Crispy Gamer

Echo Brain

Maurits Cornelis Escher was a Dutch graphic artist known best for creating optical illusion drawings that now hang on the walls of dorm rooms, but now M.C. Escher, as he's known in hip-hop circles, will see his life's work on display elsewhere -- or at least elsewhere in dorms -- with echochrome, a puzzle game Sony is releasing on the PlayStation Network that has players moving around Escher-esque worlds. As we learned when we spoke to the game's Associate Producer Yumi Yuasa at Sony's office in Santa Monica, there's actually more behind this game than a bunch of stoned college kids and some surrealist artist from the Netherlands.

Crispy Gamer: Let's start with the basics: What kind of game is echochrome and how do you play it?

Yumi Yuasa: It is a puzzle game based on optical illusions. For example, there may be two different pathways that look like they come together because, depending on how players move the object around in three-dimensional space, a pole might block the gap between them.

Crispy Gamer: So if you can't see the gap, it isn't there?

Yuasa: Right. Similarly, we have holes, and if a player moves the object so the hole is hidden from their view, they won't fall through them. Players can also move them around so they will fall down to a different pathway. There are also jumping platforms, which can either be blocked or launch players to a different pathway.

Crispy Gamer: Can you change the camera angle in mid-fall so if it looks like you're going to fall to your death you can land on a pathway instead?

Yuasa: Sure. If a player is falling out of the world, they can move the object in a way that allows them to land on a platform.

Crispy Gamer: Where did the idea for this game come from?

Yuasa: The concept came from a computer scientist in Japan named Dr. Jun Fujiki, whose focus is on three-dimensional objects in space. But he was also inspired by M.C. Escher. He developed this software called O.L.E. Coordinate System -- O.L.E. stands for Object Locative Environment -- that lets players create their own impossible, M.C. Escher-esque worlds. When Game Yalouve, developers based in Japan, saw the software, they came up with the idea for the game.

Crispy Gamer: Was there ever any thought to making a different kind of game with this concept? Like maybe a shooter or a platformer?

Yuasa: Oh, that's interesting. I think they [Game Yalouve] wanted to create a puzzle game. I have heard though that there are now other game developers looking to make games in M.C. Escher-like worlds.

Crispy Gamer: The game is going to be available both on the PlayStation Portable and as a download on the PlayStation3's PlayStation Network. Will there be any significant differences between them?

Yuasa: The levels are completely different. They both have 56 levels, but they're unique to each system. The PS3 version also has some online features like rankings and players will be able to send levels they design to their friends or to a server. The team will evaluate those, and then make the best ones available for free. When players turn on the game, if there are new levels available, it will ask them if they want to download them. The PSP also lets players design their own levels, but they can only share them with other players via wireless ad-hoc.

Crispy Gamer: In addition to playing all the levels at a certain skill level, players can also use a random mode where the game will pick a bunch of levels for them to play. Does the game only pick levels that came with it, or will it include ones players have downloaded as well?

Yuasa: All of them. It will choose from the original 56, all the ones players have downloaded, and all the ones they got from their friends.

Crispy Gamer: Does the game have any multiplayer modes, co-op or competitive?

Yuasa: No, it's not really a multiplayer kind of game.

Crispy Gamer: The graphics are very simple line drawings. Why did you feel this was the best way to go?

Yuasa: The team wanted to use these simple black-and-white graphics so people would focus on the puzzles and the gameplay. After they saw how it looked, they decided to add classical music to make the game more elegant and inspiring, though they also knew that M.C. Escher was a fan of classical music, especially Bach.

Crispy Gamer: So another tribute to M.C. Escher. Was there every any thought of calling it m.c. echochrome?

Yuasa: Uh? no.