Like a bunch of dudes my age, Carl Sagan’s PBS series Cosmos had a huge effect on me as a kid. One of the things I remember was Sagan explaining how we can conceive of interdimensional travel, or wormholes, or the fourth dimension, or something like that. I don’t really remember what he was explaining so much as I remember the explanation. He suggested we imagine creatures who live on a flat plane — say a piece of paper — with no concept of elevation. Basically, a 2D life form. To get from one point on the paper to another, these creatures assume they have to cross that distance by moving in a straight line. But since we live in a 3D world, we know it’s possible to fold the piece of paper so that the points are right next to each other. We know how to eliminate the distance by folding space. And just as those creatures couldn’t conceive of folding a piece of paper, we can’t conceive of interdimensional travel.
As I explore the world of Fez, I keep thinking back to how that blew my mind as a kid.
After the jump, Fez’s unique hat trick
The basic gimmick in Fez isn’t new. As you turn the world in 3D, changing your perception of it, you actually change the world. It’s perspective tricks turned into truths. I’ve seen puzzles in games where a change in perspective changes the actual distance between two points. This figured prominently in a God of War 3 puzzle where you line up aqueducts by looking at them from different positions. Then you summon Athena or something to lock them into place. These Escher-esque tricks were the premise of a brain-busting puzzler called Echochrome that just made my head hurt. I’m sure there are other examples.
But Fez builds its entire world around the concept that turning a level in 3D space will change the way it’s experienced by a 2D creature. Namely, a little fellow named Gomez who lives in a 16-bit 2D world. Gomez gets a magic fez and sets out to collect collectibles that unlock locked doors so he can collect more collectibles. It’s a familiar schtick, but with a fresh perspective that lends it a sense of wonder, thanks in part to the way it unfolds slowly enough to let you discover it at your own pace.
Fez reminds me of a game I’m really enjoying on the iPhone called Waking Mars. Waking Mars is another game about collecting and exploring, but with its own sense of identity and gameplay mechanics. On a broader level, it’s just a Metroid/Castlevania style game. But at a gameplay and narrative level, instead of fighting monsters and collecting keys, you literally wake Mars. You use seeds to jumpstart the ecology in each room, thereby opening new passages to new rooms and new seeds. Who knew Mars was so alive with flora and fauna?
Or take de Blob and de Blob 2, a couple of sadly overlooked platformers about painting empty worlds with color and music. Or Kirby’s Canvas Curse on the DS. Exploration is a fine thing to do in a videogame, as you can tell by the people who love Minecraft and Journey, two games about exploring that didn’t really work for me. But exploration with some new way of experiencing the world? That’s the sort of magic I crave in a videogame. And it’s why I’m delighted to discover Fez.
I haven’t reviewed Fez and Waking Mars yet, because I’m curious to find out where they go. Both games are journeys. And you can’t very well talk about a journey without talking about where it takes you.
Waking Mars is available for your iPhone now. Fez is available this Friday on Xbox Live Arcade.