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Daily Grind: Puddle Josh's avatar
Splish Splash
With the increasing prominence of the independent game scene and its burgeoning crowd of advocates, it’s not that difficult to imagine a future where an elitist videogame equivalent of the Straight Edge movement exists; no drink, no drugs, no Activision. “Sorry, I only play second-person logic adventures crafted by Swiss mathematicians.” This isn’t to say that those interested in indie development are deliberately obtuse, and as you might have gathered from last Thursday’s edition of Thankless Answers, I’m something of a fan myself. Although I believe that it presents massive potential to drive ingenuity in the industry as a whole, the motivation for my interest is also somewhat less noble; I like free stuff.

IGF appeals to both the artist and cheapskate in me, because the months leading up to the festival present myriad opportunities to reap the toil of bedroom coders around the world and see what kind of cool projects they’ve been plugging away at. Having already secured a place in the Student Showcase Winners category of this year’s IGF, six developers from French school ENJMIN have just one day left to see whether their entry, Puddle, will reside victory over the other participants. I spent some time with the liquid-navigating puzzler to discover whether it has any real chance of making a splash at tomorrow’s awards ceremony.

Awesome: Water Colours

The most immediately striking aspect of Puddle is its visuals; each of the mechanical mazes you’re required to circumnavigate is rendered in black silhouette which contrast against the intense hues of the blurred backdrops. Some of the levels play with a subtly different aesthetic, most notably the x-ray stage which sees you traversing the ghosted glass of a biomechanical organism. There’s a beautifully minimalist complexity to the environments which not only looks impressive, but also effectively indicates the presence of important gameplay elements, such as fire. It also helps to draw attention to the liquid itself, which convincingly splashes around, impacts on surfaces and breaks into numerous beadlike globules.

Awesome: Full Tilt

Much like the visuals, simplicity is key to the success of Puddle’s gameplay. Instead of directly manipulating the body of liquid itself, you simply tilt the whole environment left or right to affect direction and velocity. In addition to more straightforward navigation, there are plenty of situations where it’s necessary to build up enough momentum to negotiate a steep incline or a jump, narrowly avoiding the vaporising effect of the flames below. Whilst this could be likened to the Rolando games, there are times when the action feels more comparable to tilting a pinball table, where there’s a much looser sense of influence and inertia plays a more significant role. I appreciate the developer’s decision not to dilute the core mechanics with unnecessary features; it becomes obvious very early on that the cleverly constructed environments and variable liquid properties present plenty of scope for interesting gameplay.

Awesome: You’ve Got Potential, Kid

Given Puddle’s relative brevity, I can’t help but consider methods of logically extending the experience whilst maintaining the simplicity and structure that make it so appealing. In particular, I think that there’s a great deal of potential to be found in the viscosity, density and further properties of various liquids. Developers have spent a long time perfecting the implementation of real-time physics, but perhaps it would be worth investigating the possibilities of real-time chemistry too. I would certainly be interested to see what kind of cool gameplay would emerge from combining various substances. The garbled transmissions and bleeps and bloops of the game’s antigravity stage also lead me to consider the possibility of attaching a narrative to the action. Much in the same way that Tiger Style’s Spider: The Secret of Bryce Manor features a tale which plays out peripheral to the actions of your character, Puddle has great scope to use its array of interesting settings to deliver a story which unfolds passively in the background.

Boresome: Bite The Curve

This is something of a minor complaint given that it’s possible to play through the entirety of Puddle in around 15 minutes, but the difficulty curve seems to be somewhat amiss to the point where flipping the order of the levels almost entirely would make a lot of sense. For example, the second stage requires you to perform a careful balancing act between three separate columns, whereas the final stage requires little more than tilting to the right for its duration.

Boresome: Live Without Warning

Another issue is that upcoming hazards aren’t always telegraphed as effectively as they should be, something which is most frustratingly demonstrated during the antigravity stage; its glacial pace often means that by the time one of the lethal vents appears, it’s far too late to stop your blob of orange juice from being sucked up into it. This is usually caused by the way that the camera tracks the disconnected gobbets of liquid; by attempting to put the largest mass in the centre of the screen. Unfortunately this usually makes the fastest, smallest parts almost impossible to keep an eye on, and it’s really easy to suddenly lose them to an unseen flame or overshoot a rapidly approaching test tube. Whilst this rarely has a significant effect on successfully completing a stage, it will prove a nightmare for completionists who’ll want to ensure that every last drop makes it to the conical flask at its conclusion.

Boresome: Fail Safe

Whilst I’m sure that its presence in the game will delight many, I was somewhat dismayed to find the trite and oft-quoted internet meme of ‘Epic Fail’ used to openly mocks your unsuccessful attempts at completing a stage. The text itself is gloriously rendered in 200pt Impact, neatly completing the allusion that your failure screen is in fact an image macro, the likes of which might be found posted on a terrible and desolate message board somewhere in the murky depths of the internet. I might be exercising some of that elitism that I mentioned earlier, but I feel that this cheapens what is otherwise an intriguing and enigmatic experience. On the other hand, this could be the equivalent of Marcel Duchamp painting a moustache on the Mona Lisa, and I’m missing the point entirely.

Awesome: Water Colours - Full Tilt - You've Got Potential, Kid

Boresome: Bite The Curve - Live Without Warning - Fail Safe

Ultimately, you should take my criticisms with a grain of salt; I like Puddle a great deal and think that it’s especially impressive for something that was put together in an admirably short amount of time. What’s more is that the developers have gone beyond the proof of concept stage and created something that bears up to repeated playthroughs whilst maintaining its sense of fun. I mentioned earlier how indie development has the ability to evoke new and innovative ideas, but to see exactly how true that is, you should take a look at the multitude of projects featured on the IGF website.

Tags: IGF, indie games, puddle