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Courtesy Vivid Helix

Semispheres to be first Calgary-made game launched on major consoles

By Jason Herring, February 13, 2017 —

Meditative puzzle game Semispheres will launch for Steam and PlayStation 4 on Feb. 14, courtesy of local video game developer Radu Muresan and his studio Vivid Helix. According to Muresan, the tricky stealth-puzzle hybrid will be the first Calgary-made game released on the current generation of consoles.

The single-player game puts players in control of two jellyfish-like creatures that must navigate around enemy sentries through a series of progressively harder levels. Each character is given its own half of the screen and is controlled independently and simultaneously using separate control sticks. Each of the approximately 50 levels features a puzzle to be solved through a combination of clever thinking and dexterity.

To make things interesting, a number of abilities are found in nodes around the map. Some give players the ability to send beacons to distract sentries and avoid their fields of vision while others create portals into the opposite character’s screen or across the map. These mechanics take inspiration from classic stealth games, but the cross-dimensional gameplay keeps Semispheres feeling fresh.

Semispheres is far from the most difficult puzzle game on the market. Each level builds off the last, with early levels mostly serving to introduce new mechanics and immerse the player in the often disorienting world. But as the game progresses, some deceptively difficult puzzles emerge. I spent about half an hour baffled by one late-game level, but once I finally figured it out, the solution was obvious and satisfying.

Making puzzles that deceive experienced gamers isn’t an easy task. Muresan says he created unusual mechanics and tried to combine them in unintuitive ways. He also wrote a program that generated ideas for about a quarter of the game’s levels — though you’d never be able to tell how each level was made.

“Once I have a concept, I try to distort everything around it,” Muresan says. “Then I add another concept, like swapping sides, and I try to determine whether it plays well with the game and the duality of the two sides of the screen.”

Part of the success of Semispheres is the uniqueness of its puzzles. Since I had never seen a number of the game’s mechanics in any other game before, I had no idea how each ability would be twisted as the levels progressed.

This is to say nothing for the Semishpheres’s art, which employs a visual theme of duality and a beautiful orange and blue colour scheme to perfection. Each stage is tied together by storyboard illustrations of a boy and his robot. The connecting element of the game’s atmosphere is the music, an ambient soundtrack by veteran composer Sid Barnhoorn. This creates a fully-realized and immersive environment.

The game took me just over three hours to finish, making for a quick play. But despite its relatively short length, Semispheres succeeds as an innovative and engaging puzzler.

After a multi-year development period and a number of trips across the world to demo Semispheres, Muresan is relieved that his game is finally seeing wide release.

“It’s a bit surreal,” he says. “I’m still in the mode of ‘I’ll believe it when I see it.’ It’s really exciting and terrifying at the same time.”

Semispheres will be released on Steam and PS4 on Feb. 14 for $11, with an Xbox One release planned for the future.

For more information, visit semispher.es.


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