Quantum Conundrum Looks Familiar, Also Great

Posted by Alex (1935 posts) -

I sometimes question what, exactly, it is we want from game developers. We claim to cherish originality, to herald new IPs and design concepts as if we wished them to be the sole focus of our development community. And yet, when we look at the sales, we look at the games that frequently dominate the conversation from year to year, it's always the sequels, reboots, and other things bearing the unmistakable stamp of "That Thing You Already Like" that seem to float straight to the top. It takes a rare, powerful brand of creative new IP to actually impress the gaming audience beyond the scope of the usual indie kids and auteurs-in-training.

Meet Professor Quadwrangle. He's a bit of an eccentric.

Portal was one such game. Designed by Kim Swift (and her cohorts at Valve), Portal broke free of the chains often imposed upon new properties, thanks in no small part to Valve's clever marketing (including the title as part of the popular Orange Box package certainly helped), wonderfully addictive puzzle designs, and a charmingly bleak sci-fi story line that helped propel it into the stratosphere of video game culture. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the audience's aforementioned love of familiarity, Portal 2, at last check, had sold in the neighborhood of three million copies.

Swift didn't work on Portal 2. She was involved in a variety of different projects at Valve, but eventually opted to leave the company in late 2009 for a new job at Airtight Games. The fruits of that new position wouldn't be known until just before PAX earlier this year. This new game, Quantum Conundrum, features a protagonist trapped in a topsy-turvy world of science gone amok, forced to use dimension-shifting technology to manipulate the environment, physics, and a lot of square objects, with only the occasional help of a pet A.I. to aid them in their quest through this bizarre, potentially lethal scientific labyrinth.

Sound familiar?

It apparently did to a lot of commenters. On the debut trailers, promo videos, and news stories pertaining to the game's announcement, actual discussion of the game's merits seemed choked out by the thick, noxious fumes of direct, irritated Portal comparisons. Which isn't to say that those comparisons aren't without merit--in some respects, the two games do have direct similarities--but the negative tone with which many of those comments came across was vaguely baffling. Here is a game that, in some respects, closely resembles one of the best puzzle/adventure games of all time. One designed by the woman who designed that very game, no less. What, exactly, are people flipping out about?

IT'S SO FLUFFY

One gets the impression that Swift would just as soon not give any credence to anyone who would complain about such a thing. I noted during a recent preview session with her that it seemed she had a particular fancy for things like "mad-science-based puzzles, room-based puzzles, helpful robots, and square things," and her response was what one might call defensively affirmative. "Yes! They're fun. Why would I not want to make more fun?" She also pointed out that lots of puzzle games have square things. Fair enough.

In short, Swift has her thing. She has things she likes, and those things translate into her games. Seems fair, right?

It might be easier to criticize Quantum Conundrum for its derivations were it not so damn neat-looking. Though the story elements still aren't being shown (the demo we saw was an older one, and the game doesn't hit until early next year), we know of the premise involving you, a 12-year-old boy who finds himself trapped in the crazy, kooky home of his professorial uncle, Fitzgerald Quadwrangle. Quadwrangle has gone missing somewhere in this absurd laboratory/home, and it's up to you to find him. Unfortunately, obstacles lie in your way, ones that can only be traversed with the aid of a dimension-shifting glove, which allows you to do a variety of odd things, like turn everything in the room "fluffy," shift gravity up and down, and slow down time to a Michael Bay-ian crawl.

Unsurprisingly, you will find yourself combining these various abilities (including an as-yet-unrevealed fourth ability) in concert to find your way through this bizarre house. Your primary object of movement (though there are others) tends to be a giant, blocky safe, often barfed out by the house's helpful A.I. DOLLY (whose bulbous head closely resembles a cross between the Tin Man and an Ugly Doll). Sometimes they have to be placed on switches, launched across a room, used to break apart walls/windows, or all of the above. Hence the dimensional shifting. If the safe needs to be lifted, use the fluffy dimension. If it needs to break something, launch via fluffy, then switch back to normal. If it needs to go upside-down, use reverse-gravity. Need to use a safe as a platform, go to fluffy, launch, then normal, and to slow-motion.

