August 3, 2013 6:42 PM | Paul Hack
Experiment 12 is an exquisite corpse of a game from a veritable supergroup of indie developers. It consists of 12 sequential chapters, each a small game from a different developer, each made in 72 hours or less. While any one chapter can be played and probably appreciated on its own, none are really a complete experience except as a part of the larger work. It's remarkable how much each developer used the project to stretch outside of their own comfort zones, and how an engaging, creepy, and cohesive tale was born from their combined efforts. In story and gameplay, Experiment 12 is a success.
Chapter 1: Terry Cavanagh - If you're reading this site, you probably know who Terry Cavanagh is. Cavanagh, the creator of Super Hexagon, among other wonders, was the organizing force behind Experiment 12. Inspired by a chain game made by members of an RPG Maker community (the RMW Chain Game), he assembled a team and got the ball rolling.
Cavanagh's opening chapter sets the grimdark tone for the game. He mixes strong, clear pixelwork with a few interesting viewpoint shifts and an extremely unsettling tone. As your status display tells you at the start of the chapter, you are unwell, and every obstacle makes you sicker. What is this sickness, and who are you? That's for the rest of the developers to decide.
Chapter 2: Ian Snyder - Ian Snyder, who is probably best known for the amazing Feign, picks up the story with another interesting way to portray instability and disorientation, as you have to hug the walls to keep everything from shaking. The graphics are much more abstract in this chapter, and remarkably effective, and there are bits of text to make the plot a little more concrete. The chapter mainly uses a top-down view, but there are several brilliantly executed, lo-fi, first-person sequences as well.
Chapter 3: Jack King-Spooner - Jack King-Spooner, the artist and game-maker behind hallucinogenic experiences like Will You Ever Return? and Sluggish Morss, takes us outside the compound walls...or does he? His chapter features awesome hand-drawn/painted art and exposition through baroque dialogue, interspersed between unnerving stealth/maze sequences. I've heard that the action in this chapter has caused some to give up. Don't. There is a specific path that will get you through each maze. There are only 3 of them and the payoff is very much worth it. This chapter has one hell of a Game Over screen.
Chapter 4: Zaratustra - Zaratustra (Guilherme Töws) is the force behind games such as Fractality and the classic Eversion. Chapter 4 is particularly strong, combining stealth and platforming gameplay, presented from top-down and sidescrolling perspectives, while delivering solid nuggets of plot. This chapter introduces the concept of "instances" and explains a lot about what you've been going through in the previous chapters. It uses an interesting visual trick to explore the concept of permanence: each room you survive remains on the screen in the background until you are killed. And what you have to do to get past the final room should drive the point home.
Chapter 5: Richard Perrin - Perrin, best known for his excellent first-person exploration puzzler Kairo, really thickens the plot in Chapter 5. Your start the chapter from the viewpoint of a new character, and you get access to a broader perspective on the proceedings. You also get to peek in on our previous viewpoint character (and other "volunteers"), and play a 3-D, third-person version of a sequence from Chapter 4. The chapter's presentation is some of the most varied of the whole game, running from realistically textured 3-D environments to expressionistic, hand-drawn sections.
Chapter 6: Michael Brough - It's hard to believe that Michael Brough isn't a household name yet. He's been developing an incredible and singular body of work that includes games like Corrypt, 86856527, and Glitch Tank. Chapter 6 is very Broughlike (Broughian?) in graphics and gameplay. It's an elaborate switch-stepping puzzle that takes the concept of "instances" to new extremes. You have to simultaneously control more and more avatars at the same time, each presented from a different perspective. This chapter was the most difficult for me to beat.
Chapter 7: Robert Yang - Experimental game-maker Robert Yang (Zobeide, Souvenir) continues the adventure of the POV character from the previous chapter. Chapter 7 uses rather slick 3-D graphics and begins in first-person view, but mainly plays as a top-down, single-screen puzzle game. The chapter appears to advance the plot, but it's hard to tell, for Yang has made things deliberately incomprehensible by presenting the considerable amount of onscreen text in indecipherable characters. It is difficult even to discern the goal of the puzzle, but it appears that you are supposed to let the volunteers interact with terminals, but prevent them from exiting the room.
Chapter 8: Alan Hazelden - Hazelden, AKA Draknek, is the man behind These Robotic Hearts of Mine and the recent BRICK[bricksmash]BRICK, among other cool games. Chapter 8 plops us in front of the wavering, greenish glow of a computer terminal, as we review a string of reports. Each report is illustrated in playable form using ASCII graphics with accompanying text. Most of the action is what we went through as a volunteer in Chapter 2, so it's quite interesting to see it from another point of view. The chapter goes a long way toward unifying and explaining what we have experienced so far. The ending is chilling.
Chapter 9: Benn Powell - Minimalist game creator Benn Powell (The Last Survivor) shakes things up by drastically altering the viewpoint and blasting the plot into outer space--literally. The events of the previous chapter set some protocol in motion, and now we're at the controls of a killer satellite, launching missiles by drawing lines. You have to draw the missile's path to avoid various defensive measures, time your shot, and then nervously watch as the missile wobbles along to disaster or destiny. It's a great action puzzle, but you may be wondering what this has to do with the previous eight chapters. The seeds were planted earlier, but it's up to the next developers in the chain to clarify the plot...
Chapter 10: Jake Clover - Developer's developer (you know, like a "writer's writer"--someone whose work is most appreciated by others in the same field) Jake Clover, creator of a zillion games, including (not august, Nuign Specter), uses his chapter to solve at least one mystery, but it only sets up new ones. Presented in deceptively simple pixel art, Chapter 10 shows us exactly who's behind the killer satellite of Chapter 9, and it's not anyone we've met so far--at least, not directly. This chapter is the shortest of the bunch and might be more properly called an "interlude", but it's a fascinating look behind the curtain. As part of the satellite's crew, we go to work, attend a briefing (cleverly presented in holographic images as well as unintelligible audio), and do our job.
Chapter 11: TheBlackMask - I don't think I'm spilling any secrets by telling you that "The Black Mask" is Micheal (sic) Lawrence, a developer who hasn't made a game in a while but has made some pretty great ones, like A Death Foreordained. Lawrence brings us down to earth (literally and figuratively) and takes us in another new direction, changing the viewpoint character again and showing us how the preceding events have affected the outside world. To me, this chapter has the feel of a good sci-fi/horror flick from the 50's. It has the clearest storyline of any chapter, and deftly ties up every single strand introduced earlier into one elegant knot. It's quite masterful.
Chapter 12: Jasper Byrne - The creator of Lone Survivor wraps things up with one of the strongest chapters of the game. Byrne throws a curveball and puts us in the shoes of the "villain" from Chapter 11. In this neon-hued platformer, you have to shoot "glitches" and figure out how to open some doors while listening to the inner monologue of our viewpoint character. Images of brutality haunt him and these flashbacks, along with the game's ending, make for a dark but incredibly satisfying finale.
If you haven't already, you can download Experiment 12 from here for Windows or Mac. You can start each chapter from within the launcher by pressing the spacebar. All chapters use the arrow keys and the spacebar as controls (except for Chapter 9, which uses a mouse, and Chapter 12, which uses X and C).
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