Playing in the Fourth Dimension

AN EXERCISE IN EXTRASPATIAL REASONING

The idea of dimensional space that cannot be registered is confusing, strange, and to me, tantalizing. We are simply three dimensional creatures, and it took us humans quite a while to grasp the concept of dimensional spaces at all. Stretching into the fourth dimension seems almost greedy, like some sort of arbitrary mental exercise of mathematical dominance. Yet there’s a certain sort of magic in beginning to grasp extradimensional objects that provides intellectual stimulation and the satisfaction of a strange new puzzle solved.

So why not put the fourth dimension in games? Well, because it’s confusing as all hell. Aside from that, however, people are likely ready to welcome it. Miegakure is one game that has not shied away from the prospect of taking the already popular puzzle concept of spatial reasoning, and added on a fourth dimension for good measure. I try not to talk about games that aren’t even out yet, but Miegakure has been in development for about five years now, and with the frequent boundary pushing that has come out of indie development over the past few years, it pays to wax philosophic and speculative about the future of mechanics and untapped potential.

Four dimensional reasoning only adds to the challenge of navigating a landscape, and provides a potential layer for movement and advantage. Miegakure is a slow-paced puzzle game, set in a strange multi-dimensional Zen Garden. Miegakure itself means “hide and reveal,” a highly stylized form of temple garden meant to obscure itself from those walking along its paths, yet reveal itself to all looking from a distance. This quiet, Zen environment is the perfect place to start with such an advanced and difficult mental concept, yet I can’t help but see the potential for other genres. As difficult as the learning curve could be, the thought of a professional competitive match for a shooter or MOBA with dimensional shifting could be fascinating, to watch and to learn. As the third dimension crept into games, it did more than just make the graphics more realistic, it often overhauled the gameplay.

Series like Doom and Quake took great advantage of full three dimensional movement, and let the increase of dimensions also become an increase in potential, both for threats and player ability. Many games try to add more vertical movement in order to shake things up, and often find themselves struggling (Brink, anyone?). Designing and playing in the fourth dimension would be difficult, and require a lot of learning. It certainly wouldn’t be for everyone, and perhaps would only appeal to a niche. Yet massively overcomplicated and difficult games, from Europa Universalis IV to Dark Souls II, all have their markets.

Don’t underestimate your players, developers. There will always be some willing to figure this stuff out, and they’ll be the ones sweeping tournaments, lurking message boards, and swapping tricks and tips online. Don’t underestimate new ideas, either. They can fizzle out immediately, become one hit wonders, or inspire hundreds of unoriginal copycats, and that’s a good thing.

pwasted@synthesis.net