Quantum Conundrum is confounding. Played in first person, the game casts you as a kid dropped off on the doorstep of your uncle, Professor Fitz Quadwrangle. Of course, something has gone horribly wrong, and you must use your uncle's inter-dimensional shift device to bend reality and best his puzzles. Developed in partnership with Square Enix and Airtight Games (Dark Void), Quantum Conundrum is being led by creative director Kim Swift, the co-creator of the original Portal. At Microsoft's pre-GDC Spring Showcase, we got the chance to go hands-on with this puzzler coming to Xbox Live, the PlayStation Network, and PCs this summer.
It was revealed that the section we played during the event will actually be what is released as the game's demo later this year. The crux of the game is to apply different dimensions to an environment and manipulate objects. The first dimension we were introduced to was the fluffy dimension. This dimension made objects lighter so we could pick them up and move them around. In practice, this allowed us to solve such simple puzzles as placing a box on a large button or throwing a box through a window by switching back to the normal dimension midflight.
The next dimension was, as Marty McFly would say, "heavy." The heavy dimension added weight and durability to objects. For our boxes, this meant they were now impervious to deadly lasers. Did we mention there are deadly lasers? Your uncle is kind of a jerk. In one puzzle, we were presented with four stacks of boxes that were each four boxes high. A laser would track from left to right and top to bottom until they were all destroyed. By carefully timing the activation of the heavy dimension, we could use the laser to create a stairway from the stacks of boxes. Coincidentally, this puzzle was titled Stairway to Fluffy.
The final act of the demo introduced the slow-motion dimension, which we could not directly control. Instead, the dimension would activate and deactivate at set intervals. This meant we had a new type of puzzle to solve: platforming. By carefully timing our jumps, we could ride a loveseat as it was being fired down a long hallway toward deadly lasers. Of course, before it hit the lasers, we would jump off and onto another loveseat or ledge. This highlight reel of puzzles isn't how the full game plays out. Instead, you will have a hub area that branches off in three paths, with each path exploring the three dimensions seen here (and a few others as well).
Thankfully, you're not on your own to solve these puzzles. Your uncle will chime in every so often and set up the next challenge. With his narration, the emphasis on cube-and-button-based testing, and the game's slick design, it's easy to see Quantum Conundrum's Portal-based heritage. When asked, Swift said the hardest thing to teach players is "not to overthink a problem." Part of Portal's genius had to do with its presentation of seemingly complex challenges with simple solutions, which, in turn, made you feel like a genius. It's still too early to say whether or not Quantum Conundrum will match Portal's brilliance, but it's certainly off to a strong start.