Miegakure is a game of the fourth dimension. Featured for an hour at Chris Hecker's Spy Party booth the Sunday of PAX, it only took a few moments of gameplay and speaking with creator Marc ten Bosch to see why Hecker would appreciate the game: both Hecker and ten Bosch are wildly smart and making wildly smart games.
Miegakure is about existing in a three-dimensional world while exploring a fourth physical dimension, and what that means. In many places the gameplay is conventional three-dimensional platforming, but in order to solve the puzzling levels you have to use that 3D platforming in conjunction with the fourth dimension. What amounts to a simple button press is a bit mind-boggling.
As ten Bosch explains, "I'm a programmer so I knew that I could make a game in more than three dimensions, but I didn't know what that would be. Then, I started reading about it, and there's a lot of books that talk about it. The most famous one is "Flatlands" and it talks about how if you were a two-dimensional character on a two-dimensional plane that runs inside three-dimensional space, what kinds of things could happen, and that it would feel like magic. I felt like that was the game I should make, but in one more dimension where you're stuck in a three-dimensional plane inside a four-dimensional one, and all the cool stuff that you could do if you could move in four dimensions, and have that be the levels in the game."
As three-dimensional creatures, we cannot see the fourth dimension, but ten Bosch can program it so that we can explore it in gameplay. Tackling the levels and puzzles I had to wonder, at some point is it better to just turn off part of your brain? Sort of, according to ten Bosch, "Sometimes I'll program something because I know what the math is about, but I have no idea what it's actually going to look like until I program it and then try it in game. I know how this works, it's just math - and then you see it and wow, I don't even understand what's going on. So I have the same discovery as the player, initially."
With the notion of making the mathematical concept of the fourth dimension something that players can come to understand through gameplay, Miegakure can sound a little intense. Fortunately, things unfold simply enough. Dropped into a three-dimensional hub world scattered with gates, each gate transports you to a level that needs solving. You can jump, interact with objects, rotate your view of a level and make use of the fourth dimension. That last one is kind of impressive, no? In practice, the best I can describe it is that each stage is comprised of multiple sub-levels that exist as three-dimensional platforming spaces. Within those levels are what you need to get to the gate, but you can only occupy one at a time. By using the fourth dimension each sub-level of a stage appears as slices of that stage, and moving between them and back into the third dimension allows you to manipulate the space and objects within it to solve the puzzles. Beginning, for example, on a level with a wall of mountain in the middle, you can see the exit gate on the other side. Swap into the fourth dimension to cross a space that the mountain occupies otherwise, then swap back, placing you on the other side of the obstacle. The gameplay is very addictive - you've no sooner solved one mind-bending puzzle as you're clambering to the next gate for another!
Within each level are characters that can offer advice, or sometimes just idle commentary, as well as maps that you can collect that make it easier to swap between the areas while using the fourth dimension. These maps are training wheels, you can avoid picking them up for a greater challenge, and ten Bosch says that, "After awhile, you should be able to hold all of the world in your head, right?" We'll do our best, Marc!
As the game progresses even the characters will fall away, because once you become a four dimensional object characters just don't really make sense. Where early on you interact with a wooden block as a three-dimensional object, eventually it can be aligned along the fourth dimension allowing you to see parts of it in each world. Later, there are objects the player can rotate around a fixed point in the fourth dimension, as well. Largely a solo project, ten Bosch works with a 3D artist and modeler. The visuals we see in game now aren't final, and as he points out the cubes morph but the trees do not - yet.
Reaching a stage's exit gate takes you back to the hub stage to travel through more gates, some of which transport you to 2D explorations of the dimensional idea just so you can see more of what ten Bosch is getting at with the Flatlands concept. While you may feel a bit brain dead thinking about it, there is no actual death in game: I leapt down a crevasse and was happily dropped right back into the level! Once all the gates in a world are cleared, you have to figure out how to manipulate the fourth dimension to get to the next hub world full of new levels. I had to laugh when I struggled initially, because it was clear that if I couldn't figure out how to get to the next area I probably wouldn't be able to solve those puzzles. Talk about scaling difficulty!
Playing Miegakure makes you want to talk about it intelligently, and even now I'm not sure I'm up to the task. Marc ten Bosch has made the fourth dimension something you can enjoy through gameplay, and that works for me - Edwin A. Abbott can have the rest!
Currently in its second year of development for PC/Mac/Linux and one unannounced console, look for Miegakure in 2012.