If you’ve been following the game, you’ll see that I’ve changed the name of the game from Relativity to Manifold Garden.
This wasn’t an easy decision to make by any means. The game had been known as Relativity for almost 3 years now, and had gotten press coverage and been shown at various expos with the name.
However, it was a decision that I ultimately felt very strongly about.
Name change for games in development actually isn’t that uncommon. There are plenty of examples for games which have done this: Nuclear Throne, Antichamber, Donut County, GNOG.
Reading about why and how these games changed their names was really helpful when I was going through the process, so I thought I’d share my own thought process that led me to this decision.
What started it
The game was named Relativity at the beginning because of the M.C. Escher print of the same name.
My idea for the very first prototype was literally to turn the print into a game, so the name made sense.
I remember searching online to see if there was another game called ‘Relativity’ already, and I couldn’t find any results, so that was good enough for me. This was in November 2012.
Fast forward to March 2014. I was in San Francisco for GDC. On Tuesday morning, a friend sent me a link to a kickstarter for a game titled ‘Relativity’.
I decided to reach out to the devs and to ask them to change the name of their game. I explained that my game had been in development for about 2.5 years at that point, and was already slated to be released on PS4, and had been profiled by major game press. I even offered to help them come up with alternative names. They were pretty adamant on the name and refused to change it though.
Here’s the full transcript of the conversation: http://imgur.com/a/GrUaw
Ultimately, after consulting with several people and my lawyer, I decided to ignore the situation. The kickstarter didn’t look like it was going anywhere – they had a few rough drawings up of the main character and were asking for $10K to buy things from the Unity asset store.
(In writing this post, I searched for the campaign, and found that they did eventually change the name to something else. The kickstarter was unsuccessful, raising only $500 out of $10000 with 1 backer)
So, this kickstarter wasn’t really a problem, but it did get me thinking – what if another studio decided to call their game ‘Relativity’ as well? What if it was a bigger studio like Ubisoft? What recourse do I have then?
I started looking into trademarking ‘Relativity’ in the game space.
As it turns out that, Relativity Media, a Hollywood film company, actually has a trademark on the word ‘Relativity’ in the game space.
This was quite frustrating, as I couldn’t find any involvement they had with video games. However, they seemed to be incredibly aggressive with trademarking the term. If you search for ‘Relativity’ on the USPTO datatbase, it seems like they’ve trademarked ‘relativity’ for every category under the sun, from fashion to university.
I’m not really sure how they got the trademark of ‘Relativity’ in games without having made any, but that’s a topic for another day.
After talking to a few other game devs and speaking with lawyers, it seemed like these were the options I had if I wanted to keep ‘Relativity’ as my game name:
1. File for a trademark for ‘Relativity’ in games. Considering Relativity Media already had this, I didn’t have a really good chance of success here. A lawyer said I had 1 in 4 chance of being successful.
2. Contact Relativity Media and ask if I could use the name. I didn’t do this, but I highly doubt they would have said yes.
3. Don’t do anything, and wait for Relativity Media to send me a cease and desist. Maybe they won’t even care, or the game is not really a big enough issue for them to be concerned.
After two months of looking into the legal aspect of the situation, I actually decided to go with option 3) and stick with ‘Relativity’. I did add “Willy Chyr’s” to the beginning of the name, to differentiate it further, just to be safe.
(Relativity Media eventually went bankrupt, so I supposed that problem sort of resolved itself).
Actual Reason for Change
While legal reasons were what got me thinking about the name change at first, it wasn’t what made me decide to go with the change in the end.
I started to really think about whether ‘Relativity’ was the right name, and I realized the name is the only aspect of the game which hasn’t gone through a process of iteration and refinement. Everything else about the game, from the mechanics to the aesthetics, have been discarded and rewritten multiple times. The game has evolved so much since the beginning. And yet, the name (arguably a very important aspect of a game), is the same as when I started the prototype.
I also realized I never thought through carefully about the title. It was chosen as a matter of convenience because of the Escher print, but is that what my game really was about now? It made sense when gravity switching was the only mechanic, but what about the other systems and the world wrapping stuff?
Besides, there were several issues with the name ‘Relativity’:
1) It was not very searchable. Between the Einstein’s theory and Relativity Media, searching for ‘Relativity’ was alone was very unlikely to lead to the game. On google, ‘Relativity Game’ did return my game as the first result, but it was difficult to follow conversations about it on reddit or twitter. Try searching for #relativity on twitter and see what you get.
2) Everyone associates the word ‘Relativity’ with the Theory of Relativity, and while my game did deal with the idea of things being relative to one another, it did not have anything to do with Einstein’s theory. I was pretty much constantly having to explain this to people when telling someone about the game for the first time.
