Thursday, December 15, 2011

Voiding Expectations

This Half-Life 2 mod, Void, is something truly unique and remarkable. Developed by students of the Digipen Institute of Technology, Singapore, and receiving awards and recognition at the Chinese Independent Games Festival, it's something that I've seen before in other games (most notably Singularity), but it's never been as good as this.

Void is a first-person puzzler that has you navigating through a crumbling, dilapidated building with the aid of time-altering bubbles (called "rips") that change the space within the bubble back to the way it was in the past. In the game's current state, your goal is just to get to the exit of each level (much like Portal), but with an optional side quest to collect a total of six paintings to unlock something special at the end. Also in your handy toolset is a pair of glasses that let you see into the other dimension (how things look in the past, if you were to cast a rip).

This is a game that shows a tremendous amount of potential, the kind of thing that could easily develop into its own full-length game to rival even the likes of Portal, and is fun enough even as it is now. It's definitely worth checking out. More of my opinions after the jump.

As a puzzle game, Void is a fine accomplishment that demonstrates a good understand of level design. The tutorial process is a little hackneyed (you read books and they show you exactly how the game works via pictures and descriptive text), which I'm not a big fan of because it breaks the immersion slightly, but the pacing with which everything develops is solid.

The puzzles are initially a matter of stuff blocking your path down a hallway, and so you cast a rip to clear it out and walk through it. The game progressively shows you how you can use the rips to interact with the environment in different situations, and before you know it you're in a big room that's completely different between the two temporal states.

In the past, the floors, stairs, and platforms are all intact, and bookshelves, ledges, and railings are scattered about to block your path, and in the present time, the floors and stairs have crumbled and the roof has collapsed huge chunks of wood and cinderblock into your paths. The two "rooms" exist simultaneously with you able to wear the glasses and see the past in real-time, and it becomes a complex issue of contrasting the two states of the room and figuring out what you have to do and in what order.

The challenge is not overly difficult, but it satisfies a deep craving in my brain for curiosity and exploration. Walking into a room, it's fun to put on the glasses and see how things have changed over time--it's visually and mentally stimulating. And so, when you walk into a room the camera pans through the level and shows you the exit that you're trying to reach, and I feel that inner desire to get there---not just because the game's telling me to, but because of the satisfaction I get from overcoming a challenge. And that satisfaction in Void is absolutely worth it.

There are other aspects to the puzzles that I won't spoil, because it's really more interesting to figure things out for yourself (the reward of solving them is lost if I mention them), but trust me when I say that the game becomes surprisingly deep and offers some solid, original gameplay.

Void will only take you about 30 minutes to play through, but it's a very refreshing 30 minutes. This is a game that sparks a creative interest that you just don't find in mainstream games, and that lone makes it a worthwhile experience.

Also, I want to direct a statement to Raven Software, who made Singularity. Your time-manipulation device was a stupid gimmick and it sucked. I complained about it before, saying that all you did was press a button to trigger some kind of scripted sequence while the world rebuilds itself or collapses itself. In practice, it's the exact same mechanics as pressing a button on a control panel or something. If for some reason you ever want to make a Singularity 2, I'd suggest you hire the folks behind Void to make your TMD into a device that's actually a fun, interesting tool.

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