Relativity's hook is difficult to explain, and developer Willy Chyr knows it.
I sat down in front of his MacBook last week on the PAX East 2014 show floor to play his first-person puzzle game and was greeted with an introductory message that told me to press space "to walk into wall."
I didn't know what that meant. Seconds later, in a large white room, I walked up to a wall, pressed the spacebar, and my entire perspective changed. Two virtual feet I couldn't see planted themselves on the wall, and gravity obeyed. The camera position switched and the floor changed color to ground me in my new surroundings. The former wall had become the floor, and I was on my way to solving my first puzzle.
In Relativity, everything is relative.
This is Willy Chyr's first game. Last week, he brought it to the Minibooth section of PAX's Indie Megabooth.
"It started as a project to learn Unity that quickly expanded to its own thing," Chyr told Polygon.
Now, he's been working on it for 16 months. Relativity been through many incarnations and seems likely to go through more. It's still in active development, and Chyr's trip to PAX East was as much about letting people play his game as it was about learning from those who did. Coming up with ideas and testing them against what he believes will happen has been a hallmark of Chyr's first game, and Relativity's first major change began only four months into development.
In those first months, Relativity was a game where the walls rotated around the player. After he showed it to Octodad: Deadliest Catch developer Young Horses, it became the game where you walk on walls.
"They walk into a room, and they're like, 'OK, I've got to go there, and then there and then there,'" he said. "The rotating itself was annoying. It was like an execution thing. I didn't know what else to call it, except that the puzzles were — you knew right away what you had to do, versus puzzles where you had to had to really figure it out.
"That's why I complete rewrote that, painful as that was. I'd never made a game, so four months felt like a long time. Now it's like, 'Four months? Whatever!'"
For the last 12 months, Chyr has been refining the game. Now, there are six gravities, each associated with a color, telegraphed to the player on whatever surface you currently stand on. Walk up a wall, and you turn one gravity on. Just as important for the puzzles, you also turn all other gravities off. Chyr has about 100 of puzzles planned out. These days, he's concentrating on refining the game so players will know enough to solve them.
As you can see in the trailer and screenshots, Relativity's puzzles tend to involve placing blocks to open pathways. The twist is that those blocks are beholden to gravity to, forcing you to figure out clever solutions as you place blocks, hop between walls, place more blocks, hop back, move more blocks, turn them into shelves — all in service of making your way through the M.C. Escher-like world.
Though Relativity remains unfinished, it has the seeds of the best kind of puzzle game. Every room I walked into had an "Aha!" moment where, in an instant, the confusing pieces fit together, and my job was no longer to figure out what to do but how to do it. Even in an unfinished product, that's the highest compliment I can pay to a puzzle game.