Impossible Spaces

Check out this intriguing animated short that Chris Kelly put together for a graduate project.

Entitled Time and Relative Dimensions in Space: The Possibilities of Utilising Virtual[ly Impossible] Environments in Architecture, it’s a fascinating exploration of our perception of architectural spaces, both real and imagined.

The full thesis is available in PDF format from Chris Kelly’s blog.

The animated short got me thinking about the use of space within video game environments and just how unadventurous games are becoming in that regard as we shift ever deeper into the three-dimensional realm.

It’s difficult to fully grasp just how revolutionary arcade games like Asteroids and Defender were, back in the day, with their use of a wrap-around game universe to extend the gameplay possibilities beyond the limitations of a self-contained two-dimensional plane.

Even text adventure games got into the act of warping our sense of spatial perception, creating architecturally impossible mazes and clusters of locations that took on the properties of an M. C. Escher painting until some puzzle was solved to reinstate reality.

As games began shifting into the third dimension. the desire to create realistic, explorable environments trumped any need to unnecessarily bend the laws of physics. Games such as Echochrome, Fez and Antichamber represent the closest we’ve come, in recent years, to games that truly play upon our perception of three-dimensional space as transmitted to us via a two-dimensional viewing medium. Even spatially complex games such as Descent conform to standard logic, while physics-bending games such as Prey, Portal, and Quantum Conundrum only push their gimmicks so far.

With the explosion of the contemporary indie scene, we’ll hopefully see a number of games that attempt to use space in interesting, unconventional ways. Parallax and FRACT OSC are two such titles—do you know of any other contemporary games that use space and geometry in unconventional ways?

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About Mark Stevens

Mark is British but lives in the USA, which is why you'll see him flip-flopping between British and American spelling without a care in the world. As a veteran of the 8-bit and 16-bit eras you'll notice a decidedly retro slant to his posts, but he has just as much to say about contemporary gaming too. Outside the world of blogging Mark has previously written for Wired and The Guardian and has written a number of Doctor Who short stories for Big Finish.

  • Guest

    Just a note, people were doing this stuff well before Antichamber. Marathon (1994) due to a quirk in it’s primitive 2.5d engine allowed non-euclidean overlapping geometry, and the game exploited it quite well – including a deathmatch level where players could occupy the same exact spatial position and yet be in different rooms. Marathon Infinity (1996) used it best though, with surreal impossible geometry for it’s dream levels.