One of the most intriguing games to appear at this year's GDC was unquestionably Perspective. While certainly robbed at the IGF Awards, it received much positive attention, and deservedly so. A fresh approach to perspective-arranging platforming, blurring 3D and 2D gaming in a way that you'll not believe your brain will put up with, it's entirely free to get hold of. Here's wot I think:
When I first saw Perspective, my eyes rolled. They were wrong to, but they did it. They've been punished since. But in the world of indie platform gaming, the gimmick rules highest, and Perspective's looked too familiar. Perhaps it's a great testament to the state of indie gaming that a concept where line-of-sight creates new pathways for exploration feels over-used. However, getting my hands on Perspective - as you can too - revealed a game that was far more sophisticated and impossible-seeming than I'd imagined. In fact, I'm pretty sure it's powered by witchcraft.
Watch as I attempt to describe it with words: You character is a 2D sprite, who exists on a 2D plane. However, the world he's in is 3D, explorable by you from a first-person camera. You can walk the corridors of what is essentially a peculiarly labyrinthine arcade, freely of the 2D sprite. The magic occurs when you hit the left mouse button, your perspective freezes, and 2D chappy then moves about based on a flattened interpretation of whatever you were looking at. The 3D world is filled with blue and orange blocks, shelves and walls. Your 2D friend can only touch blue, and dies if he touches orange. So you have to create pathways for him to move from one arcade cabinet to the next, or indeed within the levels contained in the cabinets to reach their goals.
And it's not that simple, either. Because 2D fellow gets frozen in place when you're in 3D, it can mean moving the camera means he's floating above nothingness until you engineer a block to be beneath him. Switch modes again and he's now standing on said block. Or perhaps there's an evil orange pillar blocking his way? Move around until the scenery obscures that orange from view, but leaves blue either side, and he'll be able to jump past it unharmed. In the end, you've got a sort of single-player co-op game, between two dimensionally divided chums.
So we have a brilliant concept. How about the delivery? Surely something so complicated can't be usefully limited? Seems it can. The levels of Perspective, while certainly not overly difficult once you've figured out the tricks, are fantastically well realised. And indeed it's figuring out those tricks that provides the genuinely magnificent moments. Seeing your sprite at one end of a long corridor, with impassable orange walls down the entire length, seems impossible. Until you realise you can jump upward from the top of the blue wall you're on, into the blank space of the ceiling, then freeze, rotate the view so you're facing the other end of the corridor with your chum high above your head, let him fall a screen-length, freeze, lower the view so the blue at the far end of the corridor is beneath him, then unfreeze once more. He's down the other end now.
I think what becomes most remarkable about it all is how it stops feeling remarkable. Yes, of course I'm lining up distant walls to match near ones, to let my character run along them both as if they're the same flat surface, only to then run to that distant wall in a different corridor where he now stands. Sure, that's just how things are. It becomes intuitive, despite being so outlandishly impossible and unreal.
And it keeps delivering new tricks. As you play you'll likely have noticed that when you run toward or away from a surface the sprite (I wish they'd given him a name - I'm going to call him Charles), he stays the same size. This means getting very close to him means he'll essentially shrink in comparison to the scenery around him, and of course appear giant the further you move away. Again, that's a necessary device for moving young Charles about.
It's also far bigger than I was expecting, and starts to develop its own implied story. Later levels feature many new tricks, none of which I'll discuss since it was a pleasure to find them for myself. And it's fair to say that later on it gets an awful lot more difficult. The sort of difficult where you think, "Right, I need to stop playing for a bit, let my brain reset." That's a good sort of difficult.
It's never the prettiest game - you'll have no trouble believing this is an expanded version of a DigiPen final project, finished in the team's spare time. Just some anti-aliasing would have made a world of difference. A complete rebuild in a fancier engine wouldn't be a bad thing, either. Perhaps for a commercial release. But the sheer brilliance of the concept here is enough to avoid any real worries about presentation. In fact, it's hard to imagine a better choice for Valve to snap up for their concept for a Portal 3, really. It lost the Technical Excellence award at this year's IGFs to, insanely, the technical nothingness of Little Inferno. A very... weird situation. However, it went on to win enormous approval from an enthused audience at the Experimental Gameplay Workshop, which features the rather splendid oddity of people applauding excellent mechanics. It received much applause. You'll likely applaud it too.
It's entirely free, which means there's absolutely no reason whatsoever not to check it out. It makes your brain work in a whole new way.