Manifold Garden: Game Critique and 4K PC Screenshot Photography

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.)

// how to play big science