We mentioned in our quick overview of the games on show at the IndieCade booth at E3 that Steve Swink’s Scale sounds like a promising idea, but little is actually known about it, despite it having been in and out of development for a while now. The principal behind it, we’re told, is that you can manipulate the environment through shrinking and growing it. From this central idea, the gameplay wraps itself around and many different puzzles will be born. Having one strong mechanic such as this usually proves successful – look at Braid and Portal for two of the best known examples. Surely we’re desensitized to such clever ideas now though? Our reaction to seeing Scale in action proves that may not be the case.
As this is the first time Steve has ever shown off Scale to the public, he wants to make sure that it is clear that everything is placeholder for now. The colorful presentation with the blue sky and green islands will stay, and things will just look different by the time the game has finished, which Steve says might be another couple of years away yet. Scale is first person and, yes, you do have a gun in your hand. The ammo, if you like, in this case is something called ‘Scale Juice’. With this, you can shrink and grow objects at will. If you shrink an object, you gain more juice and by growing it you’ll lose some. This restriction is necessary so that puzzles can be based around it, and also so that players cannot go mental and just grow every object out of proportion.
Steve’s interest in the the scaling mechanic comes from his observation of the effects size can have on human perception. His example is that a normal-sized chair is boring; make it huge, however, and some may call it art or at the very least will gaze in amazement. Similarly, shrinking a chair becomes something you want to pick up and examine, even play with as part of a doll house. So how does this translate into the game? Things start off simple, as is always the case; players will be gradually introduced to the kind of things they can achieve through shrinking and growing objects. Something may be blocking a tunnel, in which case you should shrink it so it is no longer a problem. If there’s a ledge you cannot reach, then simply jump on the small pillar in front of it and then grow it so that is lifts you up to the desired height.
A little further into the demo, things get a little more interesting as more physics-based considerations hinge off of the scaling. Of course, as an object gets bigger they gain mass and can be used to weigh down a button on the floor. Momentum is next, with a ball gaining speed the bigger it is and the slower the smaller it is. As movement is introduced, certain obstacles have to reduced in size so that others can get through, thus gradually making the puzzle elements slightly more frantic. Though not implemented in the game yet, Steve also showcases his plans with a dollhouse – something that seems to be a central motif – having the player grow it to go inside and grab another doll house, bring it outside and then put the first dollhouse inside the second dollhouse. Obviously, it needs some work, but there’s something in there.
[Courtesy of Kotaku]
Another idea brought to the table by Steve evolves from his thinking that the player is creating worlds which were not accessible before. When you grow something that was initially inaccessible to due to the size of the player’s character, you will find new discoveries. For instance, imagine a creature blown up to a much bigger from of itself. You could then enter into its mouth and discover a whole new reality. This is the kind of thing Steve is thinking up in terms of level design now that the gameplay is more or less sorted. His ideas regarding creatures are actually much more exciting than the puzzles based around lifeless objects. In the demo, he scales up a butterfly and jumps on to reach an area across an open stretch of sky, being careful to shrink obstructions on the way. He also amused himself with the idea of making the player have to create a huge spider, just to tease arachnophobes. Futher still, a fresh take on enemies in Mario-like style: stomping on, say, a Goomba’s head would kill it, providing you’re the right size in relation to it so that the mass provides enough downward force.
While all of this is very exciting, Steve went one step further to showcase what we have all been waiting to see – something that makes your lower jaw just every so slightly drop. He built a Grand Canyon level just to showcase how far he was taking the mechanic. How do you pass over the Grand Canyon? By shrinking the entire world, of course, and simply stepping over it. Pretty exciting stuff. It was then that Steve brought in his latest consideration – the manipulation of time. He says that by shrinking the land like he did with the Grand Canyon actually opens up the game to time-based puzzles, because you can skip needlessly long treks by making the distance each step makes bigger. Travelling up mountains can literally be managed with just one step, if you manipulate the land in such a way.
The IndieCade demo was being played with a PC, so a PC release for Scale seems very likely. Steve cannot say anything about any other platform at the moment in time, as that’s not on his mind, but he seems up for a release on consoles, though. We’re pretty sure that once the necessary people see it, Scale will easily secure a console release in some form or another. There’s no official website for Scale yet, but there will be very soon, and you can catch a quick Q&A about the game on this page for now.