Our next stop on the road that is one-man team developers in the indie world leads us next to the Playstation Arcade Showcase, exhibiting games new and old this year slated to debut their way on PS4 2016 as downloadable titles. One new such title is Manifold Garden, previously named Relativity, a 3-D puzzle platformer built by a singular developer William Chyr over the course of 5 years and after being backed by Indie Fund, is set to debut across multiple platforms sometime in 2016. Originally, a proof-of-concept test for learning the Unity3D engine, William Chyr continued development on the game design after initial positive feedback back in 2012 until last year where the name was recently changed from Relativity to Manifold Garden.
Watching gameplay of Manifold Garden, you immediately think of M.C. Escher and his numerous illusionary illustrations being brought to digital life within the game's environment as you manipulate gravity to rotate the sprawling minimalistic buildscapes that seem to stretch off to infinity. When I mentioned the strong connection to Escher's drawings, Chyr ended up smiling, citing Escher as a huge influence and always happy when people see the artists's work in his game.
It is one of the few games that hits upon what it wants from its visual design so cleanly that you could run gameplay as a screensaver or a visual art presentation and not know the difference; the mix of near wireframe bare bones architecture with smoothed cross-processed gradients of red, green and orange sets a new bar on the concept of limited palette design schemes. Its been done before but not as elegantly nor as efficiently, especially within such a huge range of motion given to the player to use. Evidenced below is a developer-made timelapse throughout the building process showcasing the pure trial and error the visual theme was subjected to over the course of years before coming to life in its current iteration.
The puzzle mechanics themselves rely on your ability to rotate the environment around as you explore the multiple floors, stairs and other twisting levels of buildings and spires, crossing the many bizarre constructs you come across. Mashing together elements of Portal, The Witness and gravity platforming creates these seemingly never-ending rooms that impact a constant state of vertigo and weightlessness. Every time you exit one room and walk along these outer sections, you become a tiny speck awash this endless sea of juxtaposed towers and nonsensical constructs. One of the most interesting byproducts of the puzzle design is the strong sense of constant motion while solving puzzles. Exploring the world takes on a unconsciousness effort as your find yourself quickly solving smaller sets of puzzles strung together rather than the larger puzzle squares or worlds Portal would normally have. Creating a driving movement that allows this Escher worldscape to unfold continuously before you like a manually driven roller coaster.
Despite its endless nature, even the developer confirmed that there is an ending, though to what extent or any details he remained quiet on. Manifold Garden is definitely a game first and story second, so I wouldn't force yourself through the numerous puzzles in the hopes of a story carrying your interest if its not already there.
Even within its puzzle-heavy mindset, the well-polished design mixed with a vibrant and memorable color scheme create constant moments of pause where you just find yourself reflecting on a particular composition or landscape. The seamless sense of constant puzzle motion is a rare and refreshing take on the puzzle/platforming mentality and I would love to see the design choice taken into other 3-D games.
Manifold Garden is slated for download for PS4, Mac, PC and Linux in 2016 and to find out more information about the game and its creator, you can head to the main website here
A twitter for day to day progress can be found here
All screenshots are copyright of the game's creator unless otherwise stated.