A Light In Cho­rus PC

Bro­ken Fence plumbs oceanic depths to il­lu­mi­nate our fu­ture


We’re stand­ing in a dark­ened space save for the stars around us and a golden ob­ject in the dis­tance. We walk up to it, ex­cept we’re not re­ally walk­ing, more like glid­ing, and as we get closer it be­comes clear this is some kind of space probe. It’s one of the Voy­ager craft, sent into the outer reaches of the so­lar sys­tem in 1977. At­tached to it is a golden record etched with sounds, images and music in­tended to com­mu­ni­cate the essence of hu­man­ity – a time cap­sule of sorts. Play­ing as an ex­trater­res­trial who has come across the crashed Voy­ager probe, we’re charged with us­ing that golden record to re­con­struct a fu­ture, sub­merged Earth. The world looks very dif­fer­ent through these eyes.

“There’s some­thing a lit­tle dis­ori­en­tat­ing at first,” says A Light In Cho­rus lead de­signer Eliott Johnson. “Be­cause we’re ren­der­ing stuff in this weird way I hope there’s some im­me­di­ate em­pa­thy be­tween the player and the char­ac­ter you’re play­ing.” He’s talk­ing about the game’s par­ti­cle aes­thetic, a cre­ation of haunt­ing beauty. The only text we come across in the game tells us to hit Shift and, upon do­ing so, our world trans­forms from a calm, mono­chrome seascape into an ele­gant light show, as if fire­works are hang­ing in the sky. While hold­ing Shift re­stores some clar­ity, it’s too un­com­fort­able to do so for ex­tended pe­ri­ods of time. The world fizzes and hums with an en­ergy that’s over­whelm­ing and, be­fore long, we have to let go and re­turn to the murky depths. “It’s like hold­ing your breath,” Johnson tells us. “You know, stuff tight­ens up when you’re hold­ing Shift, but you’ve even­tu­ally got to let go.”

It’s the cen­tral ten­sion of Bro­ken Fence Games’ de­but ti­tle: nav­i­gat­ing be­tween the

world you in­habit in the present and the world you’re try­ing to un­cover from the past. The switch be­tween the two facets of re­al­ity is seam­less, made pos­si­ble by the tech­nol­ogy un­der­pin­ning the game. “It’s an en­gine made from scratch,” lead pro­gram­mer Matthew

Warsaw tells us. “The par­ti­cles can morph and move around, so we have this abil­ity to trans­form land­scapes in a way that gives us a re­ally ex­cit­ing op­por­tu­nity to have over­lap­ping spa­ces.”

The re­sults of this tech­nique don’t sim­ply pro­vide vis­ual con­trast be­tween the two time zones – they find prac­ti­cal ap­pli­ca­tion in the game’s me­chan­ics. In one early puz­zle we are re­quired to nav­i­gate past a fence. By slip­ping into the path of a crea­ture ex­ist­ing in the sub­ter­ranean present we’re able to cross through the fence in our re­con­structed past. It’s sim­ple but ef­fec­tive, and merely hints at the pos­si­bil­ity of what might make it into the fin­ished game.

And that mal­leabil­ity of the en­vi­ron­ment en­sures A Light In Cho­rus stands out in a medium that isn’t known for its flex­i­bil­ity in terms of spa­tial re­con­struc­tion, save for Minecraft and its de­scen­dents. “It’s harder in a world made of poly­gons,” Warsaw says. “Just prac­ti­cally quite hard to do un­less you have some kind of vol­u­met­ric ren­der­ing or some­thing that is more smoke-like.”

The par­ti­cle aes­thetic of the game finds the­matic sig­nif­i­cance, too, Warsaw ex­plains. “As you in­crease the level of de­tail and points, things start to be­come clearer. It’s a spec­trum where some­thing comes into fo­cus and al­most emerges out of the noise.”

A Light In Cho­rus, then, hones in on those sen­sa­tions of dis­cov­ery and won­der once the ini­tial feel­ings of dis­ori­en­ta­tion have been quelled. The player, like the ex­trater­res­trial they are in­hab­it­ing, learns how to read an ini­tially un­fa­mil­iar land­scape. “For me, if there’s one thing the game’s about, it’s that phe­nom­e­non,” Johnson says. “Where is the bor­der of recog­ni­tion, or when does this ob­ject be­come an ob­ject and not just a col­lec­tion of points, and how far back can we strip that?”

But if A Light In Cho­rus aims to dis­solve our own per­cep­tion then it’s do­ing so to tell a story of which we are all a part. “There’s some­thing about the Golden Record that is very holis­tic. We are a species and we’re putting that out into the uni­verse,” Warsaw tells us. While there’s an in­her­ent con­fi­dence to that sen­ti­ment, the game chronicles the pass­ing of hu­man­ity, pre­sent­ing us with the rem­nants of civil­i­sa­tion. With A Light In

Cho­rus, then, Bro­ken Fence Games is writ­ing an elegy for our world, and what Johnson and Warsaw de­cide to in­clude might well be the most fas­ci­nat­ing part of it.

“When does this ob­ject be­come an ob­ject and not just a col­lec­tion of points?”

The stag pro­vides one of the game’s most strik­ing images, al­though Warsaw and Johnson are hes­i­tant on de­tails re­gard­ing its ex­act role in the fi­nal game

ABOVE At times the en­vi­ron­ment re­sem­bles a grave­yard. Some of the an­i­mals ap­pear frozen in time, in­still­ing ALightInCho­rus with another level of eeri­ness

LEFT Each en­vi­ron­ment has a spe­cific at­mos­phere. The for­est scene pro­vides one of the most calm­ing pas­sages of play, the au­dio re­flect­ing the bu­colic land­scape.

BE­LOW The Voy­ager Golden Record in­cludes ev­ery­thing an ex­trater­res­trial might need to recre­ate Earth, in­clud­ing the sounds of the nat­u­ral world

The game swings sharply be­tween recog­nis­able and un­fa­mil­iar en­vi­ron­ments, re­quir­ing you to pay closer at­ten­tion to your sur­round­ings than you might nor­mally in the real world

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