Tree Band Problem

David fixed the issue with the floating branches when you merge the tree. Mostly it had to do with getting quaternions right to handle the correct rotation.

We had another problem though, with the bands on the tree:


These are only supposed to appear at the base of the tree to indicate how many fruit cubes grow from it. I think Chris wrote the script so that it should only go on the trunk part, which should be separate from the rest of the tree.

Anyway, right now it is getting applied to the entire tree.

Explanation of new name ‘Manifold Garden’

manifold garden

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.

escher relativity

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:

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.

relativity full trademark

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

starseed pilgrim

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.

Manifold Garden

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:Box_Looping_World_Wrap_Good_Lo-Res

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.

cube solving puzzle

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!



DevLog Update – Lightmapping solution, project management, portal rendering

Whoo! First devlog post of the new year.

Hope you all had a fun new year’s celebration. For me, New Year’s Eve was pretty great. The weather in Chicago was pretty awful that night, but I attended a college buddy’s wedding and got to ring in the new year with some old friends I hadn’t seen in a few years. It was nice to get out and socialize for a bit after working alone on the game for so long.

Anyway, some updates on Relativity:

Lightmapping Issue Resolved
As you know, I was having a lot of problems with lightmapping in the previous update, with geometry coming out looking charred for some reason. It turns out the issue had something to do with ProBuilder, specifically the UV2 maps. ProBuilder has a button that allows you to adjust UV2 generation settings.


Somehow, by changing the value for “Angle Error” from the default 8 to 10, it solved the problem I was having with ‘charred geometry’. I am not sure why this works, or what angle error is, as it’s not discussed in the ProBuilder documents. However, it somehow fixed my problem. My guess is that the hierarchy in which game objects were organized (with the ghost layer on top of the real layer) interfered with something behind the scenes.

Anyway, here you can see the scene with the lightmapping issue resolved:


I will send an email to Gabriel at SixBySeven Studio (maker of ProBuilder) to see if he knows what’s going on here.

First Stage Redesign
I am continuing to redesign the first stage of the game. It’s more or less the first 20 – 30 minutes of the game, which is arguably the most important part, as this is where most people will get their first impression. I’m doing lots of iterations, making small improvements here and there, and it’s slowly coming together.

Here are some more work-in-progress shots:




Project Planning
I’m taking a step back from development to do some clean up and long-term project planning. The game project is starting to get pretty big and complicated enough to warrant a new approach to organizing everything.

These are priority:

  • Version Control – I’m a little embarrassed to admit I don’t have a really good version control system going (aside from zipping the project folder every other day). I don’t really have an excuse except that there was a period when I kept rewriting the game from scratch and found it a little tedious to set up github each time, so just kept putting it off. Also, I had kind of a bad experience with github at a previous job, and haven’t quite gotten over it yet. But seriously, I really need to set this up now. Seems pretty universal that this is more or less mandatory.
  • Asset Management – I’m learning that the system of organizing assets I used when making small prototypes in Unity is really not working well for a project that’s about 2 GB in size. Just as an example, I have about 15 different stair prefabs, and 20 different window prefabs. I can no longer remember the difference between “windowA_02″ and “windowB_04″. Also, I need a way to separate the latest versions of assets from the ones used for prototyping.

Portals & Non-Euclidean Geometry
I’ve been playing around a bit with portal rendering in Unity, and I think they’d make a nice addition to Relativity. From a practical standpoint, it would actually be very helpful with regards to connecting different spaces.

However, it does seem like a pretty major game mechanic to introduce, and it would be pretty time-consuming to integrate it. It would definitely add to the tripiness and crazy physics that are already there, but I’m wondering if it might be too much?

I think I will take a few days next week to experiment and get some prototypes working. If it seems promising I’ll draw up some quick levels with this and get people to playtest it, before committing to using it all over the game.

DevLog Update – Teamwork, Design Docs, Expanding the City

I met with Kiku, the sound designer and composer, on Sunday to discuss the music of Relativity. I’m learning that working in a team is very different from working solo.

For one thing, I’ve come to appreciate the power of design documents. Up until now, I hadn’t created a design document for Relativity, nor did I feel the need to. However, I think when you’re working in a team, it becomes a really powerful way to make sure everyone is on the same page.

I am continuing to expand the world within the game. Not doing so much programming these days. Mostly modeling and high-level design work on paper. Really looking forward to taking several days off next week to relax.

The level codenamed “The City” is the one I’m still working on. It’s about 70% complete now.


The Library – Weekend Progress

I spent the weekend working on a building I’m calling the Library for now. I’m not 100% sure yet what it’s purpose will be in the game, but I’m thinking of a place where players can go to find hints for other puzzles, or maybe find out more about the mysteries of the world.

I took some screenshots throughout the build process:




DevLog Update – Big Picture, Audio, and Trees

For the last few days, I’ve been working mostly on high-level design stuff such as back story and game progression structure. The game is definitely coming together, and it’s really helpful to see the big picture, but it’s also overwhelming at the same time to see how much there is still to do.

Also met with my friend Kiku Hibino, who will be doing the audio and music for the game. We’ll do a proper intro for Kiku in a few weeks, when I can get him to write something up about himself. Looking forward to using original sounds and music in the game instead of placeholders.

I spent today listening to the Tron: Legacy soundtrack and designing trees. I have 5 different types now, which should be enough for the moment:

Here’s an attempt at a tree-lined street:

On Video Games As Art

There’s a discussion that surfaces every now and then about whether or not video games qualify as art. You get some pretty heated debates from both sides of the argument. Roger Ebert famously argued that video games cannot be art in principle, but later backpedaled a bit, admitting his lack of familiarity with the medium. Ebert’s original position was later supported by Brian Moriarty in a rather lengthy defense. Conversely, Kellee Santiago began her 2009 TED Talk by saying that video games already are art, and brings up the games Waco Resurrection, Braid, and Flower as qualifying examples in her opinion.

