the artistry and psychology of gaming




Welcome to Gaming on the House; don’t look down and and mind your step! Each week, we’ll be climbing the rooftops of the gaming industry to seek out great experiences that everyone can track down and play, and the best part is they’ll all be free! That’s right; FREE! Gratis. Comp’d. Unbound. Unrestricted. Zero-down. On the House!… we talk about free games here, is my point.

Many may be surprised at how many fantastic games are really out there that everyone can legally enjoy with no monetary commitment. Taking together all the flash and browser games, freeware downloads from the independent scene, speed programming archives, free-to-play business modules, and even promotional re-releases from big name publishers, there’s a never ending supply of great games new and old waiting to be played, and it’s our goal to play them all! So, if you’re strapped for cash or just waiting around for that next big release to hit retail, why not give these games a try? After all, they’re free; what have you got to lose!

The 2011 Independent Games Festival China has wrapped up, and this week, we look at an award winning student project from Singapore with a lot of time on it’s hands.


For those who have the need to fill, you know, one of those, um, what's the word...

Genre: first-person puzzler
Link to Game:
Game Info: Developed by Minus 5 (Zoel Gan, Ravindran Mark, Tan Chee Ming, Chan Sin Huan, Leau Tat Sin, and Zou Xinru) at DigiPen Singapore in 2010 using Valve’s Source engine.

Time travel is a frequent tool in the video game world, and one that can lead to some brilliant ideas for gameplay. I’ve previously written about how time is essential in the Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask, and the concept has also been well implemented in a variety of ways; from control mechanics (Prince of Persia), to story progression (Timesplitters), to puzzle design (Braid), and now joining these time-jumping titans is Void, which brings the fun of isolated time rifts into play.

Winner of the 2011 “IGF China Best Student Game” award, as well as the “Excellence In Technology” award within the main competition, Void is a student project out of the DigiPen Institute of Technology, Singapore. In the game, you control Artaith, a being lost in a crumbling dilapidated library with only one thing on his mind: escape (I guess he’s not a book guy). Fortunately, Artaith is some sort of time wizard or something, as he is able to create temporal rifts around him that turn back the clock on a small area to how it appeared many years ago. Suddenly broken down tables can be restored, floors can be repaired, and obstructions can otherwise be bypassed.

It’s up to Artaith to traverse the library, navigating the terrain of both the past and present not just by solving puzzles along the way, but first locating where those puzzles are to begin with. The temporal rifts only last for a limited time, so the camera’s viewpoint will more often than not remain showing the present. Fortunately, Artaith also has his own “window to the past” to guide him with a broken pair of bifocals, that utilize time-corrective lenses, kinda like how Rowdy Roddy’s sunglasses could view alien propaganda in They Live.

I’ve come here to do two things, chew bubblegum, and disprove Novikov’s self-consistency principle on time paradoxes

The concept of dual world navigation has been done in many games before, and its combination with time travel and displacement is a natural fit. The way the two worlds interact with each other are well thought out and always have a level of logical sense to them. To call out one puzzle room as an example, you will come across a large plant blocking your path. Creating a rift around that area will then show the plant as a mere sapling, which you can pick up so that once the area reverts back to the present, the plant is no longer there. Planting the sapling elsewhere in the past will also cause that plant to continue to grow larger again in the present to your benefit. The past can be used to get around barriers in the present, and the present can be used to get around barriers in the past.

The game also makes use of several other mechanics that should be worth noting. First off is the ability to pick up objects. Certain objects like keys can be picked up and used, while objects like boxes can be picked up and positioned to use as stairs. Objects have their own drop physics that achieve a proper level of gravity, and incorporating them into puzzle design adds further layer to room navigation beyond toggling time periods. Objects in the past can also be pulled into the present for their use outside of their original setting.

Water also comes into play with the game’s floating mechanic which is further incorporated into the time puzzles. Places with water in the past don’t necessarily have water in the present, to which further challenges can be presented by raising and lowering water levels.

Escape from the present by circumventing the past…and bring back some art if you can.

The game packs a lot of ingenuity into a relatively short experience, however further challenges are introduced by including hidden artwork that can be found throughout the game. These paintings are often hidden, and require additional time manipulation and object moving in order to reach them, often at a difficulty level considerably higher than the core game.

With the game offering some brilliant ideas for gameplay, I am curious to see what may come of Void if the project is picked up for a bigger release. One natural assumption may be towards Valve, as the game was built in Source, and Valve has featured similar projects from DigiPen, ultimately leading to Portal and Portal 2. However, in the case of this game, Ubisoft may also become a player, as they have ties to DigiPen Singapore, and are already acknowledged in Void‘s credits. In any case, this game presents a unique well thought out idea that should be interesting to see expanded in the future.

One Comment

  1. The mechanics sound intriguing and I like the screen shots. I’ll probably check it out personally later, but I was wondering what genre its story is, if it has one? it’s not necessarily a bad thing if it doesn’t. Also, what kind of atmosphere does it have? Based on its screenshots, I could see it going a few ways based on the screen shots, many of which I like.

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