This one’s been in the works for a while. Experiment 12 is a collection of 12 games from 12 developers. Each developer had three days to complete their entry, and each entry was meant to have some formal relation to its predecessors. I believe that originally the idea was to have a narrative thread that carried through every game and came to some conclusion, and that idea was preserved somewhat. But like an old campfire story, each storyteller is telling their own version. In each iteration the teller forgets something old and discovers something new. The narrative moves like sound in a parking garage: all echo.
I’d like to briefly highlight some of my favorite discoveries made by the other storytellers.
01 - Terry Cavanagh
Chapter 1 is a wonderful beginning, and a hard act to follow! Well considered, mysterious and lonely, he creates a strong atmosphere immediately. What strikes me more than anything, however, is this image of the main character’s arm from the enemy contact animation. It’s such an odd moment, the body twists into a position contorted and unnatural, and then Cavanagh is wisely content to let the moment rest. It goes on for barely too long, which is exactly the amount of time it needs to go on! A pleasant discomfort.
If you’ve played my chapter you know I also loved the 3D interruption that occurs midway, as it was a formal object I experimented with in mine as well.
03 - Jack King-Spooner
I was unable to pass the second of these levels, so there may be a great deal in this chapter I am missing. Of what I saw, I absolutely love the asides given to you by characters standing out-of-place in the surreal otherworld. When you die, a worm will eat your lips. The enemies which chase you are simple enough, but the painful static that accompanies respawning is like an electric shock, enough to make me fearful of touching anything. We begin to feel as though we are the experiment - a mouse lost in a maze - suffering shocks at random.
04 - Guilherme Töws (Zaratustra)
Chapter 4 utilizes a fantastic visual device that I don’t remember ever seeing used in a game to quite this effect. Each room, if no enemies are touched, will remain onscreen for the rest of the game. There is also a return to the visual motifs established in chapter 1, as to its idea of persons being kept in tubes. My favorite moment comes at the end, however, where the player is forced to come in contact with an enemy to move into a new room. The relationship with obstacles moves from an antagonistic one to a symbiotic one. This also has the effect of wiping clear all previous rooms still onscreen, as though offering a blank slate to the next developer in the chain.
05 - Richard Perrin
Visually, this is my favorite moment from Perrin’s chapter. The distant tower we have taken for our guiding light is far away, submerged and unreachable. The moment comes as a genuine surprise.
The light at its peak in not reflected in its base, making it feel not a structure half sunken, but rather an eerie, hovering monolith. The slant of the form, it’s obvious midway crook, recalls for me in feeling the painful animation of the protagonist’s arm repeated through Chapter 1.
06 - Michael Brough
Chapter 6 internalizes the the multiscreen idea first proposed in Chapter 4 and spits it back out at you in a frenzied, rising panic. Each screen is active perpetually, and by the end it becomes a whirling, beautiful chaos already too complex to handle and expanding exponentially still.
07 - Robert Yang
By far the least comprehensible chapter, chapter 7 is a game whose rules you don’t understand in a foreign language. Herein is all the feeling of gameplay with none of the consequence. Given enough distance, every choice become arbitrary. It is notable the asset reuse between this and chapter 5, the two are anchored in a common language. But where chapter 5 is making an attempt to be understood, chapter 7 takes all that you have been struggling so far to understand and obfuscates it totally. It grabs at familiar images and creates of them an alien.
08 - Alan Hazelden
I’ve a particular, biased interest in chapter 8. Many of the levels here are taken right from my own chapter, although they here appear in text. Hazelden distills the levels into something much simpler, and much more pure. Open spaces are stripped out, so long as the level’s general form remains recognizable. The player’s movement is quantized. There are no randomly wavering tiles. It is impossible to stand between two places, one may only ever be at a single definite location. This shifts focus from the feeling of movement to the consequence of position. Chapter 8 may be read as a dispassionate, removed view of what in chapter 2 was a personal and physical experience. Gone are the visions, gone is the constant simulation of nausea. All that remains are impersonal observations and recordings. It provides us a fascinating view of the same set of levels from an opposite perspective.
09 - Benn Powell
A reverse missile command in spartan presentation. I admire its bare simplicity, nothing more is here than what is necessary. Just enough shape exists to suggest missile, satellite, moon, earthbase. A welcome addition would be the ability to see the line of the last shot you fired, but it is not a strictly necessary feature and so its absence is no surprise.
10 - Jake Clover
Of any graphic in Experiment 12, I think these are my favorite. Their form implies both ballerina and alligator, and the place they inhabit is no less strange. The scene seems to have its own mind, of which we are allowed only minimal participation in. We began, in chapter 1, as a single entity, likely human, and in a familiar dystopia. Now we are one of many, and of alien thought. Our perspective has shifted from inside the protagonist to outside. Our avatar is no longer human, and we do not understand its language.
11 - TheBlackMask
By far this chapter seems to me the most literal of any. More than any other chapter before it, chapter 11 seems to have a clear idea of what’s going on. We’ve shifted perspectives again back to a human, an individual, and what an individual’s role in all this mess could be. There are echos here of earlier chapters’ focus on the tube entities as legion, but it is here inverted and we see the legion from the perspective of one it has overcome.
There’s a relation here to the nature of the development experiment. Where chapter 6 might be said to be about the effect of every game combined, chapter 11 seems concerned about the individual voice in conflict with the group. Thus the theme repeated: a policeman abandoning his post, a journalist acting against police orders, a single scientist perpetrating mass murder.
12 - Jasper Byrne
Byrne’s is a gorgeously rendered chapter, and brings the whole experiment full circle. Once more, the visual language grows from chapter 1, including even the presence of the ticking clock. As with chapter 1, the clock will reset at 24:00 and one must reset the clock in order to complete one of the puzzles. We are sent back to 00:00, another experiment is begun, the cycle perpetuates.
If you like, you may read some of the other developers’ words about the game: