Geoffrey Long
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Introducing Waker!
I've been working with the Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game Lab for a while now, primarily as its Communications Director but also occasionally as a researcher. This summer I had my first chance to write a game with this group, and now said game – Waker by Poof Games – is up and available to play for free on the GAMBIT website! As the game's developers described it on the game's page:
Waker is a puzzle/platform game set in the world of a child's broken dream. As the Waker, the player uses both mind and reflexes to solve puzzles, creating platforms to form a safe path through the dream worlds. Forming the paths, however, is the trick - it is up to the player to figure out how to create each path, and to manipulate the Waker and the world to travel safely through each level. With dynamic obstacles and three difficulty modes, the game offers continuing challenges even for experienced players, while allowing beginners an easier path to the end.

Waker was developed in tandem with Woosh, its abstract variant. Waker offers the same gameplay as Woosh, but also includes a rich narrative and a story that is reflected in its art and cutscenes.

I am thoroughly honored to have been involved with this project for multiple reasons. First, Waker gave me a chance to work with my friends Sara Verrilli, Kevin Driscoll, Scot Osterweil and Lan Le, as well as befriend a bunch of other folks from Singapore, MIT and RISD. Second, the game is absolutely beautiful, thanks to the hard work of Brandon Cebenka, Rini Ong Zhi Qian and Steven Setiawan. I loved the aesthetic of Waker, from the graceful, fluid animation of the cat-monkey creature to the textures to the gentle glow scattered throughout the game. I loved the dreamlike sensibility of the world, and the basics of the storyline that Brendan and the others had sketched out before I was brought onboard was completely up my alley.


I was invited to join the project when it was decided – at the last minute! – that the story needed to be fleshed out some more, so I rewrote the story in an evening, met with Brendan and the others the next morning, did some super-fast re-rewrites and then jumped into the recording booth to do all the voiceover work myself as well. Mercifully I managed to nail the John Hurt-esque narrator's voice that had popped into my head while writing the thing, so I was thoroughly happy with how well that turned out.

I'm also thoroughly grateful for the opportunity to write a GAMBIT game (complete with the apparently all-too-true-to-the-industry "Can we have this tomorrow?" experience) and for the not-very-true-at-all-to-the-industry experience of being able to perform the role I'd written. If you're half as much of a fan of Neil Gaiman's Sandman or Mike Mignola's Hellboy as I am, I recommend that you go and give Waker a shot. (Hey, it's free and it runs in a browser window – what's stopping you? Go! Play it now!)


Please let me know what you think of the game! You can also see what people are saying about the game already at Free Games News and XSp, and follow new reviews for Waker and the rest of the GAMBIT games as they appear at the In the Press section of the GAMBIT site.

Heh. I still get a grin on my face just thinking about that whole experience. I've got a new GAMBIT project in the works for this fall, so I'll keep you posted!

Update (9/1/09): Flytrap Games just published a really funny writeup of the game titled Agile Spirit Cat Required for Mental Roadworks. These guys really got what I was going for:

Dreaming is more hazardous than most people suspect. Every time you sleep, a path forms behind your dreaming self to guide you back to the waking world.

On occasion, however, that path breaks, leaving the dreamer to stand forever stark naked in front of the sixth form girls while Billy Connolly plays the banjo. Or whatever private delusions are appropriate to your particular mental setup.

Fortunately, a ruptured dream path can be repaired by a Waker - a sort of Druidic cat entity which puts us in mind of the mog from Coraline. As one such Waker, players of Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game Lab's latest puzzle-platformer must collect "wisps" to restore a lost soul to consciousness.

I am, as they say, well and thoroughly chuffed. (I wish we'd thought of that Billy Connolly nightmare. That would make a thoroughly horrific bonus level.)

Update (9/2/09): Waker is getting even more press! Lewis Denby of Resolution magazine in England makes the following observations:

This odd little pairing is more than a bit interesting to talk about. Woosh and Waker are puzzle/platform games developed by Poof Games for Gambit, which is a collaboration between MIT and the Singapore government. Woosh and Waker are part of an experimental, educational project, to see how players respond to different presentations within videogames.

Launching each game doesn't immediately throw up too many similarities. But dive into the game proper and you'll realise they're both exactly the same in terms of the mechanics and level design. The difference? One presents an anthropomorphic character and introduces a story. The other sees you guiding a bouncy ball around the same platforms, only with a backdrop consisting purely of abstract art. There's no plot to be found.

It is, of course, very interesting to consider which side of the fence you fall on. Do you prefer the abstract visual beauty of Woosh, or the more evocative, story-driven presentation of Waker? Do you prefer guiding a living character, or a blissfully unaware rolling ball? But what's particularly brilliant for the player is that both are excellent, seriously clever games. Try them both out, and have a think about the difference in your approach to each one.

Meanwhile, Bart at gives the game a one-line notice, but a user calling itself Lichen Fairy says this in the comments: "The ending is beautiful. The game-play can be a bit frustrating at times but I love the story." Thanks!

The game has even been picked up in Italy, where a post from describes the game as follows:

Benvenuti nel mondo dei sogni... Waker, sviluppato dai ragazzi di Poof Games, vi proietterà in un mondo onirico, nelle sembianze di un waker, una sorta di guardiano del dolce dormire simile a un gatto. Il vostro scopo sarà quello di ristabile il continuum del sogno di una bambina, permettendole così di risvegliarsi da un sonno ininterrotto. Dovrete intraprendere un viaggio lungo tre mondi, ciascuno dei quali è formato da molteplici sottolivelli che garantiscono un'esperienza non certo da mordi e fuggi.

Or, if Google translate is to be believed:

Welcome to the world of dreams ... Waker, developed by the young people Poof Games, we will project into a dream world, in the form of a waker, a kind of guardian of sweet sleep like a cat. Your goal will be to restore the continuum of the dream of a child, enabled it to awaken from a sleep uninterrupted. You will need to undertake a journey across three worlds, each of which consists of multiple sub-levels, offering an experience not by hit and run.

This is awesome – and they're still coming!

Update (9/2/09, again): Perhaps the biggest and best review of Waker just went live – check out Daniel Archer's glowing profile at JayIsGames!

Waker is a project born from GAMBIT, Singapore-MIT's game design lab, and the multidisciplinary input shows. The art and animation invoke the phantasmal in such a way that it's not hard to believe that this idea could have been hauled from the same place dreams come from. Little touches breathe life into the Waker and the world, like the blinking of one eye at a time should you let the creature sit still for a few moments. The music is softly whimsical, the same way a child's dream should be.

While the writing sets up the game quite marvelously, what with the Wakers and the Dreamtime and associated fantasies, the story starts to fade as the game progresses, being delivered to the player in short injections between one world and the next. It's a tad disappointing to have the developers weave all this vibrant lore about what happens when the lights go out, only to have it squeezed into the cracks. It would have been nicer to see the story dovetail with the gameplay more smoothly, but there's still a lot more creativity at work here than your average puzzle game.

...While the game might be short for those who attack it head-on, it's certainly a trip worth taking, and the dazzling visuals coupled with the imaginative tale of the Wakers marks this game as one of the most innovative puzzlers to date. Now don't let me keep you, for there's already a child lost in the slumber, hoping for someone, anyone to show them the way home.

Well? The Waker is waiting.

You can't see it, but I'm throwing devil horns in the air. It's true that the story only appears in little bits between the worlds, but given the time constraints and the massive workload on Poof's shoulders (they made not just one game in eight short weeks, but two! Two, people! Two!) I can safely say that Poof kicked ass. Way to go, guys!

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