Here again with another video, this time talking about the abstract level design in Kairo. Once again after the video there will be a shortened write up. (Starting to get the hang of getting better quality on the videos too)
Abstraction is a concept that games have the capability to explore in very effective ways. Thrusting the player into spaces which would otherwise be impossible due to the laws of the world we live in. With difficult concepts like abstraction games bring the player to a place where they can, not always understand the abstract world, but experience it and the feeling it attempts to convey.
The impression I got from Kairo was a broken world, which you explore and fix to uncover the story. The storytelling is not explicit and is expressed to the player through the environment, which is something that abstraction lends itself to very well. The reason abstraction works well for this is because even if the story is not accurately understood by the player they still interpret the experience in some way. In many ways this is more powerful than one storyline (not to mention more achievable from a development persective) because you aren’t required to to craft an enthralling story that captures the players heart and imagination. By abstracting a narrative down to a core theme and feeling the game leaves an impression without expressly telling the player exactly what is going on. Kairo achieves this, games like Dark Souls are a prestigious example of this also, while the Souls Series is less abstract it doesn’t tell the player exactly what is happening in the narrative.
Aside from narrative, abstraction allows for very simplified mechanics and environments (depending on the complexity of the game and the aesthetic). Kairo’s environment is built from simple geometric forms which when brought together create the representation of something. Such as a waterfall or a park in the case of Kairo.
Apart from making levels easy to create thanks to the simple aesthetic, it also becomes very accessible for players. This again plays into the idea of interpretation, because the player is not in a realistic environment their perception of the visuals is open to discussion. For instance the image above I interpreted as a kind of hydroelectric generator, based on my understanding that the environment is used to power a large broken machine. This interpretation is different for everyone, which is part of what makes abstraction so appealing for development because it is so accessible.
What was most intriguing about this game was the way in which it handled puzzles. While most of the puzzles, at least in the first sequence, are simple button push puzzles which only require you to know a sequence. There are some other encounters where the game uses sequences in a different way. Particularly the bridge very early into the first sequence. As you approach the bridge it raises so you cannot cross. To either side are paths which loop back over the path you were just on, by taking one of these paths you notice the bridge lowers again. You then drop down onto the first path and the bridge is there for you to use. This approach to a puzzle is much more intriguing than a series of puzzles and by establishing this early in the timeline of the game it gets the player becomes accustomed to the way these puzzles work and thinks about how they approach puzzles later in the game.