In a world filled with information overload and digital noise from every direction, She Remembered Caterpillars is a tranquil puzzle game that will test your brainpower while still soothing the soul.
In the game you control different little fungal dudes, trying to get them onto white landing pads where they can take off and helicopter up to the next level like colourful spores lifted up by a momentary breeze. But a number of rules make this more complicated than it might otherwise seem. Primary colours can only cross over matching caterpillar bridges while at the same time needing to be a different colour to pass between upright posts along the way.
As a result, solving each level requires combining different spores to create secondary colours and try to scramble the game's underlying logic. For example, a red spore won't be able to pass over a blue bridge, but it can combine with a blue spore to create a purple one, effectively letting some units transport others so that everyone can get where they need to go to reach the next level.
Developed by Jumpsuit Entertainment and published by Ysbryd Games, the project began with artist Daniel Goffin and programmer David Priemer trying to play with the use of colour and the way different layers interact with one another in Unity. "The core mechanic emerged when I was messing around with the physics of Unity 3D while working on a platforming game, letting coloured blocks pass through similar coloured walls by using collision layers," said Priemer. "At some point I thought that it would be cool to let objects of a secondary colour -- like purple -- go through multiple types of walls, based on the logics of colour theory."
There are additional mechanics, like certain creatures that can make make a spore colourless, or special switches that will create a snail bridge when stepped on, but everything remains an elegant extension of the original idea of a maze predicated on colour-based binaries. "For most levels I started by creating smaller sections of puzzles containing the main idea or twist," said Priemer.
What's especially interesting about She Remembered Caterpillars' puzzles is how they combine space and logic in such a simple way. After learning the basic and intuitive colour rules, it's simply a matter of deciphering a route that will allow the spores to get to their destinations without anyone being left behind. Situated somewhere between the physical obstacles in a game like Inside and the abstract theory guiding puzzles in Jonathan Blow's The Witness, She Remembered Caterpillars feels like a 2D Rubik's Cube that's equal parts logic and muscle memory.
Sketches of the prototyping process for some of the game's puzzles.
At one point I printed out a screenshot of a particularly difficult level and took it with me on a bus ride downtown, sketching possible paths and trying to record the steps, moulding a solution in real time. Priemer said he developed his own personal notation in the same vein while trying to design the game's puzzles. "Levels are represented as a layout of connected platforms, not bothering about the specific fields a character could actually stand on," he said.
"Theses platforms are represented as big circles, connected either by a straight line (bridge), line with a dash (gate) or a wavy line (snail bridge). Some of the sketches contain very detailed information about puzzles (sometimes even a step by step solution) while some don't even include all gameplay elements (in order to allow for faster sketching)."
In this respect, the game layers on itself in a way that's similar to the conceit which originally spawned it. There are the invisible collisions blocking different colours or allowing them to pass, but then also the invisible paths based on colour theory connecting each platform and spore, and a wordless language that's woven throughout them.
The effect is that when you finally solve a puzzle, it feels infinitely natural, like it had been there all along, just waiting for someone to stumble upon it. I'm not very good at puzzle games, but in She Remembered Caterpillars that didn't really matter. In a way, the solutions seemed to discover themselves.
It's this naturalistic feeling pervasive in the game which elevates its mechanics and puzzles beyond their mathematics. A loose narrative stitches each level to the one before it with brief bits of dialogue alluding to something taking place in a world outside of, or beyond, the one you're playing in. Written by Cassandra Khaw, the story, in which two people talk to one another about the past and future, life and death, is the product of real life tragedy. During the course of making the game, Khaw's father died. From there the original plot was scrapped and something new and more intimate arose.
"A thing I figured out early while navigating my own grief was that it is never manifests the same way," said Cassandra. "Two people might lose their fathers to a heart attack, or their sisters to Stage IV pancreatic cancer, but how they process it, how they move through those initial months -- it is never, ever the same."
It's this final layer to the game that makes it feel so poignant and personal; not just a puzzle game but a memoir of sorts. Helped along by the equal parts eerie and whimsical soundtrack composed by Thomas Hoehl, She Remembered Caterpillars offers an experience not unlike waking up trying to re-establish the boundaries between dreams and the person dreaming them.