"You plug a door knob into a door frame, and it creates a door that opens onto a room. If you place that same door knob into an upside-down door frame, it opens onto that same room, but the room is upside-down and you can walk on the ceiling."
This was the core mechanic I pitched to the team at the outset of our seven-month graduate capstone project. As a member of Team Suspicious Box, I have the pleasure of presenting Liminal, a first-person puzzle/exploration game that defies the normal laws of space and gravitation. Liminal is available for free on its Steam store page.
People's first reaction is typically to compare the game to Portal. This is fair, but the important difference is that Liminal’s portal doors preserve the player's gravitational context. I like to describe the game as Monument Valley in first-person. To a third-person observer, the player looks like they are walking on walls, but from the player's perspective, he or she has never broken their own gravitational continuity, even as they walk through portals and encounter familiar spaces from strange new perspectives.
A BRIEF POSTMORTEM
I count Liminal as a hard-fought success. We set out with the intention of releasing a game to Steam in July, and we did just that. The team took on a mind-bending concept with some very thorny technical challenges and we delivered an impressive product.
It was certainly a struggle at times, and on the design side Liminal has a lot of flaws. The mechanics are indeed very strange, and we didn’t have the design bandwidth or iteration time to refine our levels and fully communicate our mechanics. We discussed many auxiliary mechanics and settled on lasers and movable cubes (with cubes to be introduced during early access), but in hindsight we could and probably should have just focused on tutorializing and exploring the core mechanic.
Overall, I’m really proud of what team Suspicious Box accomplished, and we really only scratched the surface of concept’s potential. Someday I would like to revisit and expand on Liminal’s concept. Our portals mess with position and orientation, but it’s possible for portals to alter relative scale, flip the handedness of space, or even dilate time! And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.