Electron Dance
23Mar/15Off

Dabbling with… Planet of the Eyes

The final episode of a short series on games I discovered at EGX Rezzed 2015.

eyes-problem

I played Cococucumber's Planet of the Eyes under duress because it looked like another puzzle platformer.

Another. Puzzle. Platformer.

This takes me back to PAX East 2012 which I never attended so bloody hell I don't know how this flashback is working. Andy Nealen at The Indie Rant: "And then in the second week I said you can do whatever you want. There are twelve people in the class. So what do you guys think I got from eleven people? Any guesses? Puzzle platformers. Eleven fucking puzzle platformers."

But hold the phone - against all odds, I warmed to Planet of the Eyes. What happened? Why did I show such weakness?

Eyes was minimalist when it came to the usual puzzle platformer tutorial. I'm paraphrasing the minimalism here but it came across like this:

PRESS X TO GRAB

HAVE YOU EVER PLAYED STARSEED PILGRIM GOOD FUCKING LUCK

Sure, this game isn't Starseed Pilgrim. I don't mean that in a bad or derogatory way, just in a "I made a really bad comparison" way. I was told how to push and pull things around and that was that. I kept expecting a little bit more, some shimmering hotspots or glowing nav markers or even some linear gating to drive me towards one goal at a time. But no. And then I got stuck.

I got stuck at this long ladder and there seemed to be no way to progress. I kept backtracking but saw no way through and no tutorial popups. Had I missed something? Maybe it was time to quit. I was at a games exhibition. If a game didn't do the business, something else would.

In desperation, I tried something else and... it worked. I was buoyant. The game hadn't signposted my next move making me feel like I had really solved that damn puzzle. In truth, it wasn't particularly "tricky" but the game had left a larger knowledge gap between tutorial and non-tutorial than usual.

eyes-lasers

I solved a few more problems and most of the solutions didn't feel that neat and tidy, as if I was gaming the game. Some players like to feel they've slotted the correct pegs into the corresponding holes, but that kind of design seems claustrophobic after a while, offering players no room to breathe.

The level finished. I was sad. The other demo level was more about timing jumps than manipulating the environment. I didn't really need to be told what to do here but the challenge felt pitch perfect for me, like I was always just making it to safety. If I had played that second level about twenty times then that exhilaration wouldn't survive, but the first time definitely felt special. And although it used checkpoints, I found the checkpointing not particularly frustrating.

After the second level finished, I was sad again. Especially as there was no more content available but maybe that was a good thing, preventing attendees from hogging the game for too long. It wasn't enough, though, to know how well the design would turn out in practice. Would most of it be linear, like the second jumping level? I had a more worrying concern, though.

I don't know if Eyes will be able to keep up that show-not-tell momentum in its level design and if I was a betting man, I'd put money on its reticence being designed out. I like that it left me alone and I used it as an example when talking to Sam Barlow about Her Story: games which do not handhold in earlier builds inevitably do by final release. Would Her Story do this after more rounds of testing? Would Planet of the Eyes?

Well, at least, the game still has "robot deaths" in it's feature list. EYE guess EYE'll keep an EYE on Planet of the Eyes which has already been greenlit.

Here's a trailer if you want to see it in action.

All Episodes

  • TRI - a first-person puzzler
  • The Marvellous Miss Take - polished 2D heist/stealth game
  • DEEP - deep breathing meditation in VR
  • Her Story - explore video footage of police interviews to solve a mystery
  • CAVE! CAVE! DEUS VIDET - art-fi visual novel in which I understood nothing that was going on
  • One One One Two Three - minimalist card game that plays out in minutes
  • Aerobat - incredible 2D shooter, I can't rate it highly enough
  • Screencheat - wonderful local multiplayer FPS
  • Planet of the Eyes - a puzzle platformer that didn't hold my hand

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