Manifold Garden — Is it my Genre?


A game’s trailer should show the player if it’s their thing, their unique blend of genres. The only way to know if it captures that unique blend is to play the game deeply.

So after I play through a game I roll back through the trailer. I walk through the individual bits of how they capture the game’s unique genre elements. In the end you might find out if a game is your genre.

Welcome to Is It My Genre?

Wow, Manifold Garden might be the most incredibly well designed game that I’ve ever played. Before we get into it I do have to say that this trailer that we are going to be looking at is the release date trailer that my buddy Derek Lieu made. He also makes indie game trailers.

I’m kind of in awe of a lot of the decisions that he made going into this trailer, especially after playing through the game. It’s kind of an incredible mash-up of this very very intelligent game with a game trailer editor who’s at the top of his game. So we’re going to take a look at it. Hopefully there will be some take-aways. Before I say anything else let’s just jump into it. 

I’d love to talk about a lot of things that happen in this trailer and we are going to do that. We are going to roll back through and we are going to look at them.

Also I want to give a quick shout out for this kind of analysis video. Derek Lieu does his own. I am going to include a link in the show notes. He does an incredible stream on Fridays on Twitch. Our friend Marlon Wiebe also does trailer analysis videos that I will also link the show notes — cause you can’t have enough trailer analysis, right?

The trailer does not include the core mechanic — because it’s disorienting to viewers.

So the one thing that is really fascinating that Derek did not include in this trailer is the game’s core mechanic. Any time that you come to a wall you press R2 and the wall shifts so that where the wall was is now your floor. This kind of mechanic is very very disorienting. It’s so hard to get across in any kind of recorded media. So I feel like it’s better for building through a grounded sense of orientation than clearly jumping into that. Of course Derek does tease that a lot through the trailer which we are going to watch and go through now. Before I do, one last thought, and that’s a part of the game genre that I usually forget to talk about and that’s that in this game you cannot entirely tell from the trailer that it’s a little bit of existential horror.

It’s an existential horror game.

You are kind of like, “Where am I?, How am I?, What is even going on here?” That’s very disorienting and intimidating. That is hard to process and think about — but that is why the game’s design is so genius. That’s best illustrated in this very very very first shot.

So we are going to roll all the way back to the beginning of the trailer and look at when Derek picks up the box. He falls through the staircase, looking upwards. Then as soon as his head comes back down to the slot it activates the switch, opens the door and you walk through the doorway. Now this is so elegant for a number of reasons but most notably is the core design of the game that this is an infinitely repeating set of spaces. For example in this very very first shot you see this problem. You see across this chasm and there’s no jump, there’s no teleport. There is only falling.

There’s only falling.

The only way for you to get through the world is to fall but that spot over there is actually where he lands at the end of the shot because there is an invisible screen wrap that happens right around here. Now he is actually on the ledge that he was looking at in the beginning of the shot. This is impossible to get across conceptually because it’s a mind blowing concept. This defines the game genre so elegantly, so perfectly that it defines everything.

It says that it’s a first person game, it’s a puzzle game, it’s got infinitely repeating spaces and your role in that world matters.

This is probably the best establishing shot that I will see in a game trailer this year. The only downside to it is that it’s hard for that concept to sink in. It takes time, not a big deal. So as soon as he hits that well it opens the door and it opens to this infinite hallway. Now this is the part of the game that I want to elaborate on because you can’t pick this up unless you play the game. Even though there is infinite repeating horrors of, overwhelming possibilities, ultimately there is one possibility.

In the very center of the screen there is a doorway. You can see that doorway repeated across the sides a little bit but that is the one and single way out of this room. That’s the incredibly potent design of the game:

There is always one path forward, not infinite possibilities.

There’s just one. That’s how you make it through this game. Now this shot here is where Derek first introduces the beautiful, infinitely repeating objects. You see in the background some shadows of the exact object that you are looking at here.

That’s how the game works, that there is kind of this open infinite space but there is again one real object that you are looking at, one core path forward. Here is where he introduces the gravity, hitting a switch, opening a door and then an elegant, elegant transition. Then Derek introduces his own voice by creating an associative language from one scene to another that doesn’t exist in the game. Unlike a similar non-Euclidean game like Antichamber, when you turn the room does not change. The room is always exactly as it appears from your immediate perspective, except for the puzzle solutions are still associative.

In the editing he is saying, “It’s a cause and effect scenario.”

