Fotonica made me start writing, because it made me feel that strongly about it.
The description from the website is as follows: “FOTONICA is a first person game about jumping, sense of speed and exploration. The key is timing, the goal is exploring and traveling flawlessly through the environment. The setting is an abstract, mainly duotone outlined world, with a look referring to the ‘50s geometrical abstractions as well as the 3D low-poly gaming-era.”
Fotonica is a game from Santa Ragione I came across first on Kotaku and Joystiq, and most recently on Bytejacker with the Free Indie Rapid Fire. Fotonica has a very simple idea and incredible execution. You press one key to run, when you release it you will jump, and if you press the the key again in the air you will descend faster. You only travel in one direction, and you need to manage your speed and the distance of your jumps in order to navigate through the levels without falling off into the abyss. The exploration comes from the multiple paths the developers have put into every level.
The visceral feeling that the game gives is amazing. Your avatar feels like it has the right amount of mass, jumping isn’t immediate - it takes time to land the next step or so before you launch - and the sense of speed and momentum when you jump is sublime. If you like the feeling you get when you run flat out, or jump from a high place you know you probably shouldn’t, or if you think you would like your body to be able to fly, then try this.
It connects with you by making the game simple, and that simplicity is the same tack that is one reason why some of the most successful and revered games as of late have been casual gaming titles. It’s not that they’re addicting because they use cheap tricks to make it difficult to stay away from (as do some incredibly popular and successful games on, say, Facebook), it’s that because they’ve found a simple mechanism that becomes reflexive, and so you connect to it. In Fotonica, pressing and releasing that one key becomes almost a muscle memory task, which means that my whole body is drawn into this, I feel the the sense of speed and momentum, I feel connected to making these wireframe hands move, like I’m making myself jump and run.
And it’s the combination of running and jumping that does makes Fotonica so great. Fotonica is everything I loved about Mirror’s Edge, distilled into the purest, and best, form. No worrying about anything except flying through the world ahead.
The simplified visuals work very well to keep your objective clear, and it’s worth noting that for the Mirror’s Edge DLC, EA didn’t add any more rooftop run-and-gun levels, they just added abstract worlds to play in. It doesn’t make the experience any less enjoyable, it just helps you see what you need to that much easier.
And Fotonica’s visual and sound effects? They are wonderfully thought out. The way that landing, landing hard, and stopping all affect your perspective? With the warping of colors and blurring of visuals? And how the sound changes? And how it all comes together once you hit that top-speed mark and they combine into a golden nirvana of running? It’s like they reached into the back of my mind and pulled out all my fantasies of what I think freedom of movement is. This is how I want my body to move, this is how I think a superhuman moves.
The music is perfect, just like the best parts in Mirror’s Edge. I would love the soundtrack to this. It’s very relaxed, but with enough energy to keep you entranced, it’s beautiful, and it puts you in the frame of mind to focus on the task at hand. Which is enjoying being superhuman.
I really wish there was a physical package this game came in, because then I could go over to EA and slap someone with it until they a) committed to hauling Santa Ragione in to make this a DLC pack for Mirror’s Edge, or b) committed to hauling in Santa Ragione and get them working with a team to make a Mirror’s Edge sequel.