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Shadowplay: Somnia

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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Jim Rossignol

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