[In the latest Road to the IGF interview with 2010 IGF finalists, Gamasutra speaks with Miegakure's Marc Ten Bosch, who explains how a novella inspired his game dealing with the "magic" of the fourth dimension.
Marc ten Bosch's Excellence in Design finalist Miegakure
is a dimension-bending brain teaser dressed in Zen -- just looking at it prompts pondering the creator's unusual thought process.
Here, ten Bosch explains Miegakure
's aims, influences and inspirations, from dimensional fiction to Japanese gardening.
What is your background in making games?
I went to DigiPen for undergrad, where one of my game projects (Orblitz
) was at nominated at the IGF Student Showcase 2006. Then I went to Brown University for grad school. I also spent a very brief time at Electronic Arts.
What development tools did you use?
The game runs on a custom engine based on SDL/OpenGL. The game is written in C++ and my IDE is Visual Studio. The levels are scripted in Lua.
How long did you work on the game?
There was a one-year gap between my first prototypes and the prototype that turned into the actual game. I had to absorb the concepts before I started making any progress. The prototype that I presented at the Experimental Gameplay Workshop at GDC in 2009 took about a month to make. Since then, I have been working on the game for about 6 months.
Where did you get the "4th dimension" concept Miegakure uses?
As a programmer, I knew that position in a game does not have to be limited to three coordinates, and collision detection often isn't much harder to program in higher dimensions. I started prototyping game ideas, but only really made progress once I read Flatland by Edwin A. Abbott
It's a famous 1884 novella that explains higher dimensions by analogy to the perspective of a two-dimensional character living in a two-dimensional flat plane (a piece of paper, for example). A number of actions we three-dimensional beings take for granted feel like absolute magic to this two-dimensional character.
For example, if there is a circular wall around an object in 2D, it is essentially closed-off, since to reach it one would have to leave the 2D plane. It is also impossible for an outsider to know what is inside.
But us 3D beings can see the object from above, and also simply lift it off the ground to move it outside, essentially teleporting it. Now by analogy a four-dimensional being could perform many similar miracles to us living in only three-dimensions. My goal was then to make a game that would allow you to perform these "miracles".
How'd you develop some of the brain-teasing aspects? I'd imagine you had to play around with some real-world puzzle objects...
The concept of a fourth dimension is naturally brain-teasing; it's just a matter of exposing it in interesting ways. I want to make each level show off some interesting aspect, rather than increasing its difficulty for arbitrary reasons like increasing the number of steps required to solve it.
It goes back to the miracles I talked about in the previous question. There's one level where you walk through a wall, one level where you infiltrate a closed off building, one level where you steal an object out of a closed box, etc... For the player to do all these things, they need to understand the rules of the world a bit more each time, and that's where the challenge comes from.
Who's the little guy in the game?
I can't reveal much about him yet. He's a superhero of sorts, having somehow acquired the ability to move and see into the fourth dimension.
What does "Miegakure" mean, incidentally?
Miegakure literally means "hidden from sight." It is a general Japanese aesthetics term, but it often refers to a traditional landscaping technique that emphasizes the effect of only partial exposure of garden elements.
During a walk along a garden path, a tree or hill might obscure the view, letting the invisible part be imagined. Getting only glimpses of the whole garden creates an illusion of vastness and impression that there are hidden beauties beyond. The title reflects the fact that the player can only see along three out of four dimensions at a time, leaving most of the world perpetually out of view.
In fact, modern scientific theories such as string theory predict that our world may actually exist in four or more spacial dimensions, but its high-dimensional beauties are hidden from us.
If you could start the project over again, what would you do differently?
Nothing major. Things have been going pretty smoothly so far.
Were there any elements that you experimented with that just flat out didn't work with your vision?
There were tons. A fundamental aspect seems to be that fast-paced elements don't work well in the game. I speculate that's because you can only see a cross-section of the world at any given time, and therefore it takes a few moments to observe and understand each change.
So, in general, the game should give the player plenty of time to think, which makes the fourth dimension mechanic better-suited to a puzzle game that an action game.
Have you played any of the other IGF finalists? Any games you particularly enjoyed?
No, I can't say that I have.
What do you think of the current state of the indie scene?
I wish mainstream game companies would be more innovative, but realistically that's not going to happen. So I'm glad to see the indie scene filling that gap. But let's not forget that the indie scene is producing as much crap as the mainstream; it's just in the form of 2D platformers instead of 3D first-person shooters.
[Previous 'Road To The IGF' interview subjects have included Enviro-Bear 2000 developer Justin Smith, Rocketbirds: Revolution's co-creators Sian Yue Tan and Teck Lee Tan, Vessel co-creator John Krajewski, Trauma creator Krystian Majewski, Super Meat Boy co-creators Edmund McMillen and Tommy Refenes, Sidhe's Mario Wynands, who worked on Shatter, Daniel Benmergui, creator of Today I Die, Klei Entertainment's Jamie Cheng, executive producer on Shank, and Star Guard creator Loren Schmidt.]