Waker


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DanTheArcherWakerSome people believe dreams are memories collected over the day's time, assembled into a sort of psychic collage that defies description. Others believe that they are prophecies, glimpses of fates not yet transpired in a time when our minds are free to sail to such distant shores. We can attempt to understand them with REM and our so-called science, but when it comes right down to it, the vast majority of us have absolutely no idea what dreams are. We submit to them come bedtime, we perform on their strange stage, and then we awaken in the morning, unmarked but not always unscathed. Sometimes the process is not quite as simple, however, and many times has a dreamer lost sight of the path to morning. What becomes of these people, and where do they wander? This is the realm of the Waker, the star of Poof Games' latest concoction.

You control a mystical, catlike quadruped whose sole purpose is to repair the roads by which drifting dreamers can return to the world of day. This requires collecting wisps, sprinkled across a series of elaborate dreamscapes. You'll use the arrow keys to traverse these worlds, including [up] (or [space]) for all your jumping needs. [D] is an all-purpose interaction key, perfect for picking up or dropping objects as well as flipping switches. [S] prompts your Waker to sprint at breakneck speed, which becomes necessary to solve some of the later puzzles. And the puzzles are plentiful.

Nestled in the levels are enchanted orbs, which will conjure a platform for however long you keep the orb in your paws. Now, what shape that platform takes depends on variables keyed to the specific kind of orb. For example, one brand of globe might alter the platform's slope based on how fast you're running at the time, while another could change with your position within the level itself. Then there's black spheres of nightmare that can warp you back to the start with a touch, self-made prisons of summoned platforms...no one said the life of a Waker was easy.

Analysis: Waker is a project born from GAMBIT, Singapore-MIT's game design lab, and the multidisciplinary input shows. The art and animation invoke the phantasmal in such a way that it's not hard to believe that this idea could have been hauled from the same place dreams come from. Little touches breathe life into the Waker and the world, like the blinking of one eye at a time should you let the creature sit still for a few moments. The music is softly whimsical, the same way a child's dream should be.

WakerWhile the writing sets up the game quite marvelously, what with the Wakers and the Dreamtime and associated fantasies, the story starts to fade as the game progresses, being delivered to the player in short injections between one world and the next. It's a tad disappointing to have the developers weave all this vibrant lore about what happens when the lights go out, only to have it squeezed into the cracks. It would have been nicer to see the story dovetail with the gameplay more smoothly, but there's still a lot more creativity at work here than your average puzzle game.

The platforming can be as tidy or as troublesome as you'd like; it really boils down to the way you sculpt it. If you can manage to get all your orb-empowered platforms to only have steps at right angles and swerve perfectly through every obstacle, than the platforming ought to be a walk in the park, with dreams for trees. More often than not, however, your platforms will not be works of aesthetic splendor. They'll probably be bumpy, or spiky, or look like a dying man's ECG. And it's in these cases where you run afoul of some wonky physics; you might not be able to jump as high as usual, or perhaps even not at all. Usually, these situations involve such gnarled platforms that you can understand why you can't scurry up that 88-degree slope, but just remember that the cleaner your platforms, the better.

The challenges are all puzzles in the purest sense of the word: they encourage experimentation on the player's part, they may require some unorthodox thinking, and there will be more than one instance of you face-palming as an elusive solution suddenly dawns on you. While the game might be short for those who attack it head-on, it's certainly a trip worth taking, and the dazzling visuals coupled with the imaginative tale of the Wakers marks this game as one of the most innovative puzzlers to date. Now don't let me keep you, for there's already a child lost in the slumber, hoping for someone, anyone to show them the way home.

Well? The Waker is waiting.

Play Waker

30 Comments

Does anyone else have a really long load time?

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Yes, my load time is long as well.

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This better be some game, because I've left it loading for ten minutes and it's about 5% done.

