It takes real courage to show any prototype of a game to the press, let alone to the public. The earlier in development a game is the more shaky it’s likely to be, which obviously introduces the potential for things to go horribly wrong.
Introversion should, therefore, be lauded for not just showing off one prototype at Rezzed, but two. In fact they’ve gone as far to allow the public to vote on which of the two they prefer, which is sure to produce some interesting results.
I played both during last week’s event, and it’s fair to say they’re very different games. Both are certainly interesting concepts, and one of them is completely different to anything Introversion has done before, which is nice to see. So, with my vote already cast it’s only fair that I give you the lowdown on both of the titles that Introversion have to play at the show.
This is, by far, the more unusual of Introversion’s two prototypes. For a start it’s incredibly visually distinctive, bring to mind titles like Memories of Broken Dimension or The Unfinished Swan. It probably skews more toward the former than the latter, with an aesthetic that borders on pointillism with a futuristic skew.
Nicely, the game’s visual look is directly informed by its core mechanic, which has you using a handheld LIDAR system to map a cave system. If you’re not familiar with LIDAR, it’s essentially a technology that uses laser pulses to capture detailed information about a target’s shape in 3D.
Although you start in an area of the cave lit by a fire, as soon as you enter the darkness of a tunnel you have to rely on the 3D map produced by your scanner. Much like the aforementioned The Unfinished Swan, the results of your scan are displayed as points in the darkness. Closer points are rendered in red, while they shift towards blue as they move away from you. Early on this feels incredibly claustrophobic, with the walls of the tunnel you’re exploring feeling incredibly close. However, as you look back behind you the points you’ve scanned stay present, giving you a real sense of the scale of the cave system.
You can alter the concentration of the dots your scanner emits by moving the mouse wheel, switching from a very narrow beam to give you a high resolution look at a small area, to a broader beam that allows you to capture a much wider area at once but in far less detail. Somewhere in-between is normally the way to go, but when you’re making your way across a bridge with large gaps in it you may well want to be looking at a more detailed scan of what lies ahead.
While your scanner is your main tool for exploration, at one point in the demo you enter a large cavern that has several other scanner-type devices around you. This is a set piece that feels truly epic in scale, with the cavern being revealed in a spectacular fashion while light fountains out from the LIDAR devices scattered around the cavern. It’s something truly special.
At this stage of prototyping Scanner Sombre is more about the visual and exploration mechanics than the narrative, but there are some hints in this version. Twice in my play-through my scanner revealed beings that seemed humanoid, with the second of these appearing behind me to a music sting that had the desired effect of creeping me out. If horror exploration is what they’re going for then it really seems like there’s something there, particularly as your scanner makes these beings seem distinctly inhuman, with no real detail in their face.
Wrong Wire is a puzzle game that has you defusing bombs. I don’t mean they’ve built some abstraction for defusing bombs, you’re literally using wire cutters to snip the correct wire. In the same way that Uplink, Introversion’s first title, sought to emulate the Hollywood version of hacking, Wrong Wire is aiming to capture the type of bomb defusal we see in the movies.
While there’s only a handful of scenarios in this early prototype, it’s fair to say that Introversion are well on their way to fulfilling that goal. The game’s first level is relatively simple, teaching you how to pair wire cutters and wiring diagrams to snip the cable that will disarm the bomb instead of causing it to blow. Next up you’re given a slightly more complicated the tool, the EPROM reader. Basically this allows you to connect a screen to one of the chips on a bomb, which is useful for grabbing the code for a keypad that allows you to defuse a bomb.
After these two training levels you’re thrown into a much deeper scenario, this time defusing a suitcase bomb on a train. There are wires to cut, pressure sensors to avoid, a thumb scanner to defeat, and a much more complex puzzle using the EPROM reader. It gives you a real taste of what the full game could be like, and there’s some decent tension there. It’s also more than a little tricky, mostly as it’ll be something like the tenth level if the game makes its way to full release.
What’s really interesting about Wrong Wire is that Introversion are actually building their virtual bomb component by component. Rather than just setting the steps required to defeat each bomb, they’re modelling each element of the bomb’s control system. While that does sound complex, it should let them add new challenges to the game more easily, and also allows them to actually display the wiring path that caused the bomb to trigger if you get it wrong. It’s a nice touch that I can see being incredibly useful once you get into much deeper puzzles, and it just looks kind of cool to be honest.
Introversion have done well to create two very different prototypes that both offer something really unique. Scanner Sombre has the visual style and the horror factor, while Wrong Wire manages to make you really pay attention to wiring diagrams, something few games have really achieved. However, of the two, Scanner Sombre got my vote, but it’ll be interesting to see how the public’s feedback shapes Introversion’s future development plans.