That might not make perfect sense but watch when he goes forward into this doorway and then turns left. He turns left and now he is in a completely unrelated room. This room is not related in game but it helps to introduce the concept of these non-Euclidean doorways that are very transparent from when you are going to be going from one scene to the next. Watch this gateway. He walks around through the gateway and goes off the ledge to a repeating staircase. This is masterful trailer design and also showcases the way you can move through the game. 

Now this shot transitions to another gravity falling moment where you are grabbing a seed. They are called seeds. Actually the game doesn’t have an overt name for them but the cubes are essentially seeds. You put that seed into a watered soil spot and it brings forth a tree, establishing the concept of the gardening in the title. You aren’t really gardening, gardening but it’s all a metaphor and a voxel puzzle. So once he plants the seed the tree of course grows  another seed. You can pick up that seed and then put it into a well which opens up the doorway.

Again, cause and effect.

The reason why when I first showed this introducing shot I said this was a genre designing shot is that when you put the cause, the seed into the well it causes the green to light up and creates that beacon that inks to another object that causes an after effect. This is the most powerful way that you can establish a puzzle genre in a trailer, by showing the cause and the effect of all those choices coming together. 

After that we have another shot. This doesn’t really establish anything about the core puzzle but it reinforces the elements of gravity and the infinite hallway setting. It’s a very very similar shot. Now this is where, I’m not going to explain too much but I will say that you put forth a new creation and that is what you are seeing here, the generation of a new world. It’s very important to the narrative and very helpful to inform the structure of the game as,

What am I working towards? What is my goal here.

That’s what that shot is about. It’s about working towards a framing goal. So you are moving forward. This actually establishes the genre of the structure of the game as opposed to say a match 3 game where you jump to a different level and pick that level from a level selection. This says no, you are end capping a chain of linking associations and something beautiful happens at more or less the chapter points. Again here is a different shot where Derek is falling and through association it links to a different shot. It goes into black fog and looks up. Now he is establishing a different mechanic in the game. Now you aren’t going to remember this mechanic as you first finish the trailer but it’s a very important concept that comes in about the second act of the game. Suddenly the seeds have a new layer of depth to them where they are redirecting waterfalls and activating hydro plant with the water.

This is not going to sink in — but it implies variety of mechanics — and variety of depth.

I think that’s actually a good segue to imply that the game’s structure is more than a short portal like the original portal being a 3-hour game where pretty much all the mechanics come across in that time frame.  Manifold Garden is much more. In my experience it was longer, about 8 hours. There is just a lot, it took me a good amount of time to make it through. Almost always I knew where to go and what to do, which is amazing in this infinite space, Towards the end the game really really pressed my mental faculties and I did not do as well and I need a little bit of help so I looked up some things. I apologize. It’s my deep shame. So we are just going to keep going, look over shame and go to this lock in shot.

This is where they introduce the Tetris pieces.

Again another mechanic later in the game. Again the idea is let’s tease the idea of these pieces moving through gravity and let’s show the cause and effect of once you use gravity to have them fall into place. It further elongates the green. Again this is a genre-defining moment, where it’s about association, locking things together and interconnectedness.

The interconnectedness is such a beautiful and compelling part of the design and it shows this genius concept working in harmony with the creative team behind William’s game and of course Derek’s editing. Here we have one more falling hallway shot that’s reinforcing the setting. This is where the trailer is at its climax.

In a trailer you want to have more or less a three-act structure where you frame the game, you rise the actions of the game, you climax to bring narrative amplification and closure to the whole thing. That’s what’s happening now is that amplification and closure. 

I am going to stop here because this shot in the climax is beautiful.

It shows the bubbling possibilities of the dark world that we don’t go into in the trailer which is good because it’s pretty special and you don’t want to spoil it. You do want to tease the sheer raw potential of the dark seeds.  There is one of those seeds being placed in a very beautiful tree. The words are being formed. Notice how the letters are actually revealing themselves. That was a very intentional and smart choice. I think that maybe William was using that before Derek came into the picture but if not it’s still reinforcing the idea of bringing a full connection across the whole thing.

The background of this shot is perfect because it’s centering. It brings your attention to the title and also reinforces the concept of the game which is the infinite repeating hallways and what you are looking at ongoing through the design of the game. Very very smart.

Then we have this beautiful cataclysmic beauty shot of the color completion, chapter completion. These moments are essential to understanding the game at large but aren’t as important in the trailer. You aren’t going to understand this moment but it’s helpful to see that there is a very beautiful eye candy reward at the end of each chapter. So that’s pretty much it.