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This game took longer to load then it took me to beat. 45 minutes to load, to be exact. I have no idea why such a short game has such a long load time. Overall, it was a fun game, with very nice visuals and good music. It was also a pleasant surprise, being one of the few puzzle games that I am actually able to finish. All in all, I would give this game four stars.

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For what it's worth, I just loaded the game fresh about an hour ago, and it loaded in less than a minute.

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Yeah, the load time is terrible. I've been waiting a half hour :\

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mines not even loading....not even a loading bar :(

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Hi, this is Marleigh from GAMBIT. While Waker is rather asset heavy---all that lovely dreamscape art and music mentioned in the review---it's not supposed to take as long to load as it seems to be at the moment. The popularity of Waker and our other games is slamming our server at the moment. I mentioned it to the sysadmins, and they're trying to see if there's something they can do.

Sorry about that.

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Once the game loaded it was wonderful to play. The graphics were really good, and the game play refreshingly simple, but not easy. Like Dan mentioned in the review, I was face-palming on some levels when I realized the solution. Overall a great game with definite replay value.

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Did anyone tried playing on different difficulty? The hard mode is actually alot harder, with more obstacles to dodge from.

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I think it's getting hit with the JIG effect :) It's working now.

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I actually found the controls to be way too clunky to be really playable. Nobody else had this problem?

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Cyberjar88 Author Profile Page September 2, 2009 6:11 PM

Anyone else wondering what happens if someone at Harvard tries to play any of these games?

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This is a nice game, and the puzzles were fair but a bit repetitive, since most of the time it's just walking from left to right. Loading also took a pretty long time here, but it's probably because we JIGged the game server. And another one bites the virtual dust...

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Whoa whoa whoa!!! I didn't notice my first time through that this is intended to be an EDUCATIONAL GAME (mentions this in the little sidebar under the game window)... it teaches how the physics concepts of displacement and velocity relate to their graph over time.

This represents a huge breakthrough in educational games as far as I'm concerned. Explicitly educational games always suck because the gameplay is subservient to the learning goal. We've known for a long time, on the other end of the spectrum, that any actually good game exercises the mind at the very least in the experience of learning to play it... exploring and adapting to the rule sets of a particular game is a cognitive experience that mirrors the experience we have in real life whenever we have to solve any new problem in an unfamiliar situation.

This game, however, manages to embed the targeted content directly into the control mechanism of the game, making learning the relationship between the physical quantities and their graphs part of the inevitable learning experience that naturally accompanies any video game. That frees the designer to make the game itself about anything--in this case a compelling fantasy world--without having to get bogged down in trivia questions or other explicitly (and dubiously, in my opinion) "educational" tasks.

I am a physics teacher and I will find it incredibly helpful to have a game like this that can be assigned as homework to students having difficulty interpreting velocity vs. time graphs. It gives them a completely decent reason to want to practice making these graphs over and over again.

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Thank you elemeno for bringing those points out..
The game control mechanism(movements) were designed in this way, such that drawing the graph were based on the player's displacement and velocity..

Having constant increase in displacement for walking and having constant increase in velocity for sprinting.
The game seeks to let the player/student understand that constant velocity = constant increase in displacement
and constant acceleration = constant increase in velocity = a exponential increase for displacement.

The controls basically let the player/student play around with constant velocity(walk) and constant acceleration(sprint), and see it translate onto both displacement/time graph and velocity/time graph.. In order to finish the game..
So by the time the player/student finished the game.. He would have already known how displacement and velocity relates to each other, unknowingly!

The controls could not be altered in any other way to make the movements smoother as it would require a change to the acceleration/velocity/displacement.. which would be too confusing for the student to grasp the physic concept.

The biggest challenge was to make this control(movements) scheme smooth to players, for playability issue.

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diacriticalmarx Author Profile Page September 3, 2009 12:40 AM

This reminds me of Braid.

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I'm glad to see this here. I really like the story in the game. Unfortunately, my computer must not be up to par, because everything in the game is moving at a crawl.

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try pressing control+mousemiddlescrolldown to make the screen smaller..
it should increase performance for the game when it is running on a smaller screen.

