Sightline Alpha ReVisited

Posted May 20, 2014 by Edmund in Features

In early March we looked at Sightline – a philosophical, dreamlike puzzle adventure where things change when you’re not looking at them.

That version won a well deserved third place in last year’s VR Game Jam. Sadly, the game did not manage to meet its crowdfunding goal in a recent Indiegogo campaign. Luckily, developer, Tomáš Mariančík is undeterred and still working on Sightline. He recently released a new Alpha build.

Michael Abrash gave a great presentation at Carnegie Mellon in which he described, among other things, that presence in VR feels so real to our perceptual system that active suspension of belief is required to remember what isn’t real. The original Sightline is a surreal and fascinating experience that feels unique to VR precisely because this suspension of belief is the game’s core mechanic. The world looks and feels pretty convincing until its unrealistic laws of physics remind you that you are somewhere quite strange.

The VR Jam build alternated between a surreal experience demo and a full blown puzzle game, but it felt like a whole experience in and of itself. In my review I expressed doubt as to what more could be added to the game beyond polish. It seems that Mariančík has gone back to basic principles in his latest alpha –exploring how core mechanics, like object interaction, traversal, and combat, might work within Sightline’s central premise.

Beyond that premise, this new Sightline Alpha does not resemble the original game. Gone is the amazing forest landscape and thrilling room of spikes – the new Alpha is stark and white – Perhaps the beginnings of a training level or, more likely, just a test environment that will not be in the final game.

You have a robotic body, like a crash-test dummy, this time round – a definite improvement on the blob with cartoon eyes from before. You will need to run and jump in places, which is not too uncomfortable but I wonder how much that is by virtue of the fairly blank backdrop as much as the jumping physics themselves. Object interaction is a highlight of this Alpha – by pointing at an object and clicking you can telekinetically pull it towards you. Even with just a mouse this is incredibly satisfying, but with a motion controller, like STEM or the Hydra, I imagine it will be a joy – feeling like a Jedi as you pull objects towards you with a gesture. I don’t think these controllers are supported as yet, but it is certainly a logical extension.

These telekinetic powers come into play in the combat sections too. In them, you are attacked by a floating object that changes shape when it gets out of your sight. You need to grab a corresponding smaller object and throw it at your foe to cause damage. The enemies will try to get out of your line of sight when you’re holding an object that can damage them so it can be quite hard to get a hit. Your ammunition changes form if you turn away from it as well, complicating things further – forcing you to try to keep your enemy in sight, whilst looking away from an object, hoping that when you look back it will have transformed into the shape that you need. It is possible to get into a boss-fight rhythm, but adding in the additional complexity of having to try to avoid getting hit at the same time is a lot to think about and could certainly make things overwhelming or frustrating, at least at first. This system shows promise but may be better suited to more of an action puzzle element than life-threatening combat. Either way, it is a creative use of the original premise that makes for more dynamic and traditional gameish play.

 

The new Alpha of Sightline is a bold step in a new direction for the game – experimenting with more reusable and scalable game concepts that make use of the underlying mechanic introduced last year. Don’t download it expecting a sequel to Sightline. This demo has none of the spectacle or passive, experiential elements that were among the best moments in the original game. There may be a tension here – between the desire to create a flowing experience that astounds and delights and the desire to build a complex and challenging physics puzzler. But this is just an Alpha.  There is no reason the two styles can’t be wed together if the base mechanics are solid enough. This demo displays the right kind of inquisitiveness about the possibilities of those mechanic to bode well for a finished product after a period of experimentation and refinement. I, for one, am more interested in the continued development of Sightline than ever before. I wish Tomáš the best of luck if he decides to give crowdfunding another shot, down the line.

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About the Author

Edmund

Edmund Ward is a philosophy graduate who has focused on aesthetics and cultural critique in the information age. He grew up with 'the dream of the holodeck' and is prone to get very excited by new innovations in natural user-interfaces. Edmund is currently looking for volunteers to look after the glucose drip that will sustain his "fleshform" (as he insists on calling it) when he migrates permanently to VR.

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