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  Mechanic #114 - Negative Space - Original Concept
Posted: 10/28/10

The original Negative Space, as I first envisioned it years ago.

  See It Again, For the First Time


This is the original Negative Space concept art that I drew in 2002, I think. I remember having printed this image out and hung it in my cubicle when I worked at Treyarch. I've shared this image multiple times on my webcomic, my blog, and even in the original [#001 - Negative Space] entry. What I don't think I've shared is the original gameplay concept that came with the idea. Not in the Three Hundred, at least.

Originally, it was supposed to be a Mega Man styled side scroller with that whole jump and shoot thing going on. In fact, the little silhouette guy there is this Mega Man-based Squidi concept I drew even longer ago:


Squidi-Man... or not.

Anyway, this won't be a complete game idea because, frankly, I didn't figure out how to get it to work. My goal isn't to fix this idea, but to share as many of the original ideas as possible. In fact, I've found some old images that I originally used to explain the idea below my webcomic, back before I had a separate blog (that I backed up). Don't ask me why I didn't put these wonderful how-to images in the original entry. They're neat.

  2 Jumps, 1 Button, Zero Clue


The original idea was that you would control Black and White simultaneously. The two worlds would be nearly identical. There would be some differences, such that if there was a platform in one world, it would stop you in both. Also, enemies would appear in both worlds, but might be different between them. For instance, a butterfly might bounce between the two worlds, and which world you shoot him in might cause him to explode, changing the environment. So if you wanted the black area to get bigger, you'd shoot the white butterfly.

Ultimately, I decided that the dual world thing didn't take enough advantage of the optical illusion aspect of the idea. It seemed like there wasn't enough interaction with the world this way and that the trick wasn't so much negative space as it was simply playing in two dimensions at once.

Ironically, some time after I decided that this wasn't a good idea for Negative Space, some one else actually implemented in a DS game called Chronos Twin. I remember seeing the video and thinking, hey someone else eventually came up with the same idea... and I was right. The idea kind of sucks. It's a one trick pony and the trick isn't that interesting.


The next idea I had was that you controlled both characters most of the time, but you could hit a button and play just the top character. The bottom character would freeze in place, and after your short time limit was up, the top character would zoom back to where he hit the button. The idea was that you would have a short period of time to go do things by yourself, possibly setting up some environmental aspect.

The idea that you could only control the top character was just a little conceit I had to make it more interesting. Naturally, you originally could choose which character you would control, but that felt too obvious. By making only the top character independently controllable, I could make a puzzle out of switching the characters. That is, if you wanted to control the white character for a while, you needed to somehow get black to be below him. That's where I felt I could put the puzzles.

To facilitate this idea, the world was infinitely repeated in the vertical direction. That is, if Black dropped below White, he'd be in the exact same environment he was in before, only he'd be below white. And since it was a platformer and because only the top character could move independently, it was always going to be the top character dropping below the bottom character. Infinitely repeating the world meant that dropping only changed orientation, not surroundings.

Eventually, I decided that was too complicated and a little silly, so I decided that it should've just been a two player platformer - a position that I ultimate still agree with. When it comes right down to it, Negative Space deserves to be a two player game. A cooperative action-puzzle game where the characters interact without ever touching... sort of like that PS2 game The Adventures of Cookie and Cream. I still think that may be the ultimate expression of the Negative Space concept.


Of course, I also offer up a possibility for a character to simple flip between the sides. My concept was that there would be a bubble around the character that would invert. The character would change color and so would his immediate area, allowing him to switch sides without breaking the world model. I think this was supposed to be possible at specific points rather than being able to do it whenever.

I think another alternative I came up with was using dithered gray as a swapping zone. Go into the gray box, it will invert, and you'll be the other color. I think I may have mentioned this in [#002 - Grey Matter].

  Sharing Spaces

The original Negative Space idea was entirely about modifying the environment to overcome obstacles. Here are some old graphics I made to demonstrate a few of the ideas:


The players themselves counted as physical space. I thought it would be cool if one could duck down, creating a small hole in the ceiling that the other player could use. In this case, he needs a few more inches to jump high enough to get over the fast moving turtle.


The other idea was that there would be environmental hazards that had a dual role. For white, the chomping teeth would kill him, but for Black, they create a small window of opportunity where the teeth come together and create a passage for him to drop through.


Here's another example like that. A drip becomes a rather large water droplet that Black can ride to the next level down. This is actually the original of most of the ideas I posted in [#003 - Neg-Space Wars]


Finally, I had this idea that enemies would change the environment. This is where the whole silhouette idea really took shape. I think my first thought was that Black could shoot a bunch of butterflies and their corpses would pile up on the floor, creating a higher ceiling for White. The other idea was a sort of inchworm that would mosey across one world, creating small arching paths in the other. In this illustration, the inchworm eats Black, but creates a gap over a wall, allowing White to throw a grenade at... I think it's a switch, but it kid of looks like a hat, truth be told.



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