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HaloInverse Author Profile Page September 3, 2009 3:40 AM

Awesome, the authors are checking in at JIG. :)

I played & finished this game, then tried the plot-free-abstract-art version ("Woosh", I believe, hosted on the same site - identical gameplay/level structure, just no storyline and less-CPU-eating artwork). I understand that the point of the two parallel versions was to determine whether the underlying educational goals were better served through narrative, or through a narrative-free game. In terms of testing that goal, I felt the narrative fell flat. While I felt a tiny drive to complete levels to see "the next part of the story", I felt a much stronger drive to complete levels to unravel and master new and more complex challenges. Perhaps this was because of what seems to be a broken relationship between the story and the gameplay - all this talk about "gathering the wisps of the shattered path", and yet the game focuses on creating the path to obtain the wisps, which are merely level-complete markers. This broken metaphor, for me, amplified the feeling that the story had been added post-hoc to the game, like cutscenes of a lighthearted romantic comedy spliced into an ultraviolent FPS. (Okay, maybe not that bad. I've played cRPGs far more guilty of this than Waker.) As much as the story was mostly-irrelevant and anticlimactic, I must compliment your choice of voice-actor for the narrator - good voice, good delivery.

As far as the gameplay itself, bravo. Not explaining too much about the mechanics of the game worked in Waker's/Woosh's favour, as it added (a) a nice initial challenge for each new "pen" type, and (b) a sneaky Socratic dimension to the educational aspect. Pity it was so short... I don't know if this game will continue to be developed at all or if the experiment is "done", but I think the game could be extended a bit with a third "pen" that draws on separate displacement and velocity graphs simultaneously (which could really drive home the displacement/velocity relationship - one process, described two ways), or maybe "pens" that run off of vertical position (the jumping physics might need to be adjusted a little, but I don't see that being a big parabolem.)

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Okay, if the controls can't be made smoother without adversely affecting the key game mechanic, I accept that. Thanks.

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At World 3, The Star stage...portal in top left corner but line begins too short of portal height making it impossible to leap into it. Any ideas anyone?

Great game by the way.

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@waker fan
You're right, I was at the same situation.
You have to

Bring the rightside orb to the left screen edge to increase the height of the platform.
Really want to see the solution?

Pick up the rightside orb and jump into trap. You will find yourself still attached to the rightside orb, at the left screen edge.

Best regards from Heidelberg, Philipp

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Thanks Philipp, totally fab. Another problem with this game is there is no save feature. Never mind.

Thanks again or should I say Vielen Dank.

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Argh! My browser crashed, and I lost my hard won progress! I wish there had been a save feature (or did I miss it)?

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This game desperately needs a save feature. Today I got up to part three when my computer crashed. Other times, I haven't had time to finish the game so I had to lose all my progress. Please put in a save feature!

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I'm stuck on (I think) the second level of the star world (the "hint" is "Victory requires sacrifice). The warp sphere is in the absolute worst place. I must be going at it all wrong, that's the only explanation I can think of, because it seems impossible to draw a line that both allows the cat to avoid touching the warp sphere and make the jump at the end.

I'm really frustrated at the "hint" system. If you're going to give "hints" then make them actual hints. None of the hints are worth a damn, as far as I can see.

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I think the solution has already been posted by Philipp at a few post before this..

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Did anybody notice an interesting aspect to the sound the plays as you draw your platforms? It happens to be algorithmically synthesized as you go so that it can be responsive to your movement in a way that wavefile playback can not be.... I believe we were among the first (of many to come, I guess) to take advantage of this new capability in Flash 10 (shameless plug: using sounds from Sonoflash).

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TheMusicGirl September 16, 2009 12:17 AM

The storyline is phonominal, the game performance...well...I think it's pretty mediocer. The jumping animation is a bit sloppy, and it takes me forever to get the timing right...but a fantastic and creative take on an educational tool. 3 1/2 out of 5.

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