Much as Portal was about finding ways to using your two portals (and sometimes those ill-fated companion cubes) to get you from point A to point B, Quantum Conundrum is about figuring out which combinations of dimensional shifts to put together to solve a particular room's weirdness. Over the course of the game's six-hour-or-so campaign, the trickiness of said puzzles will ramp up accordingly, culminating in some truly crazy brain-twisters (but probably not an antagonistic battle with DOLLY).

DOLLY's a bit derpy, but she just wants to help.

If you were one of those people who found Portal a bit too scratchy for your particular noodle, you might find Quantum Conundrum's hint system particularly useful. Swift was quick to clarify that this dynamic system, which looks at where you are in a room and feeds in information courtesy of your Uncle Quadwrangle over a loudspeaker, does not give away the answer, but rather suggests a place to look or an area to move toward to perhaps point you in the right direction.

"I'm the writer, and I watch playtests," she said, "And I know why people are getting stuck. Like in one area, we often find people fundamentally have trouble realizing to look up. You have to throw every tool at them to get them to look up, flashing lights, sound, everything. So I have a timeout area where if they've been in this area for a long time and they haven't done this one thing, then I can assume they are stuck here for this reason. All of our hints are custom-tailored per map, based on watching players playtest." That Valve mentality of "playtest, playtest, playtest" seems to have stuck with Swift, along with a few other things.

Whatever comparisons you may feel apt to make regarding Quantum Conundrum, do so with the understanding that we are in an industry built almost exclusively on rip-offs and pantomime. Think of the sheer volume of also-ran platformer heroes, military shooters, sci-fi strategy games, and gritty, dark action games we've been firehosed with over the last few decades. If Kim Swift wants to make a game that looks like a Kim Swift game, and that game looks as much fun to play as Quantum Conundrum, I say godspeed to her and her journey, and sign me up when the game releases on Xbox Live Arcade, the PlayStation Network, and Steam in 2012. I can always use a few more hours of whimsical puzzle-solving in my life.

Staff
#1 Posted by Alex (1935 posts) -

I sometimes question what, exactly, it is we want from game developers. We claim to cherish originality, to herald new IPs and design concepts as if we wished them to be the sole focus of our development community. And yet, when we look at the sales, we look at the games that frequently dominate the conversation from year to year, it's always the sequels, reboots, and other things bearing the unmistakable stamp of "That Thing You Already Like" that seem to float straight to the top. It takes a rare, powerful brand of creative new IP to actually impress the gaming audience beyond the scope of the usual indie kids and auteurs-in-training.

Meet Professor Quadwrangle. He's a bit of an eccentric.

Portal was one such game. Designed by Kim Swift (and her cohorts at Valve), Portal broke free of the chains often imposed upon new properties, thanks in no small part to Valve's clever marketing (including the title as part of the popular Orange Box package certainly helped), wonderfully addictive puzzle designs, and a charmingly bleak sci-fi story line that helped propel it into the stratosphere of video game culture. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the audience's aforementioned love of familiarity, Portal 2, at last check, had sold in the neighborhood of three million copies.

Swift didn't work on Portal 2. She was involved in a variety of different projects at Valve, but eventually opted to leave the company in late 2009 for a new job at Airtight Games. The fruits of that new position wouldn't be known until just before PAX earlier this year. This new game, Quantum Conundrum, features a protagonist trapped in a topsy-turvy world of science gone amok, forced to use dimension-shifting technology to manipulate the environment, physics, and a lot of square objects, with only the occasional help of a pet A.I. to aid them in their quest through this bizarre, potentially lethal scientific labyrinth.

Sound familiar?

It apparently did to a lot of commenters. On the debut trailers, promo videos, and news stories pertaining to the game's announcement, actual discussion of the game's merits seemed choked out by the thick, noxious fumes of direct, irritated Portal comparisons. Which isn't to say that those comparisons aren't without merit--in some respects, the two games do have direct similarities--but the negative tone with which many of those comments came across was vaguely baffling. Here is a game that, in some respects, closely resembles one of the best puzzle/adventure games of all time. One designed by the woman who designed that very game, no less. What, exactly, are people flipping out about?

