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

We gain new perspective on this unique puzzle game.

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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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