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