GDC 2011: Could 'Maquette' be the Next 'Portal'?

Maquette GDC 2011

A lot of great games were shown at GDC this year. The title that blew me away the most is probably a game few people have heard about -- Maquette.

Hanford Lemoore showed off his game as part of the Experimental Gameplay Sessions panel. After he talked about it and showed a live demo, the packed room burst into loud applause. Everyone was blown away.

The gameplay is so simple, yet also lends itself to some potentially very tricky and mind-bending puzzles. Watching Hanford play through parts of his game left me with that same feeling of awe and wonder I felt when I first saw, and then later played, Portal for the first time. The simplicity and elegance of it was amazing.

At its core, Maquette is a first-person, physics-based game where the player shoots nothing. In fact, all the player can do in the game is pick up and drop objects. While that might sound boring, the way that action interacts in the game world really makes the title.

The game takes place in what appeared to be a central city square. There were buildings, doorways, and deep divides between passageways. In the center of the environment, is a domed structure. Inside that domed structure is a miniature rendering of the entire city square environment.

The goal of the game is to get to marked areas in the environment. The goals were marked by a glowing, shining orb. Just walking there would be too easy though. Getting to the goal is where the puzzles came in. There would be environmental obstacles keeping the player from getting to the goal. The player would need to manipulate the world by interacting with both the real world - and the miniature-sized world to reach the goal.

This concept is best expressed by the examples played live during Hanford's presentation. The first goal was behind a giant red boulder. The boulder was too big for the player to pick up and move and there was no other way to reach the goal except through the passage blocked by the boulder. The first puzzle, therefore, was figuring out how to move or get past the boulder and reach the goal.

The solution. Go to the miniature rendering of the city square in the domed structure. Everything in the larger environment is represented there, including the large red boulder. Just like the buildings in the miniature, the red boulder is also smaller here - so as to be in scale with the rest of the buildings. This version of the boulder is small enough for the player to pick up and move. Once the player moves the boulder in the miniature, its real-world counterpart is also moved to that location. When the gamer moves the boulder on the miniature, clearing a path to the goal, the player could then walk out of the domed structure and reach the goal in the larger world.

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Awesome. The fun does not stop there. While there was not a specific puzzle or goal reached showing these other aspects currently in the game, Hanford also demoed some of the game's physics and other tricks. For example, he took the miniature boulder and dropped it above a miniature building. He then walked out of the domed structure to see the real-world boulder falling down the building. He also took the miniature boulder out of the domed structure and dropped it into the larger world. After doing so, he went back into the domed structure to see an even smaller boulder in the miniature version of the city where he dropped the prior boulder. It was now tiny, representing the original miniature boulder's scale in the real-world environment.

The second puzzle he showed involved reaching a goal that was on the other side of a deep divide. He needed a bridge of some kind to reach the goal. There was no bridge in the environment to manipulate, there was, however, a key. The solution? Hanford took the real-world sized key into the domed building and placed it on the divide in the miniature world. Once it was in place, a giant key was in the real-world environment also crossing the divide. He could then walk across the key and reach the goal.

From the physics, to making objects smaller and smaller and smaller, to the simplicity of the design yet complexity of potential puzzles, Maquette is one game to watch. Hanford stated the demo he showed took about 100 hours of work and that he planned on turning the idea and demo into a full game. The full game cannot come soon enough.

Hanford Lemoore has a designer's blog and can be followed on Twitter. There is also what is at this point a place-holder site for Maquette set up as well - where people can sign up for the game's announcement list.

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