I wrote a post-moret/walkthrough/talk about my last Ludum Dare entry and posted it on the gamejam website. Since I talk about my creative process and my vision of the game, I found it relevant to post it on Gamasutra too. Who knows ?
It’s been more than one week since the end of the last Ludum Dare, during which I made I Contemplated the Sun of Limbo. I decided to write this kinda not really post-mortem to talk a bit about what were my intentions while making the game. I’ll express my vision of it, and explain some details that seem important to me. This article will obviously spoil a part of the experience, so I would like you to play the game before reading !
First of all, I have to repeat my statement about games/arts/stuff and their meaning. I think one of the interesting points is to study the differences and the similarities between the author’s message and the spectator’s interpretation, and the ones among the players’ interpretations. The point shouldn’t be to find the “true” meaning. I think there is no true nor false meaning in what I do, just different way to interpret the game/art/stuff. Thus, I have my own way to see the stuff I make, but I don’t want to impose it. I just want to share it, because that’s why I’m making games/art/stuff : To share, to exchange with people.
“Beneath the Surface” immediately made me think about some kind of mystic interactive surface, and what lies behind. At first, I wanted it to be the main mechanic of the game. It would have been a vertical horizon, vibrant and crossed by waves of colours, forming a sunset or a face. Finally, the surface ended up horizontal, as a more classic water surface, and the interactions with it disappeared. However, I spent a good amount of time working on it, to reach an interesting effect. Even if they were no more concrete interactions with it, I wanted it to evolve during the game, with the actions of the player. Thanks to three values, I can change the vibrations and the rhythm of the surface from a peaceful lake to a glitchy storm.
So, once I had the surface, I asked myself what about it ? And I thought about a reflection, your own silhouette reflected on the water when you look at it. In fact, the whole world reflects in any tiny surface of water. I decided that it was going to be what the game will be about : Two parallel, or rather symmetric, universes reflecting each other. More than visually, I wanted them to reflect in some way that what happens in one side should happen on the other side. But not directly. I wanted to play with the chronology of the events, that the character discovers afterward what happened to him on the other side. Or maybe even before it happens ?
It’s funny how the title of the game influenced the objective of the players. Several of them tried to follow the sun, because “I Contemplated the Sun of Limbo”. Some of them thought that they had to look at it a certain amount of time to trigger the next event. In fact, that’s something that I could have put in the game, but actually, the contemplation of the sun is here as a state, a free situation to enjoy or suffer without achieving any goal (or maybe…?). On the RockLeeSmile video about I Contemplated the Sun of Limbo, someone posted a very interesting comment : “What if the orb is Limbo and you’re looking at it from the sun? ». I just love this idea, it even allows me to find a different interpretation of the game.
Well, I coded the rotation of the world, as if it were the character who rotated along the edge of the island. You want to go in the water, but then everything swings, and you fall on the other side of the universe. Once again, I played with the colours to find the atmosphere I wanted. I like to compare this kind of oversaturated colour atmosphere to a too sugary dessert. Where the first side of the island can be a bit dull and brown, the second one is full of colours and contrasts, it can even be aggressive. When the player is on this side, the surface is not rendered the same way, because it is, well, upside dow. At first I tried to fix that, but finally I discovered that I loved this effect, being able to see just the top of the waves, like as many triangular shapes floating in the air. You’re then able to see through the infinite, a colorful void.
At the top of the island, you can see a stool on which you can sit. Sitting on a stool at the top of an island to contemplate the sun wandering through the space, above a weird imitation of a restless sea. And nothing else. It’s more about the moment than about reaching an end. I hope people took some time to contemplate what they were seeing. But of course, there is also the curiosity. What’s next ? Well, maybe just a step forward to the end. That’s something I like to put in my games/stuff, the fact that every step forward brings the player closer to a negative state, where he could have just sat quietly and contemplated forever what the universe had to show him. ANYWAY. You can then go back in the water to rock the world and return to the dull side of the island.
