E3 2016: Manifold Garden Is Where Falling Doesn’t Mean Certain Death

My favorite game from 2013 was Antichamber, a first-person puzzle game featuring a quirky gun and an extremely flat texture palette. Beyond its wild gameplay, which saw players solving puzzles by exiting out the door they just entered or building walls of colored blocks, I loved the lessons it taught about life. When I first caught wind of William Chyr's Manifold Garden, I was immediately reminded of Antichamber, but the core gameplay concept is markedly different. Taking its name from a mathematical topological concept, one I barely understand (my last math level was just Calculus III), the environment is both beautiful and overwhelming, especially if you have a problem with heights.

I started with a basic level that showed me the ropes. Initially, I explored am an indoor space, with hallways and doors. The gameplay utilizes the ability to walk up to a wall and shift gravity so that you're standing on it. Each direction has a color associated with it—red, green, blue, cyan, magenta, and yellow—and that color lets you know how you're oriented.

Once you become accustomed to walking on walls, you learn how to interact with objects. Certain objects are only affected by one gravitational direction. For example, if you find a red block while the floor is red, you can move it around, but once you shift, that block freezes in place and becomes immovable. Using these rules, I moved blocks and hit switches until I finally opened a door that let me "out."

Outside, I immediately lost my head. The world appeared huge, and after one misstep, I found myself falling forever. It took a moment to realize that as I fell, I kept passing by the same land mass I fell off of. This, in essence, is evidence of the titular manifold, where the world is infinite and repeats itself.

Chyr, to drive this idea home, had me play a level where my goal was simply to get to the other side of an infinite ravine. Imagine needing to touch the ceiling in a tall room, but there are no walls. Instead of just walking up there, which I wouldn't try in reality, I needed to utilize shorter walls to flip gravity, allow me to fall forever, and gently push myself to land on a short wall on the other side, where a switch and door were waiting for me.

Manifold Garden, of course, has more hidden up its sleeves. Chyr showed me large structures that move all around depending on the current gravitational direction. He also demonstrated a level where the cyan direction allowed the players to create a river of water. By placing a block, he could grow a tree, which generated more blocks that could be use to redirect water.

The game, as he described it to me, is implicitly about life and death. A number of the puzzles you'll solve will seem to create life, whereas dark blocks, which invert all the white, can kill the aforementioned trees. Whether you're into the philosophy or not, it's a beautiful and mysterious game from what I've seen, and players can unlock a photo mode after they compete each level. My body is ready for when it's done within the next year and released on Playstation 4 and PC.