RND/ To consider William Chyr’s architectural puzzle game Manifold Garden: a general critique.
0. Manifold Garden works best as an ambient mood generator. At no point in the ‘mood trailer’ are Puzzles even mentioned. This is telling:
Some 4K screenshots (PC version):
Some notes arising:
1. Aesthetically, M.G is pleasing – plain, straightforward and exacting. But the unique appeal of its spectacular pastel landscape fades away too quickly. Developer William Chyr states the game is a first person puzzle exploration game with unusual physics, impossible geometry and ‘crazy architecture’.
There seems little particularly ‘crazy’ about M.G’s architecture. Indeed consider arguing it has no architecture as such, but rather merely repeated geometrical structures within a tightly bounded logic space. In comparison, NaissanceE by Mavros Sedeño more truly expresses architecture. While certainly architectural, M.G lacks the strong sense of place felt in NaissanceE. There’s just no there, there.
The trees don’t feel like trees, the birds do not fly as if around futuristic ruins of some vast abandoned megacity. It’s coldness and abstraction are M.G’s only strengths, and loose talk concerning attempts to place it within the context of ‘traditional’ videogame architecture are highly problematic. M.G seems more of a conceptual space outside of space, than a place. If only this particular aspect of its existence had been developed and emphasized.
2. M.G’s comparisons with, and contextual placements within M.C. Escher’s visionary universe seem to miss the point. Consider that the ‘physics’ of Escher’s classic lithograph print “Relativity” from 1953; while certainly unique, they are not in fact the main philosophical interest. Rather, it’s the radical changes of psychological perspective of the beings who live there, who must be able to process such shifts instantly.
They seem to live in such a world in harmony, without confusion. While M.G succeeds at the job of forcing players to continually (literally) re-orient themselves within the game space in order to progress, it says very little about why precisely they should bother. Progress from one puzzle to the next is lifeless grind with fake rewards.
3. Why does (/such) gameplay even exist? Why does anyone have to ‘solve puzzles’? Why this pathological obsession with logic based rules regarding interactivity? Why do videogames have to be intractable? Indeed who really gives a flying shit about Puzzles when such a rich and potentially strange space ‘exists’? The question of why such a space as M.G would even feature goddam puzzles as core part of its existence is in no way answered. The enforced-fun ideology of ‘Because Videogames’ isn’t good enough, and hasn’t been for a while.
4. A possible key story context for M.G:
You are a freelance theoretical mathematician, working late one night on a strange new theory of conceptual space. Falling asleep at your desk, you dream of a ‘manifold garden’ of unearthly physics based delight and impossible architectural fantasy.
5. As it turned out, Manifold Garden precisely needed no less than a minimum of seven whole years of developmental struggle. Yet, if only The Real Game was the actual development cycle itself – rather than the dubious end goal of another extremely polished, ‘AAA-Indie’ title. Dubious that is, because it’s based on seven years of crunch, rather than seven years of active, dynamic evolving play. In this new paradigm, “Gamedev” should be the always live, realtime game and not merely the (bone-achingly slow) means by which to churn out another highly artistic digital product, cynically used to sell an exclusive gaming platform owned by war mongering hyper-capitalist billionaire assholes.
6. Rather, consider if Manifold Garden were a set of advanced research and developmental tools for playfully generating (and actually exploring) such delightfully odd spaces. Mere dumb puzzles alone can’t sustain M.G, no matter now cleverly designed – especially when the most interesting thing about it is the ability to simply drop off a ledge and fall, fall without a care. What about a landscape that endlessly changes over time as one soars through the airless digital air? Imagine this game mixed with fractals and Gravity Rush.s
7. A game breaking bug preventing saves stopped one from continuing. I found I wasn’t sad enough to leave. The game also needs VR support and (/better?) Rim Lighting to more clearly identify and differentiate edges (added artificially in screenshots seen above.) There are too few strong emotions on display in the Manifold Garden. It’s initial beauty soon turns out to be cold and emotionally alienating – a little too much like Jonathan Blow’s soulless game The Witness.
