Published Jun 26, 2011Returning home from forest raves and warehouse parties in the early 2000s, I'd while away my morning hours playing Rez. Created by Tetsuya Mizuguchi, then at Sega and already boasting a cult following for his 1999 Dreamcast dance game Space Channel 5, it mixed old-school vector graphics and new-school techno beats into a third-person shooter, making the gamer one with sight and sound. A decade later ― after his studio Q Entertainment released music-puzzle franchises Lumines and Every Extend Extra ― Mizuguchi returns to the music-shooter format to change gaming all over again, this time with Kinect-ic twist.
"Rez was just the beginning. If anything, everything in my life's work has been inspired by Kandinsky's synaesthesia concept. You can see the DNA in our games. Child of Eden is just the next logical step," Mizuguchi says. Synaesthesia is a neurological condition where one's senses get mixed up. In the case of Russian painter Wassily Kandinsky, he associated musical notes with colours or shapes.
I hope the sounds and pictures and the visual effects synchronize and create new emotions and sensations," Mizuguchi says. "All of the time, this is our goal, but I don't have unreasonable expectations. However, if we can achieve a new emotional experience in a game, then we'll have accomplished something new." That desire for newness is reflected in the game's title. Though the game's trippy visuals can be viewed as pure abstract expressionism ― or, perhaps, a fancy-pants iTunes visualizer ― there is a story to go along with it.
Child of Eden tells the futuristic tale of Lumi, the first child born in space. Seen as humanity's saviour, she died before ever setting foot on earth. Her "memory data" was uploaded to the internet ― known in this 200-years-off era as Eden. But a snake-like virus infects the digital garden archiving all of mankind's information and the player must purify Eden and restore Lumi's artificial intelligence. "I've put a lot of work into creating a scenario with a lot of emotion, feeling and drama," he says. "But at the same time it's not like anything that's ever existed before, and I think this is a game that you must 'feel' as much as 'play.'"
Eden is an evolution of Rez, but more than its higher-def graphics and a stronger synthesis between music and image, the control scheme has also changed. While you can still play with a pulsating controller in hand, it's designed for Xbox Kinect (and, eventually, Playstation Move), which allows you to control the game with only your body. "When I made Rez, we did not have the technology that we have now. Child of Eden uses Kinect to allow the player to feel as if they are flying through the archives. By using conductor-like motions, players can purify each level using the Tracer and Lock-On shots. As you purify each virus, they turn from dark colours to their brighter, more colourful original form.
"The Kinect actually removes an element of 'touch' since you're not actually holding a controller. You can really escape into Eden and become a part of the experience by 'soaring' through the archives and rescuing Lumi through your efforts. It may be a subtle benefit, but I think this brings you slightly closer to the tenets of synaesthesia by removing the obstacles between you and true immersion."
But for those who prefer physical feedback, Mizuguchi suggests putting the controller in your pocket when you play with Kinect to feel the vibration: "We made a corset in the studio to hold four controllers ― two in the front and two in the back."
Child of Eden comes out as electronic music enjoys another wave of popularity. Mizuguchi happens to be an electronic musician himself, and this time his group Genki Rockets ― which has long featured Lumi as its Gorrilaz-style CGI representative ― created all the music themselves. "I wanted to focus my attention on every aspect of the game; the music, the lyrics, the world, and the sound design. So the best way for me to achieve this was to create the soundtrack. My love of electronic music has always influenced my works. But in Child of Eden it's probably the most important that it's ever been."
In a recent TED talk, Mizuguchi talked about "the positive power of games," with Eden as a counterbalance to the more violent titles the art form is primarily known for. "It is good to have all types of games," he says. "Child of Eden is a very different game and it adds to the overall diversity. I think this will push gaming forward."