IT'S SO FLUFFY

One gets the impression that Swift would just as soon not give any credence to anyone who would complain about such a thing. I noted during a recent preview session with her that it seemed she had a particular fancy for things like "mad-science-based puzzles, room-based puzzles, helpful robots, and square things," and her response was what one might call defensively affirmative. "Yes! They're fun. Why would I not want to make more fun?" She also pointed out that lots of puzzle games have square things. Fair enough.

In short, Swift has her thing. She has things she likes, and those things translate into her games. Seems fair, right?

It might be easier to criticize Quantum Conundrum for its derivations were it not so damn neat-looking. Though the story elements still aren't being shown (the demo we saw was an older one, and the game doesn't hit until early next year), we know of the premise involving you, a 12-year-old boy who finds himself trapped in the crazy, kooky home of his professorial uncle, Fitzgerald Quadwrangle. Quadwrangle has gone missing somewhere in this absurd laboratory/home, and it's up to you to find him. Unfortunately, obstacles lie in your way, ones that can only be traversed with the aid of a dimension-shifting glove, which allows you to do a variety of odd things, like turn everything in the room "fluffy," shift gravity up and down, and slow down time to a Michael Bay-ian crawl.

Unsurprisingly, you will find yourself combining these various abilities (including an as-yet-unrevealed fourth ability) in concert to find your way through this bizarre house. Your primary object of movement (though there are others) tends to be a giant, blocky safe, often barfed out by the house's helpful A.I. DOLLY (whose bulbous head closely resembles a cross between the Tin Man and an Ugly Doll). Sometimes they have to be placed on switches, launched across a room, used to break apart walls/windows, or all of the above. Hence the dimensional shifting. If the safe needs to be lifted, use the fluffy dimension. If it needs to break something, launch via fluffy, then switch back to normal. If it needs to go upside-down, use reverse-gravity. Need to use a safe as a platform, go to fluffy, launch, then normal, and to slow-motion.

Much as Portal was about finding ways to using your two portals (and sometimes those ill-fated companion cubes) to get you from point A to point B, Quantum Conundrum is about figuring out which combinations of dimensional shifts to put together to solve a particular room's weirdness. Over the course of the game's six-hour-or-so campaign, the trickiness of said puzzles will ramp up accordingly, culminating in some truly crazy brain-twisters (but probably not an antagonistic battle with DOLLY).

DOLLY's a bit derpy, but she just wants to help.

If you were one of those people who found Portal a bit too scratchy for your particular noodle, you might find Quantum Conundrum's hint system particularly useful. Swift was quick to clarify that this dynamic system, which looks at where you are in a room and feeds in information courtesy of your Uncle Quadwrangle over a loudspeaker, does not give away the answer, but rather suggests a place to look or an area to move toward to perhaps point you in the right direction.

"I'm the writer, and I watch playtests," she said, "And I know why people are getting stuck. Like in one area, we often find people fundamentally have trouble realizing to look up. You have to throw every tool at them to get them to look up, flashing lights, sound, everything. So I have a timeout area where if they've been in this area for a long time and they haven't done this one thing, then I can assume they are stuck here for this reason. All of our hints are custom-tailored per map, based on watching players playtest." That Valve mentality of "playtest, playtest, playtest" seems to have stuck with Swift, along with a few other things.

Whatever comparisons you may feel apt to make regarding Quantum Conundrum, do so with the understanding that we are in an industry built almost exclusively on rip-offs and pantomime. Think of the sheer volume of also-ran platformer heroes, military shooters, sci-fi strategy games, and gritty, dark action games we've been firehosed with over the last few decades. If Kim Swift wants to make a game that looks like a Kim Swift game, and that game looks as much fun to play as Quantum Conundrum, I say godspeed to her and her journey, and sign me up when the game releases on Xbox Live Arcade, the PlayStation Network, and Steam in 2012. I can always use a few more hours of whimsical puzzle-solving in my life.

