• Sat. Mar 2nd, 2024

Xbox Indie Spotlight: The Plane Effect


Jul 10, 2021

The Plane Effect defies most attempts to pin it down to a few descriptions. Technically it’s a world-warping, mind-bending dystopian puzzler, whose protagonist is only trying to get home, but from what we’ve seen so far of The Plane Effect, it’ll subvert, distort, and all-round warp your expectations. Intrigued? Us too, so we’ve asked game director Dennis Cabella for more info. What is The Plane Effect?The Plane Effect is an isometric puzzle game set within a dystopian world. It’s in development from Studio Kiku and Innovina Interactive, and revolves around protagonist Solo, whose only goal is to make his way home to his family through a strange and increasingly inexplicable world.When does The Plane Effect launch?We don’t yet have a release date for The Plane Effect, but we’ll keep you posted!What’s it about?A key question — everything we’ve heard so far paints an increasingly complex picture of this “time-and-mind bending adventure game.” In theory, it should sound simple: the game begins in Solo’s office, with him finishing for the day and ready to set off home. But then you get a glimpse of the otherworldly thing in the sky, and see how the world begins to unravel in unfathomable ways as Solo forges through it. “Early on you discover that there’s some kind of anomaly in space, illuminating the sky,” explains Cabella. “Is this the end of the world? Is this why Solo is so desperate to return to his family? You also learn in the early stages that Solo is not alone. Try as he might to leave the office, where the game begins, he is frequently returned — where he is always being watched by a sinister force. Who are these dark figures monitoring his every move?” That contrast between Solo’s one simple goal and the complexity of the world around him is shown straight away with the first small puzzle right at the start of the game. Solo goes to leave the office and head home, only to find the door locked. Already, his world has begun to behave in unexpected ways and to block him from his goal, and he has to interact with and explore his environment before he can progress further.The trailers and screenshots for The Plane Effect give an impression of a bleak, unsettling world, but it seems this isn’t always the case. “The Plane Effect is often dark,” Cabella acknowledges. “It has a very distinct atmosphere, sometimes brooding, sometimes foreboding — often players will find their expectations subverted. But we feel that players will also experience some very light-hearted moments, moments that make you smile, moments that really take you by surprise, cutting through that darker atmosphere. Fundamentally, the overall mood, certainly as you progress, is less one of bleakness, and more one of surprise and hope,” Cabella continues. “The Plane Effect is never what you think it is — just when you think you understand what is happening, or what it’s about, the game throws something completely unexpected your way.”At its most basic level, says Cabella, “it’s a dystopian, isometric puzzle game. Some have described it as a 3D Limbo or Inside — but honestly, we think it’s not a 100% correct description,” Cabella adds. “The Plane Effect has the flavour of point and click adventures in some ways — classic puzzle adventures in others — it’s as much a game about the player’s journey of discovery. Who is ‘Solo’ the protagonist? Where is he going and why? It’s a game very much open to interpretation — and we hope different players take something unique to themselves from that journey.”What’s The Plane Effect gameplay like?The Plane Effect takes us on a mind-bending, world-warping journey, and Cabella says this freedom of gameplay design is a result of that brooding, otherworldly setting. “When you have a game which is so unique in tone and atmosphere it can actually be quite liberating in terms of design,” Cabella says. “We’re not creating a ‘real’ world. There are moments of realism — but the journey is often abstract and sometimes surreal. There is nothing about the world of The Plane Effect which is ‘normal’ — you, as a player, are always asking questions about who, what, where and why. As a result, it actually gave us freedom to take the game into really interesting places and situations — which a more ‘realistic’ game would not allow us to do.”There isn’t an inventory system, and Cabella says that the simplicity of The Plane Effect’s mechanics and interface serves to emphasise that core concept of Solo’s journey, and to bring the player’s intuition to the fore when approaching the game’s puzzles. “We are always thinking about the player. What will they do? How will they approach the game’s puzzles? The Plane Effect is very much a game about players experiencing a memorable journey, from which they can take away their own interpretation,” says Cabella. We were also curious about the challenges of writing a story in which the main character and the player aren’t meant to know what’s going on — Solo doesn’t know what’s happening around him, and the game itself seems designed to be unpredictable. To add to this uncertainty, Cabella explains that The Plane Effect also has very little text. “The story is told through player actions and situations,” says Cabella. “This was important to us. Everyone in the world pretty much understands the personality of the ‘everyman’ or rather ‘salaryman.’ A simple office worker. We wanted this universal figure to take on the imprint of every player. Just as Solo doesn’t understand what is happening to him — so too will the player have no idea what is happening, or what to expect. Only the desire to continue forward and to keep pushing on.”Cabella describes how the team wanted to keep the game’s systems “as elegant as possible. Players find themselves in a situation, and have to use their intuition and curiosity to progress.” But don’t worry about being forever stuck at one or other of The Plane Effect’s puzzles, as Cabella says they also aimed to manage player frustration. “We also want to make the game accessible to everyone, we really want players to be able to reach the end — to experience the crescendo of the story without too much frustration. For those who are less puzzle-minded, we have incorporated various levels of help and guidance for those who just want to enjoy the process of discovery and travel.”What’s the game world like?The devs hit the nail on the head with the descriptor “mind-bending,” as that’s one of the first words to pop up when thinking about the world of The Plane Effect — especially as it’s apparently designed to constantly subvert your expectations. “If you see where Solo begins in the story, you might have ideas about how the game will progress,” says Cabella. “We have taken great delight in taking Solo to situations and locations you won’t expect — you can’t possibly predict where the game will take you and, crucially, where the game will end. We are really looking forward to players experiencing the end of Solo’s journey — and how they feel about its conclusion,” Cabella adds. We see Solo exploring an office, the city, then through vast labyrinths of passageways, then underwater — all while managing to hang on to his briefcase, which is pretty darn impressive. Cabella cites inspirations ranging from Blade Runner and Dark City to the work of Philip K Dick and William Gibson, and “their vision of a lonely future, humans as slaves to consumerism and technology, striving to regain their humanity. Solo may start off in a very grey, hum-drum world,” Cabella adds, “but his journey is anything but!”Any news on The Plane Effect achievements?Not yet — but Cabella did give us a few hints; the first being that Solo’s journey is an important factor. “Being a tough journey for Solo, many of the achievements are tied to his progression. We want people to feel that each situation brings a reward — both in unlocking achievements and also in the feeling that they have taken an important step towards his goal. Achievements are very much tied to that idea.” Replayability is another key factor. “While many of the achievements are linked to simply progressing Solo’s journey, we also wanted to add some more obscure achievements,” explains Cabella. Things a player may miss the first time around — and so encourage people to experience the story again. While they may mop up the last few achievements — we hope that on a second play though, they may take away a new interpretation of The Plane Effect with them.”

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