Justice Playthrough #71: Purple Noise Echo

This is not a good game … yet. It might become one of the best games I’ve yet discovered in this trawl.

It’s all up to the dev.

Page 14, Game 18: Purple Noise Echo by ukioq

You are a silicon entity of some sort, trapped … somewhere. Something is in contact with you, and it advises you to get the hell out of there, before you get killed or run out of energy. This seems like a splendid plan, so off you go.

A strange land, made of hexagons

As you explore, you’ll stumble across various upgrade modules, which allow you to manipulate your environment or turn worker-things you encounter into friends. If that sounds like a euphemism for “enslave,” trust your gut on that one.

You belong to me now.

Of course, they’re not the only things you’ll encounter. There are also other things moving around down here. Whatever the hell they are, they have beef with you. Run.

why u mad bro?

I am not a video game developer; I am strictly on the consumer end of that capitalistic power dynamic. My notion of what video game development looks like is fundamentally ignorant, informed only by my experience developing other (radically different) types of software and dribs and drabs I’ve picked up from people actually in the industry.

My mental notion of what an “unfinished” game is like matches my experience with Youmu Is A Zombie!, a game I encountered earlier in the trawl as part of a bundle-within-the-bundle. The game looks raw as hell, but the mechanisms defining the actual gameplay are very well thought-out. In this case, “further development” presumably means polishing up the graphics and the subtleties of the player experience in general.

Purple Noise Echo flips that dynamic on its head entirely. This game LOOKS gorgeous. The game warns you that it’s basically still in an alpha state, a claim that had me all “No fucking WAY, this is way too polished for an alpha!” Then the actual game starts, and it turns out the eerie ambient soundscape is just as perfect as the visuals, and my incredulity only deepened.

“This fucker HAS to be close to finished!” I thought.

But then I started playing it.

I do not think it is actually all that close to being finished.

This is a puzzle-solving game that does a poor job of teaching you what puzzles you have to solve and what tools you have at your disposal for solving them. It tells you to be mindful of the energy your expend, but waits another level before you’re actually expending any energy, a “mercy” that undercuts its own lesson. There are actually TWO resources you’re managing, but I only ever seemed to be expending the one, which was confusing.

The worst part came when I solved a puzzle that unlocked a door … and I have no idea how or why I was able to solve it. I had to get up to a place too high for me to reach — okay, that I understood. But my little enslaved buddy COULD get up there … and I have no idea how. I THINK it was because I installed a “Scout” module on him? I don’t know; I have no idea what that “Scout” module was doing. Regardless, I TRIED getting him up there a few times, and nothing worked, until suddenly it did. Why? Did me hanging out in a specific space somehow make that one accessible? How did I do that? Why was I able to do that?

For a puzzle-solving game to be fun, the player has to understand their options. They have to know — or at least suspect — that they need to accomplish X. They need to know that they are unable to do that, because Y. But if the environment happened to be in state Z, that should make it feasible. Okay, how to make this happen….

Figuring out how to accomplish X should make you feel like a genius. Succeeding through flailing sabotages this feeling; you don’t feel clever, you feel like you got lucky. And you secretly worry that the game is going to think you know stuff you actually don’t, and is thus going to toss shit at you that is just going to leave you baffled.

Purple Noise Echo clearly wants you to figure stuff out through trial and error, but this iteration of the game takes it too far. I don’t know what my options are, I don’t know why things do or do not work when I try them. For a game in a genre that’s all about the rush of realizing you’ve figured something out, that’s lethal.

But the thing is, all of these problems are solvable. Right now, the game just does a really sloppy job of teaching players how to play it. That can be done. Not easily, perhaps, but it can be done; I’ve seen plenty of games do it.

Right now, I have no reason to think that Purple Noise Echo is actually going to someday solve this problem, beyond the blind hope that a game that LOOKS this wonderful must surely actually BE this wonderful when it’s finally complete. Maybe it will, maybe it won’t. But I definitely intend to check back in on it every now and then just to see how it’s doing.

This is not a game I can recommend just yet, but it’s simply oozing with potential. I wish it well, and sincerely hope that I eventually get to play the best version of it.

So where does this next guy fall on the development cycle?

Page 3, Game 15: Sagebrush by Redact Games

“Explore a cult compound in this narrative adventure game.”

Cult compound? Hey, those are always chill, relaxing spaces! Let’s see what nifty literature awaits me.