Framed is a game for comic fans, noir aficionados, puzzle gurus and lovers of story. It's minimalistic; the characters are silhouettes with details in white, such as ties and flowers, and there's absolutely no text. Gameplay involves sliding frames of a comic around to create the best possible scenario for mysterious, trench-coated characters as they attempt to outrun and outsmart the police force in a big city.
It's largely a puzzle game – move one panel to the wrong spot and the police officer in that frame will see your character running and shoot him in the face. Place a panel of a hallway in front of that, and your character runs up behind the cop, knocking him out with the briefcase he perpetually carries.
The briefcase is a mystery. It changes hands between at least two characters, one man and one woman (both wearing trench coats), and it apparently holds something valuable. Framed comes from Australian studio Loveshack, and designer Joshua Boggs tells Joystiq that the game includes two main elements: puzzle and story.
The narrative runs the same line regardless of the action order, but the way players interpret the story changes based on these decisions. The simplistic design and anti-text approach also ensures that much of the story resides in player interpretation.
In my run-through of the first few levels, I started making sound effects whenever my character smashed the briefcase over an officer's head, or when he ran past a barrage of bullets. I gave the silhouetted main characters personalities and naturally overlaid my own thoughts on their actions. The man, in my head, is a snarky spy who says things like, "Ha-ha!" when he outwits the authorities. The woman is smooth and confident, offering lines such as "Excuse me, boys" as she knocks out a row of cops and makes her escape.
None of this flavor is in the actual game, but Framed's simple style makes it easy to project personalities into the panels, and I imagine the game will read differently to each person that picks it up.
The puzzles themselves are tricky, relying solely on visual cues to piece the panels together correctly. One stage offers two rows of blue-and-orange pathways, with cops scattered at various outlets. The player must recognize that placing an orange hallway at the beginning means that in the next panel, the character will emerge from the orange section, potentially in direct sight of a vigilant police officer.
Different stages ask players to rotate certain panels, rather than moving them to different locations, while others can be used twice, moving characters in and out of the same door throughout the animation. The greatest challenge for Loveshack is relaying the new mechanics to players. The rotation idea is straightforward, as those panels are shaped differently and have a tiny reticle where they rotate, but the multiple-use panels are trickier. Normally, as characters move through the panels, they darken. If you can use a panel again, it returns to full color, but that animation is easy to miss while watching the action in the following panels.
Boggs says the team has solutions for these input issues that don't involve adding text. The final game will have 50 stages or so, and Loveshack currently has about 30 done. The studio aims to launch Framed in mid-2014, first on iOS and Steam, and later on Android. It'll run around $5 on iOS, and the team is still figuring out Steam pricing.