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IndieCade at E3: Sizing up Scale


I also ran around the IndieCade tour at E3, and while our own Jess Conditt took a lot of creepy pleasure in the grim philosophical horror title A Mother's Inferno, my tastes ran more simple and colorful: The best game I saw in that section of E3 this year was called Scale.

Scale, developed by Steve Swink (who teaches interactive design in Phoenix, but might be better known as Kyle Pulver's roommate?) is similar to Portal, which is a quality ascribed to a lot of great indie games these days. That's not surprising, given that Portal was also an indie student project, before it got processed through Valve's chaotic engine of creativity. Scale is similar to Portal in that it too has a gun that doesn't kill, but is instead used to manipulate a colorfully-rendered 3D world.

Portal, it could be said, played around with the functions of space, creating portals to bypass and bend it. Scale, on the other hand, is all about that stuff in between space. Namely: mass.

Like Portal, it also starts simple: There's a ledge in front of you, and a small rock that's not big enough to climb up the ledge. But you have a gun, and you presume the left mouse button shoots it, so fire away. The gun grows the rock up a size (complete with a bouncy inflating motion), and you can climb up the rock and onto the ledge in front of you, and on through a door to the next level.

That's the first stage. Later on, there's a house, but you can only grow it a few times before the gun runs out of power. The solution is to use the other mouse button to shrink the trees around you, and then pump that mass into the house, growing it up to full size, and then even further if you like. You can then go in, find a key, and move on.

And there's more. At one point I come across another ledge, with a collectible orb on top of it, and no clear way of getting up. But there's a sign below it, and sure enough, the gun also works on the sign. Pull mass off of objects around you, jump up on top of the sign, and grow it up to the top of the ledge.

I grin inwardly, with Swink standing behind me. I have broken his game: I have used his rules to get somewhere I wasn't supposed to be.

But of course he knows. "Oh, you did the sign thing," he says. "That's one way to do it. There are a few others."

IndieCade at E3 Sizing up Scale

The game's far from done, but Swink says he hopes to be at IndieCade later on this year. It's all running in Unity 3D, so Mac and PC are the first platforms he'll aim for. And as for a release date, he shrugs. He says it'll be out eventually, but you get the impression that he's making this game for him, not for us.

Finally, Swink shows me a later level, highlighting something else he's been thinking about during development. It's a desert level, with a big Grand Canyon gap running through it. "You can't get across the gap, see?" he says, showing that it's far too wide to jump across. And then he lowers the gun and shoots downward.

The camera suddenly jumps upward and hovers, like he's turned on God Mode and is about to fly around. He shoots down a few more times, and the camera zooms up farther, putting the whole level on the screen, with the gap far below. The weird change in perspective is puzzling.

And then I slowly realize what's going on. The world itself is shrinking, with the player staying the same height. The gap is now a small ditch at your feet. The mind bends into a new place. Just like Portal.

"Now you can jump the gap," says Swink with another shrug, and then makes the jump, a few times back and forth. "Anyway, it's something I'm working on."

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