I learned a few things this past weekend at PAX East. First of all, Copenhagen is actually a city in Denmark and not just a brand of chewing tobacco for truckers. Second, there are some amazing things happening in game development there.
Danish developer PLAYDEAD (they develop games, btw, not danishes) was on the show floor in Boston to demo and promote the XBLA version of their IGF finalist darling, Limbo. Positioned as an afterthought to the perpetually line-generating Crackdown 2 demo, a lone kiosk with a single representative smiling slyly in the background was consistently drawing a crowd of gamers throughout the show. Once I got my hands on the game, I quickly discovered why.
Limbo is a 2D side-scrolling puzzle-platformer. Nothing revolutionary there. However, the game’s presentation and the demo’s polished gameplay hooked me immediately, and have me wringing my hands greedily in anticipation for the game’s release on XBLA.
The visuals are the first thing that struck me about Limbo, and were probably also responsible for all the other gamers stopping to take a look on the show floor. The game is presented entirely in greyscale, and the atmosphere that PLAYDEAD is able to create solely with black, white, and grey is wildly impressive.
Backgrounds have an otherworldly (hence, Limbo) feel to them, coming across as simultaneously eerie, ephemeral, and extremely beautiful. The protagonist’s character model is also striking; a bold black child-like silhouette with glowing white eyes.
The next element that stood out to me was the audio. Once I was finally able to get my hands on the game, the producer of the game made sure that I was wearing the headphones attached to the console. It only took 30 seconds of playing before I realized why the headphones were so important to the demo experience. There is no music.
The audio in Limbo is entirely environmental and atmospheric, and really enhances the sense of isolation. It stands out especially when you die; the gruesome sounds that result carry a great deal more weight without the distraction of other audio. In a controlled environment like a living room, I could see the visuals and smartly minimalistic audio combining to create a very engaging experience. On the show floor, it was tough because of ambient noise from other games and gamers.
Finally, the balance in the gameplay present in the demo was very satisfying. I experienced a nice middle ground between too easy and too hard. The puzzles, traps, and environmental hazards ensured that the level wasn’t a cake-walk; I did my share of dying. However, the trial and error process was never so laborious that I got bored with an area or a puzzle.
If the demo I got my grubby paws onto is at all representative of the entire game on release, PLAYDEAD will have a major win on their hands at the level of a Braid or P.B. Winterbottom (sans the time-control mechanics). I plan to pick the game up Day 1 and find out.