3) I really disliked having to add the word ‘game’ to the url or social media handle. I mean, yes, it is a game, and I know this pretty standard practice, but it just kind of felt like unnecessary pigeon holing.
Starseed Pilgrim vs Platform Planter
Eventually, I read this Gamasutra interview with Droqen, in which he talks about how the name for Starseed Pilgrim came about.
“To this day Starseed Pilgrim builds out to PlantingPlatforms.swf”.
When I read this, I realized Droqen could have also called the game “Platform Planter”. This wouldn’t have made a difference to the gameplay or mechanics, and some people might even say it’s a better name because it actually describes the mechanic.
However, ‘Starseed Pilgrim’ is so much more beautiful. It is poetic, evocative, and mysterious. I actually think it’s one of the most beautiful game names ever. In fact, I wish I could call my game ‘Starseed Pilgrim’!
‘Starseed Pilgrim’ isn’t merely a description of the game’s mechanic. Instead, it is about the sense of wonder and the journey of discovery that the player takes, which is arguably much more true to what the game is about. Sure, on the surface it’s a game about planting platforms, but really, it’s a game about diving into the abyss of the unknown.
When I read the interview, I realized ‘Relativity’ was my version of “Platform Planter”. It was a term that described the mechanic. In a way, ‘Relativity’ was just a slightly fancier way of saying “Wall Walker”. Sure, there are different gravities that are relative to one another in direction, and that makes up the core mechanic, but it’s not what the game is about now. It doesn’t incorporate how the game brings together architecture and geometry, and it doesn’t talk about the ecosystem of the mechanics.
‘Manifold Garden’, however, felt like it hit all those marks.
So where does ‘Manifold Garden’ come from?
A manifold is a space that when zoomed in, each part of it is Euclidean (i.e. flat), but when you zoom out, globally, it might not be.
One example of a manifold is the surface of a sphere. Let’s look at Earth. Standing on the ground, the world around us appears to be flat. The shortest distance between two points is a line, and two parallel lines do not look like they will cross. If you look at the Earth as a whole though, these properties are no longer true. If you draw two parallel lines perpendicular to the equator, they will intersect at either the north or south pole.
In Manifold Garden, one of the global geometries is having the world wrap around on itself in each of three axes. Traveling in any one direction brings you back to where you started. Going down actually leads you back up. Mathematically, this space is known as a 3-torus (which is a 3D compact manifold with no boundary)
If you drop a cube off the edge, it comes back down from above, and you can see it falling above and below you simultaneously:
You’re probably familiar with the 2D version of this from games like Asteroids. When you fly off one side of the screen, you simply come back from the other side.
As you can see from the gif below, the world of the spaceship exists on the surface of a donut aka a torus.
The 3-Torus is like this, except one dimension higher. I can’t possibly show this, as it’s only possible to see the whole thing in 4D. Basically, inManifold Garden, you’re a 3D being on the surface of a 4D donut.
This is just the start. From here, we can start to offset the repeated instances, or even twist the faces to create a solid klein bottle or a half-turn manifold (if you travel one iteration away, the world is reversed).
Finally, besides the mathematical definition, manifold also has these definitions:
1. of many kinds; numerous and varied:
2. having numerous different parts, elements, features, forms, etc.
There are going to be a lot of levels, and they’re all embedded within one another in really bizarre ways, so manifold is also incredibly fitting in this sense.
What about the gardening aspect?
I’ve shown before how cubes in the game can be used to solve puzzles – triggering switches to open doors, holding up other blocks, etc.
The cubes are actually part of a larger ecosystem – they are fruit that grow on trees, and can in turn be “planted” to grow into trees. This is where water, comes in. You can rotate the cubes to redirect streams of water, and by directing water into a cube that’s placed on a special patch of “soil”, that cube grows into a tree. As you progress throughout the game, you’re cultivating a garden and harvesting cubes.
In the above gif, water also reacts to the global geometry of the world. A lot of games have waterfalls, but what happens in a world in which geometry wraps around? The water falls back on itself, and you actually get a waterloop!
So that’s my summary of the thought process that led to changing the name of the game to “Manifold Garden”.
It was legal reasons that initially gave me the idea, but ultimately, when I started to really think about what the game has become and what it is I’m trying to do with it, ‘Relativity’ just didn’t make any sense.
The entire process took 6 months, and involved many sleepless nights, but I kept coming back to ‘Manifold Garden’, and it felt more and more right over time.
The reception with the announcement last week was quite positive.
For the first time, I was actually able to follow conversations about the game on twitter!