Manifold Garden is an abstract, first-person puzzle game made by American artist, William Chyr. Navigate an Escher-esque environment and utilise gravity, perspective and infinity in order to solve physics-defying puzzles.
Manifold Garden is half first-person puzzler, half graphical art installation. Each environment consisting of expansive, repeating structures that are somewhat reminiscent of 90’s Magic Eye pictures – albeit slightly less vomit inducing. It has a similarly retina-warping effect which has you constantly scanning the environment for some hidden imagery. Luckily, the background’s colour palette is somewhat subdued, and that makes it easier on the eye in the long run.
That being said, never being one to usually suffer with motion sickness, it was something I experienced when playing Manifold Garden for the first time. I later found that the gravity change setting can be changed from ‘S mode’ to instant, which helped a little with the sudden inertia.
Whilst exploring this staggeringly intricate universe, the player is able to shift gravity and see the world from a variety of different perspectives. Having no in-game tutorial, the game begins by enabling the player to understand their environment before tackling a puzzle. Each plane of gravity takes on one of six colours in order for players to better understand their surroundings. I’m sure I wasn’t the only child in the world that used to put their legs in the air and imagine what it would be like if the ceiling was the floor – Manifold Garden is that in game form, designed to render the laws of physics utterly irrelevant.
Gameplay involves hitting switches, moving cubes, redirecting water, or changing the cubes properties amongst other things. Twinned with re-imagining the fundamental rules of physics and how the architecture and view changes as a result makes for a mind-bending experience. It is not, however, a casual stroll through some pretty, confusing pictures. Some of the puzzles will require genuine thought and reflection to overcome, as Manifold Garden demands the player observe the challenges from unusual perspectives.
“Manifold” is a mathematical term that describes the topology of a space where locally each point is Euclidean. In the game, the world wraps around in 3D, and the official term is “three-torus“, which is a compact manifold with no boundary. “Garden” is because, well, you can plant seeds and grow trees. Hence, Manifold Garden.”-William Chyr (Developer)
Composed by Laryssa Okada, the ambient sountrack in Manifold Garden has a haunting, ethereal quality to it and does a stellar job of heightening the feeling of isolation and wonder. The score is inspired by musicians such as Brian Eno, Pauline Oliveros, and William Basinski, lending the game’s atmosphere an appropriately otherworldly tone. It balances unease and fascination on a knife-edge. Both the visual and audio elements work together to disorient and inspire the player, and that’s where Manifold Garden really begins to stand apart as a puzzle game.
Interestingly, this is William Chyr’s first game – his varied career background had him gather experience in programming, design and 3D modelling, so moving on to creating games as art was a natural next step. You can see that perspective and experience in every corner, and Chyr has laboured over Manifold Garden for almost nine years at this point. Despite that relatively long development cycle it doesn’t feel over-engineered as most triple A titles would by then.
Manifold Garden – Is it worth it?
Manifold Garden is challenging and unique, a living art installation that plays with gravity and geometry itself. The puzzles are intricate and difficult at times, often requiring a moment’s reprieve from the game in order to approach it with fresh perspective. As with all artistic endeavours, your enjoyment of Manifold Garden will be subjective, but it will certainly appeal to people hungry for an intellectually demanding experience. Just be wary if you suffer with motion sickness.