I can’t wait to play Miegakure, and I’m not alone: this confusing 4D puzzle-platformer has been turning heads and keeping ’em spinning since developer Marc Ten Bosch first presented it as a design experiment during the 2009 Game Developers Conference. Two years later Bosch was back on the GDC floor with a lengthy playable demo, and after spending an hour trying (and failing) to tackle the fourth dimension I knew I was hooked.
How can I explain navigating in four dimensions? It’s like stumbling home drunk after an amazing show, but weirder. Like if your best friend drove you home from the same show, and you fell asleep sitting on your hands but the show was in Oakland and you hit traffic on the bridge and by the time your long-suffering Charon dumped your drunk ass in the dark heart of the Mission District your hands were numb and you had to try and fumble your door key into the lock by just looking at your hands and like, willing them to make the right shapes.
Then it starts to rain.
You’re drunk enough that it’s not unpleasant. In fact, you kind of like how pretty the world looks this way. But somewhere deep down a figment of your rational mind reminds you that this is a problem and problems need solving, so you dutifully start your tingling fingers flipping from key to key, trying every possible solution until something fits and everything slides into place with a satisfying click.
That’s what it feels like to solve four-dimensional puzzles, sort of. The most intriguing aspect of Miegakure is that no one can be told what it is; you have to play it for yourself. To ferret out when you might be able to do so, we roped developer Marc Ten Bosch into a quick interview after GDC to chat about games, graphics and the gumption it takes to make a thing like Miegakure.
A: Thanks for taking the time to speak with us. Can you speak briefly to your history as a game designer?
M: I studied computer science and engineering as a way to be able to program my own games. I did design work in school on a game that was in the IGF Student Showcase. I wanted to work on an interesting design so I started working on the prototype of Miegakure in Christmas 2008. I showed the prototype of Miegakure at the Experimental Gameplay Sessions at GDC in 2009 and the reaction was very positive, so I decided to finish the game.
What first inspired you to design a game like Miegakure, and what are your plans for release?
As a programmer, I knew that position in a game does not have to be limited to three coordinates, and collision detection often isn’t much harder to program in higher dimensions. I started prototyping game ideas, but only really made progress once I read Flatland by Edwin A. Abbott.
It’s a famous 1884 novella that explains higher dimensions by analogy to the perspective of a two-dimensional character living in a two-dimensional flat plane (a piece of paper, for example). A number of actions we three-dimensional beings take for granted feel like absolute magic to this two-dimensional character.
For example, if there is a circular wall around an object in 2D, it is essentially closed-off, since to reach it one would have to leave the 2D plane. It is also impossible for an outsider to know what is inside.
But us 3D beings can see the object from above, and also simply lift it off the ground to move it outside, essentially teleporting it. Now by analogy a four-dimensional being could perform many similar miracles to us living in only three-dimensions. My goal was then to make a game that would allow you to perform these “miracles”.
The plan is to release it on PC and at least one console, in downloadable form. I haven’t announced a release date yet.
So was this a solo project, or have you worked with a team?
I do everything but the 3D modeling and animation, which are done by one artist. I worked on Red Alert 3 at EALA.
The Miegakure demo at GDC 2011 looked great. What tools did you use to design the world, and what influences shaped Miegakure’s spartan visual style?
Thanks! The visuals are not finished yet, so I’m glad you already like them! On the artist side, we’re using Photoshop and 3D Studio Max. On the programming side, the world is made out of 4D objects; that’s what creates the weird-looking effects you see during the perspective switches. The 4D forces us to keep the geometry simple, and so to match that we’re going for a pseudo-realistic look. This also allows to builds more things faster and not compete with AAA games on what they are good at.
The Japanese garden aesthetic was inspired by the name of the game. Miegakure is a Japanese garden technique that is a means of imparting a sense of vastness in a small space. It’s probably already familiar to you: as you walk around a garden, a tree or hill might obscure your view, letting you imagine the invisible part. This creates the illusion of depth and impression that there are hidden beauties beyond. It fits the game well because the player can only see along three out of four dimensions at any given moment. This is what inspired the Japanese garden setting for the game. I felt the contemplative, minimalist, Zen theme fit the gameplay well.
In the wake of GDC, have you considered releasing the game on mobile platforms like the iPad?
An iPad version would be nice. However, there are some aspects of displaying a four-dimensional world that can be computationally intensive. When the game is done I’ll start thinking about a port, and potentially simplify some of the more expensive effects.
So are you planning to self-publish, or seek support from an established publisher?
I’m trying to avoid outside funding as best I can.
If you don’t mind me asking, what are your plans if Miegakure doesn’t succeed financially? Would you return to a corporate studio like EA, or continue working as an independent developer?
I would probably continue work as an independent developer or do some contract work. I think I’m good enough to make it as an indie, so I don’t see why it wouldn’t happen eventually.
How are you funding a passion project like Miegakure? Have you faced any financial challenges as an independent developer?
I have some money saved up. Enough to finish this project.
Hopefully it will pay off in the end.