The Fluffy Dimension is a wonderful place. Everything is soft and squishy, from walls to heavy objects that suddenly become as light as a feather. Foreboding portraits suddenly display joyful scenes of marshmallow clouds and candy canes, while it's almost impossible to hurt oneself in a world of soft edges and duvet-covered surfaces. It's enough to make you never want to leave.
But leave you will, because the Fluffy Dimension is just one of four you'll encounter in Quantum Conundrum: the upcoming first-person puzzler from Airtight Games.
If the idea of first-person puzzling instantly makes you think of that Valve game, it's not by accident. Project lead Kim Swift actually worked as lead designer on Portal, and has leveraged her skill at creating intricate brainteasers into a newfound yearning for creating games aimed at broader audiences. Quantum Conundrum is the result, and it's shaping up to be a bit of a blinder ahead of its June 21st Steam launch.
Quantum Conundrum tells the episodic tale of a young boy who returns to his estranged uncle's sprawling mansion. As an avid inventor, however, Professor Fritz Quadwrangle (impeccably voiced by Star Trek's John De Lancie) has gotten himself trapped by his latest experiment, so players will have to use his own device to save the unhinged pioneer. Though their relationship is somewhat remote at the start of the game, uncle and nephew will gradually learn to appreciate each other over the course of the game as the pair communicate via tanoy.
The key to proceeding through the mansion-cum-laboratory (which essentially boils down to challenge rooms in gameplay terms) is a handheld intra-dimensional device that can transport players into four different dimensions while remaining in the same space. These unique modes change the physical properties of objects within the environment and environments themselves, all while delivering a unique visual style.
Puzzles tend to hinge around relatively simple physical problems arranged into increasingly intricate permutations. DOLLY, who is essentially an anthropomorphic cloning device attached to walls and ceilings, spits out crates, heavy safes and the like, while the environments are littered with breakable barriers and deadly hazards. A young lad is no match for safety glass, bottomless pits and searing lasers... but by changing the entire world with a single button press,
We've already discussed the Fluffy Dimension, which primarily serves to make objects much lighter. Enormous safes can be picked up as easily as a child's toy, and thrown enormous distances with little effort. Falls don't hurt as much (surfaces are cushioned) and momentum is gained far quicker, thus allowing objects to be propelled further when thrown by the player or DOLLY. Should you need to move something heavy or throw something far, the Fluffy Dimension should be your first port of call.
The Heavy dimension acts much like you'd expect: the world takes on a harsher, industrial tone as everything becomes much more dense and durable. Small objects can depress pressure switches while using this mode, while thrown cardboard boxes can smash windows if triggered in flight. Density also equates to toughness, meaning that even lighter objects can become strong enough to block off laser grids or survive a long fall.
Slow motion makes everything, erm, slower. With the exception of the player, that is. It's worth noting that Quantum Conundrum's slow-mo is slower than most, even sluggish enough to watch laser beams lazily activate at a few centimetres per second.
Gravity Reversal acts as the final, and somewhat self-explanatory, dimension available to players. In this mode, up is down and down is up, which ought to have some fairly obvious practical applications. Objects in flight can be kept at a constant altitude by quickly flicking it on and off (forward momentum is preserved, much like in Portal), meaning that clever players can even create temporary moving platforms out of household objects. Kim Swift describes this manoeuvre as "safe surfing," and it's properly awesome.
Each of these four dimensions is useful by themselves, but most puzzles will require you to combine them. Simple examples include picking up a toughened iron safe using Fluffy, throwing it and then switching to heavy in order to break a window, or tricking a laser grid with slow motion and a newly-resistant cardboard box. Most rooms only allow you to equip a limited number of dimensional batteries at any time, forcing players to pick and choose their abilities as they progress.
Of course, more advanced puzzles require players to combine dimensions yet further. Taking safe surfing to the extreme, a looming chasm can be crossed by activating Fluffy to pick up and throw a safe, switching to Slow Motion in order to hop on top and then manipulating gravity to keep it in flight, all in the space of a few short seconds. Incredibly simple controls (each dimension has its own face button) makes switching between abilities an absolute breeze.
A huge amount of Airtight's limited resources have clearly been poured into the art design and attention to detail. Quantum Conundrum looks gorgeous, and i9t's down to the personality-laden visuals. Small flourishes, such as some hilariously titled books (To Kilowatt A Mocking Bird is my personal favourite) go hand in hand with some beautiful touches that will keep players entertained throughout multiple playthroughs. Pictures actually change depending on the dimension, such as a mountain scene becoming a fluffy paradise, a cruel and harsh nightmare or even a dinosaur diorama while using Slow Motion. Unnecessary, maybe, but it's these delightful little features that will suck players in beyond the 50+ puzzles.
Delightful, in fact, will probably be a perfect way to describe Quantum Conundrum. Some will view Swift's creation as a fluffier, cuter and more accessible Portal, but it's clear that the Square Enix-backed project will have an identity of its very own.
Quantum Conundrum will release on Steam, complete with Team Fortress 2 pre-order bonus items, on June 21st. A PSN/XBLA launch is slated for "summer 2012." We've got a full interview with lead designer (and Portal alumnus) Kim Swift coming soon, so watch this space.