Then, not only a stool is waiting for you, but also a dark silhouette sitting on it. Remember the idea of two universes reflecting each others ? Well I want to ask the question : What if this silhouette is YOU, sitting on the other side of the island one minute ago ? You can walk to the “man”. He currently owns the place, the stool and the quiet contemplating state. What are you thinking about when you press the E key ? Asking him to leave, allowing you to sit on the stool ? Push him to take the place ? Are you pressing the action key because that’s what we do in games ? Well, the guy is now evaporating. I use this term, even if it looks more like a painful distortion. And here you are, contemplating what you can now understand as a murder. Or a suicide ? After some noisy seconds, you can take the place that you wanted so much, sit on the stool and contemplate this side of the world. Which one do you prefer ? Well, you’re free to stand up and return to the sugary side.
Another stool, but nobody to annoy you. Here is the interesting part. You sit on the stool, contemplate the landscape that looks more agitated than ever. And then it happens. A dark silhouette appears behind you. You can’t look away from it. It’s immobile, but everything trembles, and yield. You are now the one sitting on a stool and assaulted by a stranger who came to take your place. Maybe you begin to understand. This time, you’re not the murderer of yourself, but the victim of yourself. I like the way it plays with the ambiguity of the chronology. What is before, what is after, what is now ? Is the dark silhouette a version of me from another time space ? Am I just a reflection of myself ?
After this terrible jumpscare, you can go back to the tan side of the world. See how the ocean is totally raging. At the top of the isle, there is now a cross. I meant it to be a grave, and not a Christian symbol. Well still I like the cross shape and the interpretation that a lot of people hold to it. Anyway, it’s about death of course. Or about the absence of death ? Someone asked me if the cross were my grave or the grave of the dark silhouette. According to my vision, there is actually no difference. Touch the cross, and go the other side of the island. Yes, it makes a lot of round-trips. Maybe it’s part of what happens in the limbo.
The last scene makes you encounter several shinning silhouette. In my mind, they are like the ghosts of my past myselfs, or some drafts of my future myselfs. Each time you approach one, it “evaporates”. But contrarily to the first evaporation you witnessed, these ones are now infinite. Each contact with a bright silhouette will make it explode and grow forever. Even more, it’ll wrest the surface until it becomes totally glitchy. The whole universe is stretched in all directions, until your whole screen is covered by gold blinking triangles : The Sun of Limbo ? The title then appears. Consider it as the end of the game. It’s not a punctual end, with a static end screen displaying your score or the credits, nor thanking you for playing (btw, thank you for playing !). It is a state. A end state. There is nothing left to do but wandering through the chaos composed of vibrating meshes. Through the noise. Forever. A player said that this is certainly how the hell looks like.
However, there is another possible “end” for this game. And finally, yes it’s about the sun. Initially it was a problem that I tried to solve. When you touch the surface, the world rotates in a way that you appears at the symmetric position, but a few steps back (and a few step higher). If you face the ocean when you touches the surface, it’s not a problem. But if you face the island and step backward to the ocean, the world will rotate and you’ll end up in the water. Hopefully the world is not going to rotate again until you touch the ground of the island. But, it allows you to wander freely through the surface, on an horizontal plan. And it’s something really cool, because you can see the landscape, I mean the ocean and the island and the sky and the sun, from a totally different perspective. If you are on the sugary side, you can even spot the horizontal symmetry of the island. This a new way to contemplate the limbo. What about the sun ? Not only you can contemplate it from another point of view, you can now reach it and touch its heart. Since I’m not sure a lot of you have found this end, I’ll ask you to try it before reading the next paragraph.
You touched the heart of the sun. It disappeared. Just like the island. There is nothing left but the surface, the mystic ocean. You can only wander through it, and it’s certainly more peaceful than the first end. It’s a floating state, and you can have decided on which side of the universe you wanted to reachit. Well, it doesn’t prevent you to wander through the void forever, but at least you have met you’ve chosen it. And for a moment, you’ve really contemplated the sun of limbo, closer than ever.
This article was longer than I thought it would be ! If you read the whole of it, thank you ! I hope it interested you. You can still find the page of I Contemplated the Sun of LimboHERE, and vote and comment and all. If you want more infos about the game, about my creative process or if you just want to talk with me about stuff, don’t hesitate to contact me ! I’m on TWITTER.
Thank you again, and see you the next Ludum Dare for another weird stuff !