GDC '08: Echochrome Hands-On Impressions - What You See Is What You Get

We gain new perspective on this unique puzzle game.

SAN FRANCISCO--Generations of college students have decorated their dorm rooms with the mind-bending, perspective-shifting artwork of M.C. Escher, so it was only natural that a game would find inspiration from such thought-boggling lithographs. That game, Echochrome, was available to play in Sony's blogger's lounge at this year's Game Developers Conference. We eagerly sat down to see how it's coming along, and are glad to report that it is shaping up nicely and bound to twist your brain into a pretzel.

We first played through Echochrome's tutorial, which is a good thing, considering we've never played a puzzle game quite like this before. The basics are relatively simple: A humanoid figure walks a restricted path on a platform, and you must guide him across various obstacles and to specific locations marked by "echoes" by rotating the entire game board. To be successful, you must understand the five mysterious laws:

1. Perspective traveling. In other words, "What you see becomes the truth." In this case, two platforms at different heights can be meshed together by rotating the camera so that the end of one walkway lines up with the beginning of another. Using this rule, you can get your figure from one level to another, even if it looks like an impossible task when you first view the board.

2. Perspective landing. Some platforms are littered with holes that your little buddy will fall through if he crosses them. By shifting board angles, you can situate other platforms to look as though they are underneath the hole. Your figure, who would otherwise fall into oblivion, will instead land on the platform that appears to be underneath.

3. Perspective existence. If you don't see it, that means it isn't there. If there is a gap in the walkway, you can rotate the board to hide the gap from view, and your figure will cross right over as if the gap doesn't exist.

4. Perspective absence. Goodness--there's a hole in your way, and you don't want to fall through? Like with perspective existence, all you have to do as rotate the board so that something covers it up. If you don't see it, that means it isn't there!

5. Perspective jump. Just as there are holes, there are trampolines. If your figure crosses one, he will fly in whichever direction he's walking. To get to a higher level, adjust the game board so that a platform appears to be above the jump point, and he'll land there rather than being tossed into the ether.

These five mysterious rules created some mind-numbing challenges for us, and we only played the first three levels. It's worth pointing out that some obstacles have more than one solution. For example, in the first level we used perspective jump to get to a higher platform the first time we played. The next time, we used perspective traveling to connect the two platforms together. It only took us those two tries to complete that level, since it used the laws in fairly obvious ways.

The second level was a far different matter, since the solutions weren't so obvious. Using perspective absence and perspective existence, we managed to get our figure to ignore the holes and jump points on the platform, but getting him to a disconnected platform proved to be a challenge. Eventually, we were able to shift the board so that a vertical column covered two gaps at once, allowing our handsomely color-free fellow to cross to the first echo. Getting him to the upper level was also a challenge, but we were able to line up two platforms next to each other to make it look like one big platform--a little more work than it should have been. Guessing where the figure was going to head in this situation was a headache, too, because he would turn even when it seemed that the path would take him straight ahead.

The third level, which featured a two-tiered platform and two disconnected subsidiary platforms, ramped up the challenge even further, since the side platforms contained both holes and trampolines. It took us a good number of tries to figure this one out, because you only have limited time before your figure drops to his knees and fades into nothingness. It was unclear just how much time we had, actually, since there was no onscreen timer to tell us how much time we had before it was game over. Eventually, though, we were able to use perspective traveling in enough ways to gather up all the echoes.

Echochrome features a sparse black and white visual style that is both a nod to M.C. Escher's black and white drawings and a design necessity that keeps players from struggling to make ends meet--literally. While we don't yet know an exact release date, we do know that it will be available for download on the PS3 via the PlayStation Network, and on the PSP. We'll bring you more information on this thought-provoking puzzler as it becomes available.

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Kevin-V

Kevin VanOrd

GameSpot senior editor Kevin VanOrd has a cat named Ollie who refuses to play bass in Rock Band.
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33 comments
skee_uk
skee_uk

@Kensai_Akira certainly, only 2 levels really but the game is so unique its a must buy, i hope they price it at £3.49 instead of £4.99

Kensai_Akira
Kensai_Akira

A very unique game. Though the demo only has 2 levels, but it was enough to convince me that full version would have me engaged in a long mind-cracking adventure.