I want to say so many more things about this game, it’s incredible design, Derek’s phenomenal work on the trailer but I am going to close it there. I am going to include a link to Derek’s work in the description underneath. This has been a trailer analysis by me. I didn’t work on this. I have nothing to do with it but I have nothing but the upmost respect for the team members that did.

It’s one of my favorite trailers that I’ve seen this year.

I hope you enjoyed my video. Come by the next time that we do “Is It My Genre”? Hopefully this has helped you understand whether or not Manifold Garden is your genre. Thanks so much. I’m Josh. Bye bye.

Is Mutazione my genre?


Welcome to my trailer analysis video for Mutazione! Today we are going to ask, is it my genre? Before we get there I want to bring up a piece that was created by IGN: Video games have happily outgrown their genre labels. The author says:

The games we play these days are more nuanced and varied than they’ve ever been before.” 

I couldn’t agree more. Defining genre in these days is way beyond using simple terms like: it’s a platform, or it’s a shooter. Those terms don’t work and it’s hard enough to talk about genre because the word, the idea, all of it sounds — lets just simplify for a second and just say a genre is really about: 

“Is this my thing?”

Is it something that I am going to enjoy? We like to reduce games into this bite sized hand-overable thing where we say: I think you are gonna like it because it is like this…. And that’s very very hard. It’s part of the difficulty in communicating genre in general. More importantly it’s harder when you are talking about video games. That’s where I live. That’s where I spend all of my time. I make indie game trailers and I love talking about indie game trailers and that’s what we are going to do today. We are going to talk about the launch trailer for Mutazione. It’s kind of my favorite game of the year and before I get any deeper into any of that let’s just watch the launch trailer together.

I love this phone call. I love how the music kicks in with the voice, as a replacement for the character’s voice. This shot right here…. This mystery right here…. Just a little tease of something in the water back there. This is so key, everyone is super nice. I love this hug. This is a dark turn but it goes somewhere really important. That transition…. There’s so much more. It’s kind of hard to explain. This is where it brings it all around. You could stop there but there is a little bit more that they want to tease. This is going somewhere a little tense. I think that this trailer is pretty perfect except for the walking part at the end there. (That wasn’t necessary.)

There is something special about this trailer in the way that it captures so much about what makes the game special. One of the most unspoken quieter parts about this is that it’s a quieter trailer. It’s a quieter game. 

It’s longer than most trailers. 

Most trailers you want to keep at like a minute twenty-four seconds, approximately. This one let things breathe a little bit because that’s the spirit and tone of the game is that is breathes. I typically rush through games. I kind of do critical path, maybe the side quests. But in this one I wanted to stop and see how everyone was doing. I wanted to talk to everybody. That’s pretty special about this particular kind of genre. It’s about being chill and resting and recuperating a little bit. If you are going through a hard time this is a perfect game for you. That’s hard to put into a genre label. Yeah, so let’s get into rewatching some key bits from the trailer. 

Logos… I don’t really care about those. You can skip those. The part of the trailer that really kicks things off is when you see Kai at the lighthouse. The pelican flies by and you start to hear already. I believe the term for this is J-cut, where  you start hearing what’s happening in the next scene before you are actually seeing it. That’s the phone call starting to happen now. Phone dialing is so nostalgic, romantic in this. 

What’s happening here is actually framing the narrative of the game, which is framing the genre of the actual game, which is as a story adventure game… Narrative Adventure

The closest analog you might see in some of the opening shots here with especially the moments where you see the rolling boat flying by. That might compare a little bit to Oxenfree. There is a beginning and an end here and we are going to contextualize everything you are going to be seeing within the story. That’s the first point is that:

This is a narrative adventure game.

Hey just wanted to pop in from the future.  Ha ha ha. Part of the time powers thing. So there is one key part that in the present day I am about to forget and that’s that the text that you are seeing at the bottom of the screen is telegraphing that you are reading a lot in the game.

There is no voice-over.

That sort of thing and that is a key part to note in the genre, so lots of reading. That’s all. OK. Back to your present tense Bye bye.

The next thing that’s really important is this line here: 

“Everyone’s super nice.” 

It’s really critical to understand because that is very very important. You see Tung pick her up. You see everyone around a campfire. Mu, she is amazing. She is kind of my favorite character by far. Yogi is pretty amazing too. That hug… This “Everyone is super nice” line  is so critical to the precise and unique genre of Mutazione because it’s character rich. You are really going to feel for everyone. You might even remember everyone. As a deep like, you feel very bonded to them. I am probably never going to forget Mu. You might forget the name of the Shaman that you are hugging, the dot Shaman. Like I said I just really wanted to know what everyone was doing and make sure everyone was ok. I feel like that’s pretty key to what this game is.

