Aug. 27, 2011 at 12:41 AM ET
If you thought using portals to bend space and solve puzzles made for some sublime brain-teasing fun, then the designer behind the beloved game "Portal" has something new she thinks you'll like.
As the Penny Arcade Expo got under way in Seattle today, I chatted with Kim Swift — one of the lead designers behind hit games like "Portal" and "Left 4 Dead" — as she demonstrated her newest project: "Quantum Conundrum."
The game, due to be released early next year as a downloadable title on Xbox Live, the PlayStation Network and PC, looks as though it should have a lot to offer those who fell in love with “Portal.”
Like “Portal,” "Quantum Conundrum" is a first-person puzzle platformer. Here you play a kid who has been dropped off at his uncle's sprawling home-turned-laboratory. Your uncle — the mad Professor Quadwrangle — has filled this enormous manor with rooms full of experiments. But of course, there’s a problem: the Professor has gone missing and you need to find him.
Players are given a glove called the Inter-Dimensional Shift Device. Using the device, you can shift dimensions, which changes the physical properties of the environment around you.
As you try to make your way through room after room, you are presented with different environmental puzzles. If a doorway is too high to reach, for example, use the glove device to shift to the “fluffy dimension.” Everything becomes ten times lighter than it was before which allows your young character to move objects that would otherwise be too heavy for him to lift. You can move an object and then jump up onto it to reach the previously unreachable passageway.
Meanwhile, if you need to cross a chasm too wide to jump, you can use the device to shift to the “slow-motion dimension” where everything (except you) moves 20 times slower. Throw an object across the chasm, slow time so that the object pauses mid-air, and then jump onto that object and use it as a platform to reach the other side.
Then there’s the “reverse gravity dimension” which pretty much does what it sounds like it would do. When gravity reverses, you’ll be able to “drop” objects up to the ceiling where they can, for example, press important switches for you.
But the game gets truly interesting as you start using the different dimensional shifts together, playing with the room’s physical properties in all sorts of ways to solve the puzzles in your path. And there is still another dimensional shift that has not yet been revealed.
Swift — who previously worked at Valve Software on "Portal" and the "Left 4 Dead" games — left the company in 2009 for Airtight Games where "Quantum Conundrum" is being developed. She says she was excited to be given the opportunity to build her own team and helm her own project, but she acknowledges that — as the creator of "Portal" — expectations are high.
"It’s definitely a lot of pressure," she told me. "If you mess up, people are going to point the finger. But honestly, I just like to make games that I’d want to play and I really like playing these types of games and I know other people like playing them too."
Certainly from watching the demo, “Quantum Conundrum” feels very much like a sibling to Swift’s most famous game. Making your way from room to room, pressing switches to open doors, trying to figure out how to get past lasers — some of the elements and obstacles here will seem immediately familiar to those who’ve played the “Portal” games. But Swift doesn’t mind the comparison.
“I can’t really change the games I like to make and I can’t change my own particular aesthetic,” she said. “I just think this is a genre that needs to be explored more in the industry.”
In fact, “Quantum Conundrum” seems a bit like the kinder, gentler sibling to “Portal.” The look is more youthful and cartoonish and, from what I've seen so far, there is no malevolent artificial intelligence like GLaDOS out to get you in the game.
Indeed, Swift said she hopes the game will appeal to a broad audience.
“’Quantum Conundrum’ has a little bit of something for everybody — it’s got something for kids and it’s got enough of a challenge for a hardcore gamer,” she says. “One of the things I loved about working on ‘Portal’ was that we’d get emails from people saying, ‘I love to play first-person shooters but my girlfriend won’t play them with me. But I got her to play ‘Portal’ and she had a blast.’
"I want to hearken back to that feeling," Swift said. "I want everybody to play.”
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Winda Benedetti writes about games for msnbc.com. You can follow her tweets about games and other things here on Twitter or join her in the stream here on Google+.And be sure to check out the In-Game Facebook page here.