Compilation
Compilation

So clever, and ingenious. Why couldn't this game be released in the past. Thinking of the past, perhaps the amount of FPS determines that it should be on the PS3, and not the PS2. It may even have other complicated bits and pieces that makes it so unique for a next gen Console? It does however look linear, that being the level design and structuring, and the grahpics aren't of a great game quality. May turn out to be surprising. It's not all about the visuals though. Good puzzling adventure. Must buy when it is released.

alex13echo
alex13echo

looks interesting. shows that sometimes the most simplistic games can be better than some of the high-def games we have now.

Ad-2cool4u
Ad-2cool4u

ah some nice casual games to play, very excited about this one. and the fact that i'll be able to put it on my PSP is good too, some Echochrome to go :D

Santhin
Santhin

Now this is an inventive puzzle game. Certainly looks like something I'll be interested in.

nitsud_19
nitsud_19

Im really excited about this game, I hope its long. Portal was awesome but short, but still awesome. I love straight forward puzzle games, they are a nice change of pace from the hustle and bustle of console gaming. I really hope they make an updated version of one of my fav console puzzlers of all time, LEMMINGS!!!!! XD

Sil3ntStRik3R
Sil3ntStRik3R

believe it or not i really look forward to this minigame on the psn...im sure it will b a hit just like monsters. is right now ...

Space-Q
Space-Q

"ack I really wish they'd have other color schemes besides the black & white" they already did. it was called Crush. Same exact concept, with a decent story to boot. No one noticed because it didn't stand out visually like this does.

Oktoberfest
Oktoberfest

ack I really wish they'd have other color schemes besides the black & white

gam3r3OOO
gam3r3OOO

I admit it is a great concept but couldn't they have released it as a PS2 game instead?

camichan
camichan

beautiful concept for a game. I'm excited about the Xbox Live arcade and PSN downloadable games. The games available are of a unique type. They are simpler and without the expensive production costs typical in the cutting edge games these days. This allows the games to focus more on fundamentals of gaming, and not on fluff. This is a welcome development. Strength through diversity.

lilmp89
lilmp89

Best puzzle game of the year. At least in my opinion. It's quite unique, and worth the money. Can't wait to play it. I wonder if the PSP and PS3 will be different. I hope so.

greater_bird
greater_bird

Incredible concept! I'd hate to be one of the people designing levels for this game, having to work out the different ways a player could potentially approach a solution. I just bet there were intricately designed levels that testers rotated in an unexpected fashion and solved in 4 seconds... ^_^

Tremblay343
Tremblay343

With this and LBP, i think that casual game are starting to catch on

membernametaken
membernametaken

I am so excited about this game that I want to go swimming.

shroom76
shroom76

this game sounds maddening and cool. pixeljunk monsters and everyday shooter showed simple is the best

pixelsword
pixelsword

By the way, the music reminds me of the music in Castlevania IV, which is a big selling point to me.

pixelsword
pixelsword

@nrCooldude: Prespective Existence (existence means Specific presence; occurrence)... This means that you shift the perspective to reveal the answer (fill in a gap between two walking blocks by changing perspective, for example). Perspective Absence ( absence means Failure to be present)... This means that you shift the perspective to hide the problem by covering it up with something else (move a block to cover a hole).

KBMaster013
KBMaster013

hermes200, how the hell can you base this game on one thats made by someone else and its flash. Of course its not going to be the same. And wheres the flash version, i want to see what your talking about.

koolman01
koolman01

echochrome looks so hot even with the graphics not so cool but game play looks sick i have to get this game

JimmeyBurrows
JimmeyBurrows

nice to see something soo original even though we thought everything had been done already.

hermes200
hermes200

I already played a flash version of it, and wasn't very impressed. The gameplay was ok, but the controls very so subtle that many times something that looked like a hall would register as an obstacle, even a slight change could make a big difference. I hope they change that, because I played it with a mouse, and can only immagine how frustrating it could be with a controller.

truenextgen
truenextgen

"Awesome. I only wish it had more colors.." Its the style. I like the Black and white. I mean its not like it could not do colors lol.

nrCooldude
nrCooldude

what's the difference between prespective existence and perspective absence?

F-E-A-R13
F-E-A-R13

lol this puzzle looks like it will make me think like crazy.

NWA_31
NWA_31

Awesome. I only wish it had more colors...

HellsAngel2c
HellsAngel2c

meep, im already boggled! Can't wait for this game.

vix
vix

This game looks amazing even though it's simple. The concept behind has the potential to be a great puzzle game.

Rockclmbr6
Rockclmbr6

Sounds verrry interesting. I don't like the no timer thing though...I hope that is changed before release.