Level Design of Video Games – SUPERHOT, Beyond the Level

The game studied in this post is SUPERHOT, but the topic is as abstract as the humanoid creatures in the game. This post focuses on analysing the influence of the 4th dimension on video game mechanics and level design. Without trying to understand exactly what the fourth dimension really is, I will borrow one such definition in that the fourth dimension is a plane of existence where time can be traversed in various directions. Thus regarding time as an axis of movement in the same way we consider X, Y, Z coordinates in three dimensional space.

Since a representation of the fourth dimension cannot exist in a way that we can perceive it, games use the concept of the fourth dimension build their world. Examples of games which achieve this are SUPERHOT, Portal, Braid, Life is Strange, Miegakure. These games may not directly reference or acknowledge the fourth dimension, but they all utilise abilities that are beyond our three dimensional capabilities, most of which involve time. Discussions I have had with regard to this often conclude that many of these games are using time as a mechanic rather than providing an experience of the fourth dimension.

At any rate I will move on to analysing the game at hand in relation to this topic regardless. SUPERHOT as many who have played the game know it is:


Where time only moves when you move. With the fourth dimension in mind this makes some sense with regard to traversing time as a form of movement. Literally as you move in SUPERHOT you are moving through time, however if we think about how the enemies move, they are stuck in place and move when you move also. So from their perspective you are not really a fourth dimensional creature, you are more like a three dimensional creature with really good reflexes. From a level design perspective the game has a lot of tight corners and areas for cover to accommodate this gameplay of minute movement and avoiding enemies. But the level cannot represent four dimensions, nothing can. However, the influence of the fourth dimension can be interpreted as the time mechanic in SUPERHOT, whether or not this was the developers intent, is unclear. It could be a case of death of the author but at any rate, time based mechanics can often be interpreted in this way.

The same can be said of Life is Strange, setting aside the wonderful narrative of the game, Max’s rewind ability is very much a fourth dimensional affordance. One puzzle in particular stands out where Max has to break in to the office of the principle at Blackwell Academy. In doing so Max sets of a fire alarm, but she must quickly rewind time so that the alarm is no longer running but she is on the other side of the door. From partner character Chloe’s perspective it would appear that Max had vanished from existence and then be opening the door right after saying they need to get into the office. Max could even have done this before they discussed getting into the office giving the impression of precognition as is often the case during dialogue in Life is Strange.

So to conclude, the fourth dimension cannot be accurately portrayed, but we can think about it, and apply its influences to games we make.

– battz

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