I am going to keep going. This part here where you see that grandpa has been pretty ill. This is a critical part in trailers. 

You need a tonal shift.

From happy, everyone is really nice, to what’s the core tension here? This is part of framework narrative 101. When grandpa is really ill that shifts your emotional tone to both being sad, grieving, that sort of thing, but also where is this going? This destabilizes the viewer, makes you wonder, ok what’s going to happen? Where’s this going? You would never guess where that is going. 

This is going to lead into the gardening again, which is where it goes in the game. There is so much that I could say about gardening but the whole game you’re forging, you are collecting these swamp foxtail seeds. You are collecting all the beautiful objects that you are finding growing all over this mutated island, to get to this next scene here which is a garden. 

There is a lot that could be said about whether or not you want to use user interface within game trailers. Here I believe  it is critical. You want to see the full seed box. You want to see that she is planting a tea plant and what that is going to do as it pops up. Now that is not going to make sense but you need to understand that…

…There is a really robust, deep mechanic to gardening.

There is not really a category for this. This isn’t anything like Stardew Valley where there is also gardening or some of the many other kinds of gardening games. The gardening here is less about you sowing and reaping. It’s far more about restoring and giving back after maybe being kind of a consumer in your life. This is about going from being someone who takes to someone who gives. 

This is a really complicated, nuanced mechanic — a  complicated, nuanced narrative element — and emotionally it’s super super rich because  you are actually developing moods for each garden. In this one you are developing a euphoria garden, which is kinda hard to explain. 

That’s actually why it’s so important for the next line you see come up in the dialogue at the bottom of the screen. “There is so much more though.” This is the specific garden. “It’s kind of hard to explain.”  Exactly! 

So this part here, Kai is working on her drum and her grandpa is excited that something is happening between them. I promise I won’t cry in describing this game. There’s so much emotion and substance to every single scene here that like I… I did cry a lot throughout the game, sometimes really happy tears, sometimes there’s some real mourning that happens. 

This is the key.:

It’s hard to explain.

This isn’t something that I would recommend saying in most game trailers. You kind of would want to evoke more without saying that things are difficult. It helps you to understand what’s happening in this next kind of chaotic mania of weird things. 

Suddenly you are seeing an island floating in the sky. 

It comes back around to the conversation with Kai and her mom and that her mom loves her. The whole thing has been framed within a narrative. That’s the most important takeaway. It doesn’t matter if you don’t like gardening. Don’t worry about that. It doesn’t matter if you don’t know that the garden is musically oriented and that you are actively doing some kind of composition. We don’t need to explain that. We don’t even need to explain that this is kind of a grieving game. This is a game about processing your losses. We don’t need to say any of those things. We simply need to wrap it around in the story and bring you back to a point where you see that this is going somewhere. 

The story is going somewhere. 

There is a greater mystery here and that’s what happens with this next shot. The shot is teasing a very late point in the game where Kai goes and confronts the core tensions of the island. That’s what this next shot is about too. It’s confronting those… This is that moment at the end of the trailer where Kai is going through that tunnel. It’s extremely dramatically important. I don’t think that comes across in that trailer because… it’s part of the hard to explain part. It’s not as important on that. 

What’s more important is the end of the phone call which closes, brings closure to the trailer’s narrative framework of the beginning of the phone call and the end of the phone call. So that you understand that this is really about an unfolding story. There is of course a little flash here at the very-very end which is kind of just a tiny little additional tension point. I don’t know that we should even really discuss that because again that’s part of the discovery that you are going to be finding in the game.

So this is the key. When describing a game like Mutazione you want to make sure that the active tensions of the story come through beautifully with beautiful music and beautiful narrative framework so that the person who is playing the game or wants to play the games decides,  

“This is for me because I like games about stories.“

If you like games about stories Mutazione is probably your thing.  If you don’t like any games that have lots and lots of emotion and processing  low points and triumphant celebrations of friendship than it’s probably not for you. I might suggest that Mutazione is the first game that I would universally recommend to everyone this year. It’s kind of my favorite but I will stop gushing. I will stop gushing. 

This has been my first — I guess this will be my first video for “Is It My Genre?” I hope you’ve appreciated some of this trailer analysis and I hope that you tune in with me next time that we do a video like this where it’s about “ Is It My Genre?” Alright, thanks so much. Bye bye.