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Dark Mode Design


This past weekend, I had another Game Design Critique / Design Klub meeting. If you’re not familiar with this, it’s basically a full day game design meeting with a few other Chicago game designers. It’s modeled after the Depth Jam that Jonathan Blow had done several years ago. The first meeting was done just a little over a year ago, which you can read about it in detail here.

The specific design problem I presented to the group for Manifold Garden was about invert mode – How should the mechanic work? How to enter the mode? How to exit? What should one do while in there? What do they think of its role in the game?

The discussion was incredibly helpful and I came away from the meeting with a very clear sense of what invert mode should be. Oh, to begin with, it’s now called Dark Mode instead of Invert Mode.


I created a very specific build of the game that allowed you to mix and match a bunch of different mechanics in dark mode – reverse player gravity direction, reverse box direction, change which surface is colored, etc. This was mostly for the other designers when playtesting, so they can get a feel fro the different combinations and see which ones work best together.

Discarded Exit Modes 

Here are different exit modes that didn’t work, and why. For all these cases, you enter into the dark mode by picking up the dark mode box.

Discarded Exit Mode 1: Light Mode Box Pick Up

light mode box pick up exit


In this mode, to exit dark mode, you simply pick up a light mode box. You position is not reset when you do this, you are exactly where you are when you pick up the light mode box. However, the dark mode box is sent back to the original position.

Problems: If there isn’t a light mode box around you (which can easily happen), you end up stuck in dark mode. Also, having to search for a light mode box in order to return can be very tedious. It’s also not super obvious that picking up a light mode box will send you back to light mode.

Discarded Exit Mode 2: Continuous Fade

continuous fade

In this mode, as soon as you enter dark mode, the screen starts to slowly fade to white. It takes about 60 seconds. Once the screen is fully white, you are reset into light mode. During the fade period, you can do whatever you want.

Problems: This turns the task in dark mode to be a timing puzzle, which I don’t really like in general, and also goes against the spirit and style of all of the other puzzles in the game. Also, there is not instant exit from dark mode, which can be really annoying. If the player decides they don’t want to solve the dark mode puzzle just then, they have to wait around for the fade to complete, which can be really annoying. The timing also puts a constraint on how complex the puzzle can be unnecessarily.

Discarded Exit Mode 3: Falling to Fade

falling to fade

In this mode, in dark mode, world wrapping is disabled. You cannot see other instances of the world. When you fall of the world, instead of being wrapped around, you just fall into the abyss. The screen then starts to fade to white, and you are reset into light mode.

Problems: This removes the visual of repeating worlds, which is a big loss, and also doesn’t allow players to jump off and wrap around, which is one of the coolest parts of the game. This also makes level design in dark mode incredibly difficult, because I would need a continuous path from “bottom” of the level to the “top”, which is not at all how the level is designed for light mode.

The Mode I Decided To Go With

drop box to fade

In this mode, in dark mode, when you drop the dark mode box, the screen begins to fade back to white. It’ll take about 2, 3 seconds to fade completely to white, at which you are set back to light mode. However, as soon as you pick up the dark mode box again, it reverses the fade and you are back in dark mode. If you want to return to light mode, simply drop the box.


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