Perhaps the most mind-bending game on display at the PlayStation Experience in San Francisco this weekend was Manifold Garden. Created by one-man developer William Chyr, this PlayStation 4 and PC title is an exploration/puzzle game where gravity – or rather, changing its foundations – plays a central part of the game's theme.
Set in a minimalist, very architectural Escher-esque world, the objective, at least initially, is to simply escape the level you're stuck in. The action starts out straightforward enough with you navigating through a series of rooms, but then things start getting weird as you discover that you can walk up to a wall and, by pressing R2, you can change the gravity of the game so that you can walk onto that wall, which then essentially becomes the new "floor."
To escape from the series of rooms you're trapped in, you need to pick up color-coded blocks and drop them on similarly-colored sections of the floor to unlock a door. That starts out easy enough, but soon you start running into problems. What happens when you pick up a block that you need to drop onto a section of the room that's currently on the wall? You can't drag that block around by changing gravity, since that block's gravity is locked relative to the "floor" it's on, and it's unaffected by your own gravity manipulations. That's basically where the puzzling begins, and where the game starts to bend your mind.
As I worked my way through the first set of rooms, I eventually found myself outside on a platform where I could see other constructs all around me – which I eventually discovered when I fell off a platform and fell back onto the platform that I'd fallen from were in fact copies of the same architectural feature that I was originally standing on. So by falling, you end up dropping onto the location that you fell from. This wrap-around universe further adds complications to the puzzles – if you drop a block off a ledge, where will it land? It could potentially end up above you, which might be an essential part of the solution.
Later in the game, water flows are introduced, which you can manipulate using blocks, and this again plays into the puzzle element of the game. Water can flow in seemingly impossible directions, depending on how the stream is locked in terms of its gravity, and this gives rise to brainteasers where you really have to think about relative gravity, and the effects it can have on the different objects within the environment.
Although I didn't get to see any advanced levels, apparently the way that the world wraps around itself starts warping too, so that repetition is staggered and even rotated - meaning that you can drop something off a floor, and it ends up on the wall in another instance of that environment.
The end result of all this is a game that has fiendishly tricky puzzles that really do make you think very differently about the environment you're in. It looks stunning too – like a series of architectural line drawings. I really enjoyed playing the game, and loved the way it challenged me to think about gravity's effects in ways that I've never really thought about them before. It reminds me of how Portal's puzzles gave you those real "ah-HA!" moments when you suddenly saw a way to do something that otherwise seemed to be impossible.
So far, there hasn't been a firm release date announced for Manifold Garden, but developer William Chyr said that he's aiming to have the game finished sometime during 2016. I'm certainly looking forward to playing it some more.