If only Aperture Science could see this.
Genius. That's what I felt when I first saw Braid, when I first saw Portal, and just recently when I first saw Museum of Simulation Technology at the IGF Pavilion, an annual showcase of indie games on the show floor at the Game Developers Conference. But that would be a small lie. I first saw the title, named Museum: simulation technology at the time, as a YouTube tech demo trailer (see video below) in early January that now has more than 32,000 upvotes, fewer than 400 downvotes, and over 1.2 million views. So I'm not the only one who sees genius here.
On design, Museum of Simulation Technology is based on forced perspective, an optical illusion that seems to resize objects based on their distance to the viewer and, in more layman terms, makes people believe they can squeeze the moon between their fingertips. It's a common camera trick that, surprisingly, has been rarely explored in games apart from perhaps a minor one-time use.
Here, this concept becomes a reality and the focal point for the level design. MoST expands on this idea thoroughly with fantastic innovation. The only thing more surprising is that the developer, Pillow Castle Games, is really just one student at Carnegie Mellon University, Albert Shih, and four of his fellow graduate friends. That's the only reason the music is simple jazzy piano music, and the graphics look like a rough sketch of The Stanley Parable… for the moment.
In the brief demo shown on the show floor, you move from one level to the next attempting to figure out the solution to each puzzle using forced perspective. Using familiar first-person shooter controls for movement, you can grab almost any object no matter how far and begin moving it around the space. Take a piece of amber from a table close-by, place it close to the ceiling, drop it, and it will fall to the floor as an exponentially larger rock, which you use a platform to jump to a higher ledge. Finding and going through the exit door launches you into the next puzzle room.
The three levels beyond the tutorial showcase variations on this fundamental concept. Enlarging a painting and letting it fall on its side can form a thin walkway to a higher ledge. Rotating a table fan and then resizing it properly can increase its wind power, blowing off the exit door (and everything else) from its pillar so that you can walk through it. Peering up at the moon will allow you to grab it and place it in the observatory, where on further inspection you'll find the exit door stuck to the back of the moon.
For the full game, which the team hopes to release some time at the end of the year through Steam (they're exploring publishing options), there will be even crazier ideas if the tech demo is any indication. Near the end of the trailer, you're able to enter the world of a painting and walk through Portal-like doors that will resize your avatar and thereby the entire world around you. It's an Alice in Wonderland mind-trip that I can't wait to experience. I only wish I had a fellow team of ninjas to help them finish the game; or perhaps I might be able contribute to a future Kickstarter (you reading this, Pillow Castle?).