PAX 2011: Quantum Conundrum Exclusive Preview - First Look

Portal creator Kim Swift has us moving through multiple (and fluffy!) dimensions in her latest puzzle platformer.

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It has been a year and a half since developer Kim Swift left Valve for Airtight Games, where she was given the offer to lead a team and work on her own project. Following up on an idea that came to her during a stroll to the local bakery, Swift wanted her new game to appeal to a broad audience while still challenging the hardcore gamer--similar to the critically acclaimed Portal. Quantum Conundrum is her team's new venture, a first-person puzzle platformer set in an inexplicably large mansion with themes heavily rooted in science. Your puzzle-solving tool is an IDS (interdimensional shift device) glove that lets you shift dimensions--therefore changing the physics of your environment--as you make your way down to the bowels of the manor.

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We're not going to explain any of the solutions in our write-up, but the demo we were shown was a cross-section of the game that gave us a good idea of the types of puzzles we would be dealing with. The basic premise is that you play as a kid who has been dropped off at his eccentric uncle's place by his mom. It turns out that your uncle, Professor Fitz Quadwrangle, is a talented scientist and has transformed his lovely Victorian mansion into a labyrinth of wacky scientific experiments. However, as with all successful experiments, there are bound to be some failures. We're told that shortly after your arrival, there's an explosion, and you learn that your uncle has vanished. Now it's up to you to go find him.

Armed with a glove that will let you shift dimensions, your first order of business is to place a glowing pink battery in a receptacle that lets you switch to the dimension that the battery represents. The explanation behind this is that there are dimensional rifts everywhere, and these batteries make those rifts bigger so that you're able to pull yourself into a parallel dimension. In this particular case it was the fluffy dimension. What this does is transform the entire room, including furniture, into oh-so-soft and light plush (the effect that dimensions have on paintings is hilarious). Throughout the game there's a Looney Tunes-inspired safe that you'll use to hit switches, but it's too heavy for you to pick up. When you swap to the fluffy dimension with the push of a key (or a trigger on consoles), it turns into a lovingly stitched plushie that you can playfully toss around. Some ledges or switches in the room can be just out of reach, and safes are too heavy to move on their own, so by swapping dimensions, you can do some carefully planned redecorating to help you get to the next area.

Each room is a puzzle, and as you go through the retrofitted manor, you'll find other contraptions, like a network of lasers designed to keep intruders out and large vats with switches on the inside. You'll also meet Dolli (dynamic object linear litigation interface) who appears in every room and acts like a giant mechanical puppy that vomits metal safes. Well, she's not actually a puppy, but a large metal smiley face on the wall that conveniently produces safes when you need them. We're told that she was built to clone things, partially because the professor had picked up a furry blue pet named Ike (interdimensional kinetic entity), who eats a lot; to satiate its hunger, Dolli was created to clone food. However, we learn later that Dolli is only adept at cloning inanimate objects and not so much the organic ones. A few character portraits on the wall of the mansion will show you what happened when Dolli cloned the professor's cat a couple of times.

Fluffy dimension!
Fluffy dimension!

The next dimension we were shown was the slow-motion dimension, which is self-explanatory. By activating the slow-motion dimension, you can toss objects in the air and run over to the other side to catch them. For more practical purposes, this allows you to carefully time where you want your objects to be, and you can use this in conjunction with the fluffy dimension to toss a safe, activate slow motion, and then hop on the safe to go for a ride. The final dimension that we were shown (there is still one unannounced dimension) was the reverse gravity dimension, where everything that is not tied down will float to the top. Switching to and from these dimensions was simple enough, but as the puzzles get progressively more complicated, you'll need to use a combination of these. For example, you can toss a fluffy safe but switch to reverse gravity to lift the now heavy safe. The key is that it keeps the trajectory and forward momentum--the metal safe will travel much farther than if you were to throw it in plushie form. These safes can also be used as dynamic platforms, so by switching dimensions you can use them to move across chasms or up and down like an elevator.

Judging from what we know of the story and from what we've seen, Quantum Conundrum looks to be a funny, charming, and quirky puzzle platformer that would appeal to gamers of all ages and skill levels. Changing up the physics with each dimension opens up a lot of possibilities when it comes to puzzles and level design, and we're looking forward to seeing what else the professor has stored in his vast intricate network of scientific experiments. We're told the game will have roughly four to six hours of gameplay, depending on your skill level, and will be released in early 2012 on the PC via Steam, Xbox Live Arcade, and PlayStation Network.

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