Rain part 2: Visual Mechanics of Invisible/Visible Games

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Okay, I realize that I just wrote about Rain in my last post, but I’ve been thinking about it a bit more and now I’ve got more to say, namely about the visuals. Like I described in the last post, the central mechanic for the main character in this game is sort of a “forced” visibility caused by falling rain. Therefore, when you’re not being rained on, you’re invisible. Pretty simple, but the game makes you take that knowledge to the next level, presenting you with puzzles that push the mechanic to the limit. The effect is used to hide from monsters–also “invisible”–who are constantly looking to kill anything that’s not them for some unknown reason (again, I’m not done the game yet). Of course, things like getting the cuffs of your pants muddy will make you visible even when you’re not being rained on, so there’s that to watch out for, too. This effect, which is basically the whole reason this game is good, reminds me a lot of visual effects that I’m starting to see more and more of.

This is a screenshot of Link while he's holding the lantern but no torches are lit.

Link while he’s holding the lantern but no torches are lit.

The main example that comes to mind is from the new Zelda game, A Link Between Worlds for the 3DS, namely the platforming in the Dark Palace. Briefly put, many platforms in the Dark Palace only exist if you’re NOT using your lantern. Anyone who’s played Zelda games knows that having a lantern in dark areas can help to relieve some crippling anxiety related to enemies hurting you without you even seeing them, so being asked to put AWAY my lantern was definitely a source for concern. What showed up when I put my lantern away, however, was pretty magical.

Essentially, invisible walls are only seen when the lantern’s light doesn’t touch them. This means that, when you’re holding the lantern but you haven’t lit any of the room-illuminating torches yet, you’ll see a glow around you that shows you the “visible” world. Outside the range of the lantern’s light, you’ll see the invisible walls. This was SO COOL to see, especially since I didn’t understand why I kept bouncing off invisible force fields as I tried to make my way through rooms. Once you figure out this system, you have to carefully use your lantern to navigate rooms and enemies, since most enemies won’t show up without the lantern’s light on them. Even though it was a relatively easy dungeon, it definitely kept my heart beating faster than any other dungeon in the game. While some areas are frustrating, this one was flat-out anxiety-driven.

Anyways, back to my point: the inversion of what-should-be-seen and what-can’t-be-seen makes this weird mechanic insanely appealing to me. Imagine this: you’re a ghost, and the only way you can communicate to your loved ones that they need to contact your estranged family in order for you to move. They can’t see you but you can see them. You suddenly find an object that flips this can’t-see/can-see universe when you’re within a few feet of the object. The ability to communicate with the world around you is limited to that bubble, but your ghost powers don’t work near it and you can’t move the object! What do you do now? I don’t know, but that would be a killer game, in my opinion.

Differences between light and dark world in Guacamelee.

Differences between light and dark world in Guacamelee.

Not only that, but what if you had the ability to MAKE things invisible or visible. something that can only be flipped by certain people who have a certain magic power. The amount of puzzles you can do with this is extraordinary. Anyone who has played Guacamelee knows what I’m talking about: in that game you have to flip between light-world and dark-world views just to defeat enemies in ONE PANEL. It’s an extremely fast-paced execution of the mechanic I’m talking about and it does a great job of making you think in a new way to beat the game.

I want to see more of this kind of thing in games to come. The notion of multiverses is not new by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s something that has only been slightly experimented with in video games. This sucks, seeing as how video games are a great way to really EXPERIENCE multiverses without getting stripped into cosmic ribbons due to the stupid old laws of physics. Imagine choosing from a LIST of universes to jump to at any given moment during a platformer? Crazy.

All three of these games use this invisible/visible mechanic differently, some with care and subtlety, some with reckless speed, but all of them use it well. That being said, as far as visual appeal goes, Rain still beats them all. Wading around under an awning, only seeing a few wet footprints, then wandering back into the rain and seeing your poor character with his arms tucked in to fight off the cold: it’s enough to break your heart. Having that jarring reminder of humanity after strategically hiding from enemies for a few minutes makes the game all the more immersive, a quality that always puts a smile on my face (see how I tied it back in to the last post? It’s called “writing,” folks).

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