Staff
#2 Edited by ajamafalous (11823 posts) -

It's only less interesting in that someone else "did it first" and so it isn't as novel. 
 
 
@Alex: She states she's the writer. Any word on if Quantum Conundrum will have Portal-like humor, or was that a product of Valve?

#3 Posted by FuzMel (33 posts) -

As a fan of complete originality, I'll probably play this portalesque title.

#4 Posted by Nentisys (885 posts) -

Sounds good.

#5 Posted by Matterless (324 posts) -

People who like this sort of game will find this the sort of game that they like.

#6 Posted by AlmostSwedish (542 posts) -

What a Doom-clone.

#7 Posted by Little_Socrates (5675 posts) -

Glad to hear it, hopefully it won't be weighed down by mock seriousness that so damaged my experience with Portal 2.

#8 Posted by mekklesak (53 posts) -

I love Portal, and more portal ain't bad.

#9 Posted by mbr2 (559 posts) -

@Degringolade said:

People who like this sort of game will find this the sort of game that they like.

So what your saying is it's going to be a video game?

#10 Posted by Makoto_Mizuhara_Sakamoto (592 posts) -

I'll play it, since it's from some of the peeps who made Portal, so they know how to make a great first-person puzzler work... and work well.

#11 Posted by Matterless (324 posts) -

@mbr2 said:

So what your saying is it's going to be a video game?

Don't put words in my mouth.

#12 Edited by ghostNPC (761 posts) -

It's probably going to be a decent, if not awesome game. However, the art and tonal direction is horrible. It's really preventing me from wanting to play it.

Good article though, Alex.

#13 Posted by mikey87144 (1649 posts) -

I can think of only 2 games that are like Portal. Portal 1 and Portal 2. Valve probably isn't making Portal 3 anytime soon so why not purchase this? I know I will be.

#14 Posted by BaconGames (3285 posts) -

Basically yeah. Conclusion: it's a video game.

#15 Posted by mr_shoeless (381 posts) -

Sounds great. I really liked Portal so I will definitely get this.

#16 Posted by Deathpooky (1367 posts) -

I was also confused by the random hatred for another first person puzzle game coming from a Portal co-creator. There's something wrong with working with what you know and creating a new game with different mechanics based on that?

Looking forward to trying this when it comes out.

#17 Posted by eccentrix (1486 posts) -

It's like if the people who made Tetris went on to make Blocktris. You wouldn't call them out on it?

#18 Posted by Mexican_Brownie (201 posts) -

Nice preview Alex, this game sounds really cool. Like other have said, a game by one of the creators of Portal can only be a good thing for people who like games. Looking forward to it

#19 Posted by 2HeadedNinja (1531 posts) -

I'm really looking forward to this ... not much information yet but the game looks charming and if it has the overall quality of Portal when it comes to the puzzle part there is no reason not to buy it day one.

#20 Posted by qraham (64 posts) -

I think the funniest thing about all this is that QC really doesn't seem that similar to Portal. The only similarities I can see are "physics puzzles" and "AI observer."

The tone seems completely different, and it the kinds of puzzles Swift is going for here only relate to Portal in that they involve abnormal physics systems that require the player to "think outside of reality" to complete them.

Didn't Braid do exactly that? What about P.B. Winterbottom?

It's almost as if there's a percentage of vocal gamers who are completely immature and scream for blood the second they hear about something totally reasonable...

#21 Posted by GlitchNDaSystem (37 posts) -

I think this could be potentially fun. Like qraham, I too think that this is more similar to Braid then portal. As long as I dont suck at this as much as I do at Braid, then it should be at least worth a rental/used pickup.

#22 Posted by Tesla (1904 posts) -

I think any negative comparisons to Portal have to come from people that aren't aware of the lineage.

#23 Posted by BisonHero (6055 posts) -

@ajamafalous said:

It's only less interesting in that someone else "did it first" and so it isn't as novel.


@Alex: She states she's the writer. Any word on if Quantum Conundrum will have Portal-like humor, or was that a product of Valve?

