Su­per Hyper­cube shares only its ba­sic rules with N kabe, the Ja­panese TV gameshow in which con­tes­tants con­tort their bod­ies into in­creas­ingly un­nat­u­ral shapes in or­der to fit through cutouts in a se­ries of rapidly ad­vanc­ing Sty­ro­foam walls. The hi­lar­ity of the TV show for­mat, ex­ported across the world as Hole In The Wall, is largely lost in trans­la­tion in Koko­romi’s stylish and ab­stract brand of vir­tual re­al­ity, which mim­ics the ana­logue spe­cial ef­fects, lens flare and retro­fu­tur­is­tic user in­ter­faces of ev­er­green chic ref­er­ence points such as 2001: A Space Odyssey, Blade Run­ner and Xanadu.

Here, in es­o­teric space, you’re ro­tat­ing clus­ters of blocks, rather than gurn­ing hu­mans, and the sound­track is one of a build­ing elec­tronic cho­rus rather than a screech­ing gameshow crowd. The prin­ci­ples, nev­er­the­less, re­main con­stant. Us­ing the PlaySta­tion con­troller’s trig­gers you must ro­tate the blob of blocks across two axes in or­der to make it fit snugly through the wall. Move your head to mi­cro-align shape with hole, adding a phys­i­cal el­e­ment to the men­tal ma­noeu­vring. Fail to find the per­fect place­ment and it’s game over.

This was the first game to emerge from gam­ma3D, a 2008 game jam or­gan­ised by the col­lec­tive Koko­romi, which counts among its num­ber Fez de­vel­oper Phil Fish. The jam hoped to en­cour­age peo­ple to cre­ate games in which stereo­scopic vi­sion had a mean­ing­ful im­pact on game­play. The ear­li­est ver­sion em­ployed anaglyphic stere­oscopy, a kind of 3D ef­fect ac­cessed via 1950s-style red-and­blue-lensed 3D glasses. Koko­romi con­tin­ued to dab­ble with the demo, cre­at­ing cus­tom glasses that al­lowed play­ers to move their bod­ies, as well as see depth in the world.

The game con­tin­ued to de­velop with each new drip of tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vance, first adding mo­tion cam­era con­trol and now, in what is clearly the game’s ideal pair­ing, VR head­set con­trol. “Since our orig­i­nal game had ba­si­cally the same core in­ter­ac­tions as VR, and was de­signed for that con­text from the ground up, the trans­la­tion process came rather eas­ily,” Koko­romi’s Heather Kel­ley ex­plains. “The real chal­lenge for us has been tak­ing a solid core game con­cept that was de­signed to be a lo­cal, five-minute ex­pe­ri­ence, and ex­pand it to make it some­thing with a deeper sys­tem that grows with the player as their skill in­creases.”

The team’s so­lu­tion has been el­e­gant. Each time you squeeze through a gap suc­cess­fully by mov­ing your head, a new cube adds to the clus­ter, adding both dif­fi­culty and a score mul­ti­plier. The cube’s con­fig­u­ra­tions are ran­dom too, pre­vent­ing the rote learn­ing of pat­terns. As is the cur­rent fash­ion, the game will fea­ture a daily chal­lenge, with all play­ers tack­ling a one-time-only game gen­er­ated from an iden­ti­cal seed.

While the de­sign and de­liv­ery plat­form are a nat­u­ral fit, the team has had to learn the new rules of VR de­vel­op­ment quickly – es­pe­cially as they hope Su­per Hyper­cube will be a PSVR launch ti­tle. “Small things like UI and HUD de­sign turned out to be trick­ier than ex­pected,” Kel­ley says. “Lots of lit­tle things you would nor­mally have taken for granted now have to be rein­vented. Is the HUD at­tached to your head or can you look away from it? Is it fixed in space or does it move? Is it re­ally small and up close, or re­ally big and far away? Be­fore, it was just an over­lay you would ap­ply to the screen. Now it’s a phys­i­cal ob­ject and you have to con­sider its po­si­tion in space, in re­la­tion to other ob­jects.”

There have been more tra­di­tional kinds of de­sign is­sue to fix, too. “As we’ve been test­ing the game we’ve put it in front of some re­ally skilled play­ers who were able to find holes in our de­sign im­ple­men­ta­tion,” Kel­ley says. One tester was able to fig­ure out the rules for how new cubes were added to the clus­ter af­ter each vic­tory and use this knowl­edge to build a gi­ant wall of cubes. “We fixed that, of course,” Kel­ley notes. More sur­pris­ing is the way in which the phys­i­cal­ity of in­ter­ac­tion be­comes key to the game’s ap­peal. This is a game that would seem­ingly work out­side of VR, yet mov­ing your head to peer around the clus­ters in or­der to bet­ter un­der­stand their shape has be­come an es­sen­tial part of its ap­peal.

“Things you would nor­mally have taken for granted have to be rein­vented”

Heather Kel­ley of the Koko­romi col­lec­tive

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