angles that you might be required to aim at when you have enemies above or below you and you most defintiely are playing in 3D, even in the ones where your movement IS limited to 2.5D

        Space and flight sims do have 6 degrees of movement in allowing pitch/yaw/roll as well as xyz directional movement, but that doesnt gain them an additional (half) dimension to do so in.

        • His Divine Shadow says:

          with jetpacks/underwater it does go full 3d, yes, that’s why i said ‘typically’. i don’t think aiming should be *added* to the overall dimentionality of the game. it might be considered separately. in shooters it’s *typically* 1.5d, and sometimes goes full 2d (in polar coordinates). the idea of this ‘dimensional metric’ is to judge the level of spatial reasoning required to play the game.

        • His Divine Shadow says:

          ..to clarify, 0.5 is supposed to mean that the dimension is used only partially, possibly at discrete points only, as opposed to being fully continuous

          • PoLLeNSKi says:

            A line from a plane describes a 3D vector. Add a length to that vector and you have a 3D coordinate. Aiming is in 3D, it’s 3D.

            Trying to disregard aiming in a F.P.Shooter is a bit disingenuous.

            EDIT: I do completely understand the point that movement is practically limited to 2.5D with the flying/swimming exceptions but they’re still 3D games in other facets :)

          • His Divine Shadow says:

            nah, aiming is definitely 2d, since you don’t care about distance, you just pick a point on a spherical 2d map. and while we are at it, that only refers to mouse aiming, or course; aiming with a so called “controller” is trying to use 1d input to do a 2d task, which is why it’s a woefully inadequate device for the task.

    • Fast_Pepe says:

      It is four spatial dimensions, but you are seeing it in 3d “slices” you can’t actually perceive 4d. Information exists in this game on a fourth dimension but you only are able to access it one 3d slice at a time. It’s just like in flatland where Carl Saganshows how the flat square only sees slices of an apple at any moment in time. Here’s another link that may help you understand, 4th dimension explained

  3. kwyjibo says:

    Miegakure was nominated for the IGF’s Excellence in Design Award, losing out to Monaco. In 2010.

    • Josh W says:

      Man, what has happened in those 4 years!

      OK, daft uk government, loads of worldwide revolutionary politics, various tsunamis, the indie bundle stuff, kickstarter (leading to the resurrection of adventure games, turn based strategy/rpgs and space sims), dark souls, minecraft, the roguelike explosion, dishonoured, human revolution, “walk and listen games” from amnesia through to the stanley parable, and loads of other stuff.

      That seems more reasonable actually!

  4. Keyrock says:

    I’m still waiting for the String Theory-based 11D game.

    • Sir Buildbot Winslave says:

      You’re already playing it, mate :)

    • TheAdventMaster says:

      26 dimensions. That’s because 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + … = -1/12 mathematically. Dimensions other than 26 would make Bosonic String Theory inconsistent with itself.

      Unless you’re talking about superstring theory. That has 10 dimensions.

  5. Cockie says:

    If you’re interested in seeing some gameplay, take a look at this:
    http://kotaku.com/5901016/forget-3d-im-ready-to-play-this-4d-video-game

  6. kyrieee says:

    Nice to know that this project isn’t dead.

  7. KillahMate says:

    I’ve been waiting years for Miegakure – ever since the reveal it was obvious it was going to be special.

  8. alms says:

    I’ve been waiting for this game for years now and this:

    “He reports that he’s perhaps a year away from releasing the game”

    killed on me the spot. This is actually undead alms posting.