I'm fairly certain that the humour was the product of Valve. Maybe Kim Swift came up with the basic concept of "you use portals, and you're in a facility where you interact with an AI that isn't exactly helpful", but as far as I know, Erik Wolpaw and Chet Faliszek were responsible for writing just about everything in the first Portal.

Not trying to diminish her role on the project, just saying that I don't think she was there in the writer's room, just bangin' out jokes all day long.

#24 Posted by Vexxan (4612 posts) -

Getting more and more interested in this game every time I see it.

#25 Posted by SeriouslyNow (8534 posts) -
@qraham: I expected more from the mind who created Narbacular Drop and Portal to have produced a fluffy Portal 1.5.  There's a notable lack of progression going on here.
#26 Posted by Vodun (2370 posts) -

If you don't change enough, fans complain. If you change too much (Xcom, Syndicate), fans complain. Fuck the fans.

#27 Posted by AssInAss (2530 posts) -

@ajamafalous said:

It's only less interesting in that someone else "did it first" and so it isn't as novel.


@Alex: She states she's the writer. Any word on if Quantum Conundrum will have Portal-like humor, or was that a product of Valve?

The Portal-like humor was written by Old Man Murray, no word on who's the writer to QC.

#28 Posted by KillyDarko (1888 posts) -

I honestly can't wait for this game-- I've been "in love" with it since the first trailer :)

#29 Posted by patrick (560 posts) -

If ever a video game needed a drinking game out of previews written about it

#30 Posted by ryanwho (12082 posts) -

Alex broke that this game has someone from Portal working on it. Literally nobody else has taken that angle yet!

#31 Posted by haggis (1677 posts) -

I felt that Portal 2 disappointed on a puzzle level, and thought that the game--while pretty good overall--suffered from lack of serious competition in the market. In other words, it would be good to have more games like Portal out there to force game designers off their laurels. I only wish more developers would rip off Portal's game mechanics. We'd end up with quite a few better games as a result.

#32 Posted by MasterTom (76 posts) -

any word on coop?

#33 Posted by DragonBloodthirsty (470 posts) -

The issue is that the vocal "originality" liking player base and the "just give me the same rehashed garbage" are not necessarily the same people. "Gamers" are not a monolithic group of people, and as games become more mainstream that will only be more true.

#34 Posted by Raven10 (1707 posts) -

@ajamafalous said:

It's only less interesting in that someone else "did it first" and so it isn't as novel.


@Alex: She states she's the writer. Any word on if Quantum Conundrum will have Portal-like humor, or was that a product of Valve?

The men behind the writing in Valve's games are Erik Wolpaw and Marc Laidlaw. I would assume that Swift had some involvement with the overall story, but Wolpaw is the dialogue writer for the Portal games.

#35 Posted by SeriouslyNow (8534 posts) -
@Vodun said:

If you don't change enough, fans complain. If you change too much (Xcom, Syndicate), fans complain. Fuck the fans.

Awful comparison you just made there.  Xcom and Syndicate aren't even the same genres as their original games were or made by the same people or made in the same decade of developmental history and somehow you inversely compared them with people rightly recognising that this game isn't much a jump from Portal.  I would even go so far as to say that Portal 2 has more state changing going on than this game will.  This game is made by the same person who made Portal and it's basically Portal with slightly different mechanics.  Both games are about solving puzzles in rooms using player and world controlled state changes.  What gives games like these ongoing interest isn't the puzzles or the mechanics which drive them but rather the thematic feel and stories they tell.  People don't remember Portal for its gameplay alone and in fact what resonates most with Portal fans and those who only know of it in passing is the latter which came directly from its writing and its artistic elements.  This game, by comparison, looks childish in terms of story and banal in terms of artstyle so unless it does something entirely wonderfully new and absorbing in terms of gameplay I really feel it will not have the legs to gain much further interest.  Journalists need to do more than namedrop too.
#36 Posted by Vodun (2370 posts) -

@SeriouslyNow said:

@Vodun said:

If you don't change enough, fans complain. If you change too much (Xcom, Syndicate), fans complain. Fuck the fans.

