Between


Once I got over the fact that I needed another player for this game and after I forced Daan to play it with me, I actually started to enjoy it! It’s a really cool mix of puzzle and collaboration. It gave me a Tetris-vibe at first, but then I realised it was much more complex.

At first, I didn’t have a clue what to do and just filled my entire space with blocks and waited for something to happen. Since I didn’t hear any sound, I kept saying to Daan: “My sound isn’t working!” And he replied by saying he was hearing a little tune. Then he suggested I should try to fill the flashing tower of light with the corresponding blocks, when I did this I finally discovered what the game is all about.

In Between you are a little person that can move blocks around. At first you’ll only have 3 colours to work with: red, green and blue. As the person you’re playing with progresses through the game, you’ll start to receive different blocks of different and mixed colours. With this combination of puzzling and collaboration you’ll have to complete the entire tower.

How does this actually work? Well, there are three stages in the game. I call them: awake, between and sleep. By pressing either S or W you can switch between those two stages. At first there’s no need to switch between the stages, since you have all the colours to make the first row of your tower: red, green and red. But then you’ll need a block with a combination of green and red. You can create this block by going to the previous stage and building a giant version of the block in the cube (you can see how I did this in the screenshot above). Then a ‘W’ will appear beneath this cube, when you press W you’ll be taken to the next stage (in this case awake), where you’ll have a fourth block – the one you just made – at your disposal.

This of course gets more complicated as your progress and eventually you’ll need to use all three stages just to create one block. Also, as you can see in the images, you’ll need colours that are initially not at your disposal. This is where the collaboration comes in. As the other player progresses you’ll receive more blocks in different colours at the sleep stage (as you can see in the screenshot below). You need to depend on the progression of the other player in order for you to progress, this causes a very strange, but well designed, collaboration. One can’t progress without the other.

There’s also a fun little tune in the game. At first you won’t hear anything, but as you build your tower, you’ll hear a melody when you stand near the tower. The sound gets weaker when you move away from the tower. And with every line that you build more elements are added to the song. This creates a very fun atmosphere and motivates you to continue building.

The controls are very simple. You use B and N to switch between blocks. You press the spacebar to actually place a block or to pick up a block that was already there. With the arrow keys you can move your avatar left or right and navigate through your blocks in all directions. Use W (wake) and S (sleep) to switch between the different stages. One thing that I discovered while playing: when you press S, you won’t have a fourth block at your disposal in that stage. The fourth block only appears when you press W. Does this have a mathematical cause or has it actual meaning?

I tried to find some texts or reviews about this game that elaborates on its meaning, but couldn’t find anything. The readme file doesn’t give much explanation and when you first play the game you won’t have any clue about what to do, unless you read this entry of course. I don’t know if this is done on purpose, maybe you’re meant to figure out what to do on your own. But I always love to be told what to do, in games of course, I’m also a big fan of tutorials. I didn’t like being left in the dark in Between.

And as far as its meaning, I’m really curious about it! Online people refer to it as being a poem and the text on Esquire (which hosts the game at the moment) is pretty vague. At first the texts elaborates on the tower in strange metaphors: “With time, you feel something growing, a pinhole that eventually yawns into a deep ravine of longing.” And the second paragraph really makes me think I’m too stupid to get this game:

“One night, in a dream, they appear: things that you clearly could not have conjured on your own. Not snowflakes. Not the self-similar forms of leaves. Not distant planets’ erosion networks as viewed through telescopes. Not those things that are beautifully external but lack the signatures of consciousness. These things that appear are ugly and non-procedural: indecipherable transmissions bubbling up through static, faded messages floating in bottles, and charcoal handprints on cave walls. Evidence has reached you through time of unknown duration and distance of unknown magnitude, but stale evidence is still evidence.”

All I can make of it is something to do with aliens? Maybe I don’t get it, because I didn’t finish the game. I actually gave up! You can see how far I got in the screenshot above, my brain was overloaded and I couldn’t go on. Maybe when you’ve built the tower, something happens, but I wouldn’t know. You’ll have to figure it out on your own.

Even though it isn’t the most innovative game ever – since in essence you’re moving blocks around – it definitely has some innovative features. It puts a twist on the traditional genre of multiplayer games and it offers new kinds of puzzles. It’s a good candidate and a deserved finalists for the innovation award at the IGF 2009. You can download the game at Esquire and find more info on its designer Jason Rohrer on his site.

For an overview of my articles on the IGF 2009 go here.

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