8. Puzzles are dead. Balls to puzzles – what are you, the fucking Riddler? ([..] ‘exhibits personality disorders consistent with a fanatic narcissist, egocentrism, and megalomania crossed with severe obsessive compulsion’ – Wikipedia.)
RND/ To consider a Control game / story design assessment.
Via Visiting Resident Bureau Theorist Robert What.
Some 4K Virtual Photography:
Subjective philosophical note fragments arising after recent virtual engagement with Control simulation. Forward to Director Trench eyes only (Astral Plane.)
00: To consider Control as violently mediocre and terminally overrated by easily impressed agents and-or parties acting within this agency. Suggest they ‘run a check’ to see if critical cognitive functioning is at optimal. (Good example: the laughably shill-like, pseudo-philosophical ‘Concrete & Control’ video by Inside Gaming.)
01: In which the real Control game is only ever vaguely symbolically hidden within the drab simulation we got.
02: The voice of Agent Jesse Faden is so stunningly awful, so amazingly bland, it’s a wonder she isn’t shot on sight by other bureau staff for acting so badly – like some Hisser, badly pretending to be remotely human. Janitor Ahti’s broom has more of a believable backstory and personality. Indeed, every time one sees a (pointless) closeup of her dead-eyed mug asking dumb questions to itself, one feels an overwhelming urge to slap it blind with the dirty wet business end of said broom:
03: There is next to zero deep interrogation of the themes Control purports to examine – only by accident and by oblique implication are the notions and idea spaces of (say) Cosmic Horror and Brutalist Architecture remotely engaged with.
04: The Bureau itself is one of the more interesting aspects of the game and feels criminally under represented.
05: Other than Janitor Ahti, former Director Zachariah Trench is the most interesting character and has the best voice acting. His removal so early in the game was a big mistake. (Right from the outset, Agents / Players know about and care less than nothing for Jesse, and her instant promotion at the very beginning is arbitrary and without emotional impact.)
3840 x 3840 .jpg – Ideal / Idealized Cost for such Conceptual Work: £160K – contact Robert What for details:
06: While often mildly entertaining, the video based appearances of former Head Of Research Casper Darling do little to actively improve the game, since they feel distinctly incongruous with Controls’ overall aesthetic. Recommend immediate suspension of all live action video in video games.
07: Control would work best as a whole speculative ‘theory-fiction’ space, the video game being only one key aspect of the internet-diffused narrative mega-structure. Instead, there’s very little to go on after a couple of hours playing and one feels highly bored of the whole thing.
08: Rather than a shitty cut-scene, the ‘claiming of spaces’ back from their Hiss state should have been rendered in real-time. In fact the bizarre physical mutation of the structure of The Oldest House should have been rendered in real time as part of the gameplay – like a form of ‘control point capture’.
09: Narrative elements such as contexual lore and back story feel cynically and lazily shoe-horned in. Few want to read a heavily redacted screenshot of a text file nowadays. Why aren’t such elements presented dynamically in-world, live, fully integrated into the game itself, rather than a mere dumb ‘overlay’? The same goes for audiotapes. Nobody listens to them.
10: Once players are exposed to the Hiss for the first time, their subsequent and repetitive reappearance is nothing but mindless grind and a useless obstacle to free movement throughout the Bureau.
11: OK, it’s ‘supposed’ to be a confusing, maze-like labyrinth, but holy Hissing Jebus the map given to agents must be the most useless ever designed. One is better off getting a notion of where North is by the flicking lights seen in a nearby toilet.
12: The game’s often just too fucking dark, and the ray tracing option frankly boring, smeary and grainy. Also without a 2080ti, 16megs and a quick SSD minimum, the fame rate chugs during intense action.
13: One eventually logged off in boredom (waiting for a spore vaccine jab from the good Doctor), feeling unable to continue due to the painfully slow and frustrating speed of traversal and exploration. There simply wasn’t enough emotional engagement or genuine intellectual interest on display to keep one playing and engaged; all the available (/implied) elements of Control never quote gelled to the point one was totally aware of a unified story space being successfully presented. Indeed one felt ‘Control’ should have been simply named ‘Tedium’. (Just check out how bored the last guy looked):