Awful comparison you just made there. Xcom and Syndicate aren't even the same genres as their original games were or made by the same people or made in the same decade of developmental history and somehow you inversely compared them with people rightly recognising that this game isn't much a jump from Portal. I would even go so far as to say that Portal 2 has more state changing going on than this game will. This game is made by the same person who made Portal and it's basically Portal with slightly different mechanics. Both games are about solving puzzles in rooms using player and world controlled state changes. What gives games like these ongoing interest isn't the puzzles or the mechanics which drive them but rather the thematic feel and stories they tell. People don't remember Portal for its gameplay alone and in fact what resonates most with Portal fans and those who only know of it in passing is the latter which came directly from its writing and its artistic elements. This game, by comparison, looks childish in terms of story and banal in terms of artstyle so unless it does something entirely wonderfully new and absorbing in terms of gameplay I really feel it will not have the legs to gain much further interest. Journalists need to do more than namedrop too.

And you pretty much just expanded too much change and too little change. Thanks for helping word spewer!

#37 Posted by SeriouslyNow (8534 posts) -
@Vodun said:

@SeriouslyNow said:

@Vodun said:

If you don't change enough, fans complain. If you change too much (Xcom, Syndicate), fans complain. Fuck the fans.

Awful comparison you just made there. Xcom and Syndicate aren't even the same genres as their original games were or made by the same people or made in the same decade of developmental history and somehow you inversely compared them with people rightly recognising that this game isn't much a jump from Portal. I would even go so far as to say that Portal 2 has more state changing going on than this game will. This game is made by the same person who made Portal and it's basically Portal with slightly different mechanics. Both games are about solving puzzles in rooms using player and world controlled state changes. What gives games like these ongoing interest isn't the puzzles or the mechanics which drive them but rather the thematic feel and stories they tell. People don't remember Portal for its gameplay alone and in fact what resonates most with Portal fans and those who only know of it in passing is the latter which came directly from its writing and its artistic elements. This game, by comparison, looks childish in terms of story and banal in terms of artstyle so unless it does something entirely wonderfully new and absorbing in terms of gameplay I really feel it will not have the legs to gain much further interest. Journalists need to do more than namedrop too.

And you pretty much just expanded too much change and too little change. Thanks for helping word spewer!

You're confusing efficiency with efficacy. 
#38 Posted by Vodun (2370 posts) -

@SeriouslyNow said:

@Vodun said:

@SeriouslyNow said:

@Vodun said:

If you don't change enough, fans complain. If you change too much (Xcom, Syndicate), fans complain. Fuck the fans.

Awful comparison you just made there. Xcom and Syndicate aren't even the same genres as their original games were or made by the same people or made in the same decade of developmental history and somehow you inversely compared them with people rightly recognising that this game isn't much a jump from Portal. I would even go so far as to say that Portal 2 has more state changing going on than this game will. This game is made by the same person who made Portal and it's basically Portal with slightly different mechanics. Both games are about solving puzzles in rooms using player and world controlled state changes. What gives games like these ongoing interest isn't the puzzles or the mechanics which drive them but rather the thematic feel and stories they tell. People don't remember Portal for its gameplay alone and in fact what resonates most with Portal fans and those who only know of it in passing is the latter which came directly from its writing and its artistic elements. This game, by comparison, looks childish in terms of story and banal in terms of artstyle so unless it does something entirely wonderfully new and absorbing in terms of gameplay I really feel it will not have the legs to gain much further interest. Journalists need to do more than namedrop too.

And you pretty much just expanded too much change and too little change. Thanks for helping word spewer!

You're confusing efficiency with efficacy.

Pressing keys is hard!

#39 Posted by Hexogen (766 posts) -

Man, I'm tired of all these first-person puzzle games in which you use a device to alter the environment in order to progress through the levels. Enough already!

#40 Edited by ProjektGill (752 posts) -

Sounds like fun but I'll definitely wait for a Quick Look or some reviews before picking it up.

#41 Posted by HerbieBug (4197 posts) -

Very much looking forward to this. :D

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