One of the greatest things that video games are able to do is to break down the rules of reality, making the impossible feel possible as you interact with imaginative new worlds, and that’s only amplified when you can truly inhabit a video game world through the power of VR.
The recursive puzzling of A Fisherman’s Tale was already a wonderful example of this, with a world nested within itself, and Innerspace VR’s next game, Maskmaker, promises to be just as imaginative when it releases on 20th April.
As if the game’s name didn’t give it away, Maskmaker is a game in which you make masks, putting you in the role of the Maskmaker Prospero’s apprentice looking to learn their trade. However, these are no ordinary masks, and are instead embued with the magical ability to transport the wearer to different parts of this world, exploring different regions and biomes in the ‘mask realm’.
Starting off in the Maskmaker’s workshop, you have a variety of tools with which you can craft new masks of ever-increasing complexity. The game aims to make you truly engage with the creative process, making you actively craft them, albeit in an abstracted and simplified process.
It starts with taking a blueprint of the mask, pulling out a block of clay and grabbing a chisel and hammer to chip away at the block piece by piece to reveal the mask’s form. From there you can then colour the mask, dipping it into a sink filled with coloured paint, and then adorning it with accessories to match the blueprint you have. It starts off in a simplistic fashion, starting off with a bare coloured mask that will take you to each location – a red mask whisks you off to the Farfeather Islands, a yellow mask to the swamps, and so on. However, it soon becomes much more complex as you add accessories that you must find in the worlds, mix different colours – Innerspace aim to have colourblind support via symbols on the blueprints – and paint on the masks with a brush.
That’s important because of how the magic behind the masks actually works. They aren’t really teleporting you to each new biome, but are rather tunnelling you into the body of a Guardian that is wearing a mask that is its twin. InnerspaceVR’s creative director, Balthazar Auxietre, explained that the game’s main inspiration comes from the masks that were in his father’s workshop, but I can’t help but feel there’s a bit of Being John Malkovich here as well (though not quite as perverse).
The driving force through each of the six biomes is the need to reach the tower or temple at the end, uncovering the mystery of who Prospero really was at as you do so, spurred on by a King who surely has an ulterior motive. Each biome has it’s own particular style, its guardians wearing masks that represent each culture.
It’s this simple conceit that will be the crux of many of the game’s puzzles. You explore each biome not just by teleporting there and wandering around, but by finding other guardians in distant, impossible to reach places, and then scan their mask by peering at them through a spyglass, heading back to the workshop to craft a copy from a blueprint.
Just because you know what a mask looks like doesn’t mean you’ll have all of the elements you need in order to recreate it. You can wander around the biomes using a mixture of free locomotion and teleporting as you see fit – the game has both enabled together instead of making you choose – and explore to find other puzzles and try to pick up more accessories. An example mask shown to us required the addition of feathers, and it was through spotting birds flying up in the sky that led Auxietre to head up a small path up the side of a mountain to sneakily pick a feather from a nest, letting him then head back to the workshop and craft a mask for a guardian stood in a gondola lift.
It’s quite impressive to see play out in the demo we were shown – alas, this was a remote preview at this time – as putting on one of these magical masks would instantly take you to this completely different place, and taking it off returns you to the maskmaker’s workshop just as quickly. It needs to be for the game’s environmental puzzles to work and feel fluid, especially if there are puzzles and masks that require you to go back and forth between multiple biomes.
Hopping to that guardian on the gondola makes it abundantly clear that they are actually completely stuck there without help. Returning to that first guardian, it’s up to them to investigate and fix up the mechanism to get the gondola moving, so that you can switch back to the second guardian and carry on. While I don’t expect the game to require you to switch back and forth between guardians rapidly, the option to do so and keep mechanisms moving will certainly be welcome for more advanced VR players.
While not as immediately cool and playful as the world-within-a-world nature of A Fisherman’s Tale, Maskmaker promises to be a similarly inventive experience, and one that’s much broader in the scale of the world that you will be able to immerse yourself in.
Maskmaker will be out for PlayStation VR, HTC Vive, Oculus Rift S (and Quest when tethered to a PC) and PC VR via Steam VR on 20th April 2020.