A labyrinth lead tale
When setting out to develop Shift Quantum, our number one priority was that the puzzle solving experience cantered around the original mechanic created 10 years ago and which flowed through the previous Shift games.
With a firm objective, we then wanted to increase the challenge and put a new spin (or should I say Shift) into the game design; so, we created a number of different puzzle blocks, then created the level editor tool to house our ideas, built lots of cool levels and then integrated a smooth difficulty curve for the players on top of that.
We didn’t know (at the time) if players would be attracted by a rich narrative in comparison with previous games from the series, which made us unsure if we really wanted to take the risk given the lack of story writing experience within the studio.
But, the further we went on in the project the more and more we wanted to explore new ways to generate an emotional attachment with the player, and differently to our other games. It had to be a form of subtle storytelling, mixing visual art, heavy atmospheric sound, environmental and include several disruptive game situations (we didn’t want to be nice J).
“True happiness is now available to everyone!”
We are all living in a strange world. Happiness takes many forms and we see it sold in every talk given by start-ups and big corporations alike, regardless of the product or service they’re really selling at the end.
That idea was the starting point we wanted to delve into; what are the rules behind a perfect world where global happiness is a real business target?
Can an artificial intelligence capture, understand and induce unconditional happiness to a human?
Could a person/consumer accept connecting their brain to a cloud service system?
In the margins of these questions we developed a story angle in which a major company, Axon Vertigo, provides a broad spectrum of cerebral services for free.
Shift Quantum is their latest leading ‘happiness’ product/program that connects directly with the brain and places the client into a game mode to ensure stimulus.
Whilst connected, the customer/player controls an avatar and is tasked to solve a multitude of puzzles in a monochrome cyber environment.
Throughout the connection process, Axon Vertigo analyses the neuro activity in order to greater understand pattern recognition, function and creative thinking, by simulating scenarios to test each area. In other words, while the test subject’s brain is being analysed and fixed, the tester will be enjoying a thoroughly entertaining and relaxing experience, simply playing a video game.
But what is the price of true happiness?
Narrative through gameplay experiences!
With the underlying meta-story in place, we moved focus onto our protagonist. Since you are controlling the avatar of a person who has signed up to connect to the Shift Quantum program, we started to form the reason behind his actions. What real life scenario would lead someone to discover true happiness?
With this in mind, we wanted the story to raise intrigue as the player progressed through the game, like a giant maze added behind the layer of the game itself; but the narrative layer should never hamper the experience of players only interested by the puzzles themselves.
This is the reason why the team unanimously agreed to reveal the lore in an immersive manner, mostly throughout specific levels. These levels are clearly displayed with yellow dots in the neuro level map and are designed to punctuate the main game experience with more exotic phases, glitches and elaborate design. The most distinct difference in these levels being that the player is introduced to a new character.
On your journey you will encounter a little girl wearing a yellow scarf (the only splash of colour in the game), she will appear with quite vague intentions at first, but then in several game situations, you will have to collaborate in order to resolve the puzzles and reach the exit.
But who is she? Why does she intervene? What is her purpose? To what end?
The more the player progresses, the more questions they will amass, until the reveal at the end of the game.
The entire design and structure are set to place the player in an active imaginary role, showing glimpses of story like light paintbrush strokes in an abstract form; letting our players make their own observation on what went on and what is happening. The subtle treatment always reinforcing the feeling that the situation you are placed in within the game is never fully under control.