It is not unreasonable that puzzle games that cater to our senses, especially vision, are likely to be intriguing and interesting at first sight; there’s no way to escape the puzzles that right in front of you. They can cause a feeling of urgency to correct whatever it is that’s different. Your eyes (and brain) surely don’t like to be fooled.
Museum of Simulation Technology is a game that tries to fool both your eyes and brain in a more familiar way known as “forced perspective.” If you have a friend that has ever traveled to Italy and taken a picture next to the Tower of Pisa, it is very likely that it looked like they were pushing the tower in it. Some people also use this perspective in pictures where they hold the sun or other enormous objects in their hand. Basically, forced perspective makes an object look smaller or bigger than it is in reality.
Albert Shih, the whole Pillow Castle Games, the studio behind the game, explains the name. “The game started out a long time ago as a two-week student project, and the name has kind of stuck since then. The setting for that two week project was that you were touring a museum that demonstrates holographic or AR/VR technology – until you realized you weren’t. However, since the game has changed a lot it makes sense to change the title at some point. Museum of Simulation Technology is almost as long a title as Hazard: A Journey of Life.” (Antichamber, another game that uses impossible objects, was called Hazard: A Journey of Life in early stages of development, thus the reference.)
Unlike games like Monument Valley, Museum of Simulation Technology uses a first-person perspective to make sure its concept will work properly, just like the camera’s perspective that is necessary for the Pisa pictures. As you hold and move objects in the game, their size increases and decreases based on how you moved them, and how much your character has moved. The moon can turn into the size of a marble if you handle it correctly, and chess pawns can be five feet tall.
When people think about first-person puzzle games, most of them will inevitably think of the Portal series and make comparisons. “I think it’s funny because basically every first-person puzzle game will be compared to Portal at some point – that’s just how important Portal was as a cultural milestone. The problem is that Portal is so good that it’s almost impossible to try to make a better Portal – oh wait, that was Portal 2,” says Albert – and I just can’t disagree, but he also explains that “the game I’m trying to make is somewhat more like Antichamber than Portal. I love the narrative in Portal – and its puzzles are extremely well designed – but sometimes the puzzles felt a bit drawn out. I’m hopefully trying to go for something more off-the-cuff and weird. Part of the game design challenge is trying to keep things interesting while logical and digestible for the player. Portal was amazing so we don’t need to make another Portal – unless Valve gives us Portal 3.”
As the game’s core concept of forced perspective is so attached to the first-person view, could it also be done in a 2D third-person view? Albert explains, “I never really considered making the game in anything other than first-person. I guess the decision to do so was more of a personal one rather than a deliberate design choice. At the time I started the project, I didn’t want the game to show a player character because I can’t make art. At the time, two favourite games were Antichamber and Portal, and I had not played perspective-based 2D games like Echochrome or seen 2D puzzle games that made you feel like you existed in the world of the game.”
There is a picture in this Mental Floss article that shows some of the forced perspective poses with the Tower of Pisa. To each camera’s perspective, these individuals are actually pushing it, almost destroying the ancient building’s key feature. To passersby, they appear insane as they try to grab, kick, or push the air; these passerby cannot see the magic done by the lens of a camera. If an additional party with third-person perspective was inside Museum of Simulation Technology, “[they] would see objects randomly fly around and change size while a squinting person looks around. This game would almost definitely not work as a multiplayer game, even though that could be very interesting. The illusion from forced perspective would not work, but just having to coordinate and not knock each other around could be fun,” explains Albert.
Museum of Simulation Technology is “quietly under development” by Albert and has no release date set as of yet. To follow the game’s development, visit its official website and follow Pillow Castle on Twitter.