Gateways is a PC and XBLIG title by David Johnston of Smudged Cat Games. It's a bit like Portal, except in 2D (using sprites!), with some new ideas thrown in. I think it looks excellent. A brief rundown of his past games after the jump, followed by a preview of Gateways. There’s also a PC demo available!
I’ve interviewed David Johnston a few times. In fact on 4 separate occasions if memory serves. None of these until recently resulted in an article. It’s taken a couple of years, but I’ve finally written an epic feature on the Net Yaroze, with interview material from David, to be published on Gamasutra.
This blog entry, separate from that Gamasutra article, is to bring to attention some of his really, really excellent games. I don’t know the man personally, but I’ve followed his work and found it to be astonishing. Indie developers such as Jonathan Blow and Phil Fish, with their aggressive, bombastic and disgustingly condescending attitudes steal all the media attention. Perhaps journalists just prefer publicising monsters? Foul-mouthed Fish won various monetary grants from the IGF, more than once, and had constant publicity free on tap from every website and magazine around – for a game which I feel didn’t particularly deserved it.
The mild mannered David Johnston on the other hand, and more specifically his excellent games, don’t seem to get the attention they deserve.
Firstly, he was genius behind Time Slip on the Net Yaroze, all those years ago. A mind-bending, time-bending platformer, which played like a cross between Time Cop and Groundhog’s Day. Every 30 seconds or so you get warped back in time to a starting position – the catch is all your doubles continue to exist, and touching them ends the universe. Or at least you lose a life. It was great. A really inventive idea, at a time when nothing similar existed. Our main historian Derboo would probably have some fun trying to ascertain: was Time Slip the first ever videogame to feature temporal duplicates of the player, which both aided and hampered his progress?
David updated Time Slip with improved graphics for XBLIG and later made Time Slip available for free, on Windows. If you like unusual indie games with a great premise and execution, I highly, highly recommend it.
Following Time Slip was Shuggy on XBLIG. I haven’t played it, since I don’t have a 360, but the melancholy story of its downfall is detailed on Gamasuta.
David commented that this could mark the end of his time in development – which is a sad proposition given how many less original developers manage to maintain lengthy and far less interesting careers.
Gateways then is his last shot. The final, make or break roll of the dice. And personally, I think it could be his best work yet. Watch this video for a description of its many mechanics.
It features 2D visuals, with old-fashioned pixelated sprites, and some really ingenious mechanics, inspired by Portal (which in itself was inspired by Narbacular Drop), with some new twists thrown in. I especially like the fact that it’s got a side-on perspective, since this lends itself particularly well to the mechanics. Spatial awareness is greater when you can see your character and all the surroundings.
Alongside the traditional platform elements such as jumping on enemies heads, spikes and moving platforms are the gateway guns. The gateway guns allow you to place two gateways on the walls, floors and ceilings of the lab so that when you pass through one you emerge out of the other. As progress is made through the game different types of gateway gun are introduced with different effects. After the basic gun, you acquire a gun that creates two gateways of different sizes, passing through one way shrinks Ed to half his size and the other way makes Ed grow to twice his size. Then you find a gun where one gateway doesn't just connect to the others location but also its time, allowing Ed to travel back in time and encounter earlier versions of himself. Finally, the last gun manipulates gravity so passing through allows Ed to walk along walls and on ceilings.
Gateways takes place on a single sprawling map rammed with puzzles and challenges. As power ups are acquired more and more of the map opens up containing more power ups and secrets. In addition to the gateway guns Ed will also find a torch letting him light up the darker areas of the map and a mirror which can be used to deflect lasers.
There’s also a demo available.
The release is a few months off, but I’m hopeful that this marks the start of Smudged Cat’s rise through the ranks of exalted indie developers.