Waco Resurrection
Waco Resurrection

Braid Screenshot
Braid by Jonathan Blow

Flower Screenshot
Flower by Thatgamecompany

As an installation artist whose experiences have mostly been within the contemporary art world, but who is now using video game as a medium, the issue is very relevant to me. It might seem like I’m flogging a dead horse, but there are some sides of the debate that I have not seen addressed yet. So, here are my two cents.

To address whether or not video games can be considered art, one must of course first begin by asking “what is art?” Santiago combines the definition from Wikipedia, that “Art is the process of deliberately arranging elements in a way that appeals to the senses or emotions”, with a statement from Robert McKee, that good writing is “motivated by a desire to touch the audience”, to arrive at the following definition:

“Art is a way of communicating ideas to an audience in a way that the audience finds engaging.”

Ebert himself tried to arrive at a definition of art, but his attempt was unsatisfactory, even to himself. On describing the works that he considered great art, he wrote:

“Through them I was able to learn more about the experiences, thoughts and feelings of other people. My empathy was engaged. I could use such lessons to apply to myself and my relationships with others. They could instruct me about life, love, disease and death, principles and morality, humor and tragedy. They might make my life more deep, full and rewarding.”

I’m not going to refute the definitions that Santiago and Ebert have used. Both are valid in some ways, but also incomplete in others. What’s important here is that both Ebert and Santiago emphasize the capacity of art (at least when it’s good) to move people. However, a side of art that is rarely brought up in these discussions is that as it pertains to academics and institutions, ie the art world.

For better or for worse, the institutions of the art world – the galleries, the museums – have a huge impact on what we perceive to be art. In many ways, they are the standard by which works of art are validated. Take Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain for example, a work which consists of a porcelain urinal that the artist had purchased and then wrote “R. Mutt 1917″ on. If the work hadn’t been eventually adopted by the contemporary art world, and taken up in the collections of museums like the Tate Modern and the National Gallery of Canada, would we still attribute the same significance to it? Would it still be considered “an icon of twentieth-century art“?

Fountain by Duchamp

The art world, despite whatever grandiose notions we may attribute to it, is an industry. And like any other industry, it has commodities (art), manufacturers (artists), distributors (galleries), and consumers (collectors). There is an economy of supply and demand that drives the art world, and at the core of the economy is the following business model: selling limited number of goods at a high premium price to a small number of consumers. Most painters who are part of the mainstream art world do not try to sell ten thousand paintings as $100 each. Instead, they will sell twenty, at $10,000 each.

Video games, on the other hand, do not subscribe to this business model. Nobody spends 3 years making a game only to sell it to 5 people for $100,000 a copy. Not only does it not make sense financially, as most games tend to have a very high upfront investment cost in development, but also having multiple copies of a game does not devalue the work.

In art, having multiple copies of the same work lowers the value of each individual work. Scarcity is a huge factor in the pricing of art. It’s no secret that the value of a famous artist’s work will rise after the artist has passed away. From an economic standpoint, it is easy to see why. Production has ended, and the number of goods are now limited. A game, on the other hand, being a digital medium, does not derive its value from its rarity, but the experience it provides to the player. And your experience while you’re playing the game is independent of the number of copies that exist.

Art exhibition
An art exhibitition

As such, if we’re using the definition of art as a commodity in the art world, then video games will not be considered art, because they simply do not fit into that industry’s economics model. However, this is and should not be a problem. There are incredible works that wouldn’t fit, for example the majority of films and music, as well as a lot of performance and social activist art. As a brief aside, I should explain here that yes, I am aware of “art games” such as Feng Mengbo’s Long March, which is very much within the art world, but I consider these works to be in a very different category than most video games. It’s a fairly long topic that I hope to address in another post, but I’ll raise a few points here quickly. For one, it is not a work that can be accessed outside of a gallery or museum context, and in addition, the work is intended to be judged and viewed not at all as a game, but more as a statement. In fact, if one were to judge it as a game, I think it would fail tremendously.

long march
Long March by Feng Mengbo

This brings me now to the other definition of art, which is frankly, in my opinion, the much more important and meaningful definition: art as something that moves us, something that is the “evocation of the inexpressible”, as Moriarty defines. In this case, then yes, of course video games can be art. Certainly, not every game would qualify, just as not every single painting should be considered to be art, but there is absolutely no reason why the medium alone would exclude works from reaching this higher standard. The ability of video games to elicit emotions and move players is evident and cannot be denied.

While I would definitely agree that the canon of great works in video games is minute compared to more traditional mediums such as paintings or sculpture, it is a medium that is very much at its nascence. Not only has there not been enough time for it to grow and mature, the technical barriers of game development have also prohibited many otherwise brilliant artists from contributing. I am not saying that painting or sculptures are easy skills to master, but game development is a process that brings together a wide range of disciplines and which goes through massive technological changes at an extremely rapid rate. There is a good reason why most large games are made by teams consisting of tens or sometimes hundreds of people.

Luckily however, the barrier of entry is being lowered every day, as software and technology become more accessible, and as the general population becomes more sophisticated in its usage. The potential of video game as a medium for creation is staggering, and I truly believe that if more artists were aware of its power, and less intimidated by the technology, they would all be making the switch to this medium.

The creative ambitions of the mainstream game industry may be misplaced in trying to make better-looking shooters with bigger explosions. However, the technological advances that they push for trickle down and benefit the medium greatly as a whole. With this potential, and the entrance of more talented and creative individuals willing to challenge existing conventions and strive for higher goals, I have no doubt that works within the medium will one day reach the level of sublime. And isn’t that what art is about at the end of the day?