Emerging from the Shadows

Steven Balbirnie talks to Sam Abbott of Compulsion Games about Contrast, a puzzle platformer of light and shadows

Contrast, a puzzle platformer currently in development, will follow the plight of two protagonists, Didi and Dawn, as they unravel the mysteries surrounding Didi’s family. When asked about the characters, Sam Abbott of Compulsion Games, the team behind Contrast, says: “Didi is a young girl, part of a family that’s in a bit of trouble.  She needs to find out what’s going on and Dawn, the playable character, is a young woman who is there to help out. But, Dawn’s a bit of an enigma. Didi is the only one who can see her. Dawn has some special powers that she can use to help Didi, but Didi also helps Dawn along the way.” While Compulsion don’t want to give too much away about the game’s plot at this stage, Abbott has stated that: “With Contrast, we’re aiming to have a more interesting storyline than the standard ‘Let’s go and kill the bad guy’ narrative

Contrast’s style has been described as a surrealistic 1920s vaudevillian dreamscape. Abbott explains why the team decided on such a distinctive visual aesthetic: “We wanted a setting that was familiar and yet relatively unused in games so far. We have had a range of influences: film noir, vaudeville, burlesque and art deco architectural style pull together to create the environments you can see in our trailer. We also love the character design in Tim Burton’s films/Tim Schaefer’s games (for example, Grim Fandango), and the ideas of surrealism and dreams.”

The distinctive visuals are matched by equally distinctive game play mechanics. Dawn has the unique ability to shift between the worlds of light and dark; an intriguing dynamic that draws on an unexpected source of inspiration, Valve’s hit puzzle platformer, Portal. “Portal was inspirational to a lot of people because it encouraged people to go back and try out alternative methods of gaming. Essentially, it reinvigorated the puzzle platformer for the modern gamer. For us, we began to think about alternative gameplay mechanics that changed how you perceive puzzles; shadow manipulation came to mind, so we started to think about what we could do with that,” says Abbott.

What makes Dawn’s ability even more striking is that shifting from the world of light to the shadows also switches the style of gameplay from 3D to 2D. Abbott explains the challenges that this dynamic has posed for the development team. “Implementing the mechanic meant modifying our game engine [Unreal 3] to allow for this mechanic. It took a fair amount of work, as Unreal is a bit of a stubborn thing to deal with, but, the level design was definitely a big challenge. We’re creating puzzles in a way no one else is, which leads to more than the occasional issue. You might put in some nice new decoration in the level, or modify the size of a 3D jump, but some unintentional shadowing might completely break another part of the level. It’s a lot of trial and error, but we’re now pretty on top of things. Josh and Trevor, our level designers, have created some really fantastic areas that we can’t wait for you guys to experience.”

The challenges are clearly outweighed by the rewards however, as this mechanic has offered Compulsion Games a wide creative scope in terms of the puzzles that they can design for Contrast. “I think one of the best things we’ve been able to make is puzzles that genuinely look cool,” says Abbott. As an example he points out “one of the neat features is that you can move objects to change where their shadows hit on the wall. Even better, you can move light sources to completely change the shadows of an entire area. Or do a combination of both, or neither and just see what you can do on your own.” This will offer players many options in terms of how they choose to tackle a given situation. “There’s a whole bunch of permutations that give you opportunities, and us headaches, as there are multiple ways to solve puzzles.”

The game has already been getting a positive reception, notably appealing to both genders in focus test sessions. Abbott attributes this fact to the game’s portrayal of its female lead characters. “We think women gamers are becoming a more and more important part of the industry. Guys have always been interested in games, but it’s only been relatively recently that women have begun to really get into the industry. Social games, for example, are dominated by women. We think that part of the reason why women have been slower to adopt more traditional gaming is that women have not been portrayed all that well by games – they’re usually big breasted, shallow characters, that only exist to be saved/romanced by the male protagonist, although there are exceptions. We don’t have that. Our characters are strong and smart, and don’t fit the traditional mould. We think that this is particularly appealing to women gamers and hopefully guys find it refreshing too.”

Gamers of all demographics will however, have to be patient. “We haven’t set a release date yet, but I’d keep an eye out for Contrast at the beginning of 2013,” says Abbott. We may have to wait for more details about Contrast but it’s already shaping up to be one to watch for 2013.

More details on the upcoming game will be available at contrastgame.com.