Forced perspective is that optical illusion that can make an object appear larger, smaller, or farther away. It’s a technique that’s been used in everything from film to architecture to a Canadian comedy troupe’s hilarious Head Crusher sketches.
Up until now, though, we’ve never seen a video game use forced perspective as a gameplay mechanism, which is why this tech demo from a team of Carnegie Mellon students calling themselves Pillow Castle is so exciting. Instead of making a game with a first-person perspective shooter blasting aliens or blowing open zombies, this game is based on using forced perspective to solve puzzles.
There is, admittedly, nothing unique about using forced perspective to render virtual objects in a video game. All games use forced perspective to create the illusion of distance or depth. But until now, no one has realized that fooling around with forced perspective could be the gameplay mechanism itself, like Mario’s jumping, Pac-Man’s chomping, or Sonic’s running.
Dryly called The Museum of Simulation Technology, Pillow Castle’s conceptual demo uses forced perspective to solve environmental challenges. In real life, if you’re looking at a far away object, it can almost seem like it’s small enough to pick up in your hand, if only you could reach out and touch it. Pillow Castle’s genius idea is to actualize this illusion: in The Museum of Simulation Technologies, you can pick up an object on the horizon in your hand and move it somewhere else at the exact same size.
Here’s an example. Early in the demo, the player sees the Leaning Tower of Pisa in the distance. By clicking on it, your avatar can pick up the tower in virtual hands. When you do so, you effectively freeze the Tower at the size it appeared to your avatar when clicked. So if you need to solve a puzzle in which you “shrank” the Tower of Pisa to make it fit on a chess board, all you would need to do is click the tower, walk over to a nearby chess set, and drop it on the board. This same technique can be used to pick up a small building block and use it to bridge a seemingly uncrossable gulf. Some objects even have properties that scale with size: using forced perspective, a table fan could become powerful enough to blow you clear across the room.
Right now, The Museum of Simulation Technology is just a tech demo by eager students, and yet it’s still worth getting exciting about. Promising tech demos by college students with new design ideas have been turned into triple-A games before. Valve Software’s Portal series has been widely hailed as some of the most innovative games of the past decade, so it’s interesting to note that the gameplay mechanism that has made that series so famous–using wormholes to solve puzzles, called portals–originally debuted as a senior project from a team of students, a trend Valve continued in Portal 2 by buying up another student design team’s game.
Watching Pillow Castle’s rough but incredible demo is enough to get Portal fans thinking: “Imagine what GlaDOS could do with this.” And while they won’t say for sure, my guess is that Pillow Castle’s thinking the same thing. Watching the complete video of The Museum of Simulation Technology, it’s hard to miss the fact that there’s already portals in the game. Could this be the mechanic that powers Portal 3?