Lumines and Child of Eden


Written by Chris Price
16 Monday 16th August 2010

Remember when times were much simpler? Before 3D TV? Before augmented reality? It might sound a bit stuffy, but it does seem that a lot of people still do harbour a fascination for traditional simple pleasures. The internet practically glowed when Google put Pac-Man up on their homepage.
Microsoft have been road-showing Kinect about the UK, attempting to convince families of the UK that ‘this isn’t the Wii – it’s better!’ The titles on display have been the bundled sports apps – all well and good if you don’t like going outside and interacting with the real world. More exciting surely has been the more intangible titles, the most anticipated of which has to be developers Q Entertainment’s upcoming exercise in synesthesia, Child of Eden.
Essentially a shoot ‘em up – in that targets require identification and arena negotiation – it also brings organic and emotional qualities to the experience. The player’s involvement is to alter the audio and visual pulse of the game. There is an absence of rigorous linearity. Progress is governed by the degree of disruption the wibbly pink organic bit orchestrating all of this brings.
But before this, Q Entertainment were involved with a very simple project, which touched briefly on a lot of these aspects. Lumines was released in 2004 for the PSP, to great critical acclaim. Maybe not an evolutionary step, but certainly one of the most effective amalgamations of simple borrowed gaming mechanics.
Back in 1985, Tetris appeared out of communist Russia, setting the benchmark for the traditional ‘tile-based’ puzzle game. Fitting descending blocks together against a time limit, rewarded with deletion, delivering a high score. Delete more in one go for extra points. 1989 saw Atari’s Klax, boldly added an extra degree of timing (seeing blocks from a distance and stacking them up) while allowing the creation of diagonals, much the same as the Connect 4 board game. 1989 also saw Calfornia Dreams’ Block Out try and shift the perspective to a top down stacking mechanic, but in 1990, SEGAs Columns distilled the creation of coloured patterns, reverting to the vertical stacking system of Tetris. The descending stacking system was here to stay it seemed. Simple as it is, this aspect of tessellation has been a stalwart of the genre for the last 2 decades, only the recent Portal (Valve 2007) has truly managed to break free from this.
Lumines managed to reign in the anxious hypervisuality of subsequent puzzle games, by working in short-bursts of risk & reward gameplay. The delivery of bricks utilised a familiar vertical drop system, and the deletion was governed by a visual guide – in this case, a sweeping line. The task? Make a 2 x 2 cube of one colour to remove it. Make as many as possible before the next pass of the line to rack up a score multiplier. The goal? Well, the same as every other puzzle title – keep going ad infinitum – you vs. the game. Human vs. code.
But Lumines’ most emphatic success was the uncharacteristic degree of emotional involvement it bestowed upon the player. The deletion line, swiped with the cadence of the music. When a certain number of blocks were deleted, the audio/visual ‘skin’ of the game would suddenly alter drastically, often making the game suddenly very tricky. Survive, and the skin would alter again – as if it were thinking the best way to fox you, to lure you into a false sense of security before delivering a sucker punch.
It also offered you a versatile approach to the game – the traditional ‘store and wait’ approach of pro ‘Tetrites’ could be your battle plan. Utilising jewelled blocks, which would offer to remove all similar touching colours, in a chain reaction. Maybe play neatly – slot lines and blocks, perhaps aim to remove one colour from the field for an extra bonus. Or you could go all out – a frantic rush play, providing a constant trial and error adrenaline bump. Slot a jewelled block by accident and wipe half of the screen away, and breathe a sigh of relief as you attempt to unlock the next screen and a new soundtrack. Aided by some fantastic thumping electronic music courtesy of producer and Kitsune–collaborator Shinichi Osawa, concentration rewarded a new sensory experience.
Its impressive that such a simple little game could provide such an exhilarating experience. It’s also a reason that Child of Eden is being anticipated as such a killer app. Its rare that a developer can tap into the very beat of our lives and provide such an engaging experience – especially through a tried and tested control system. New methods of interaction provide a whole wealth of opportunity for brave developers – not just a new system to crowbar into dated software.
Lumines is around £10 on the PSP from Lumines Live! is included on the Qubed compilation on Xbox Live (along with Rez HD and Every Extend Extra Extreme). Lumines Supernova is available on the PlayStation Network.

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