oprainfall@GDC IMPRESSIONS: Backworlds

Wednesday, April 15th, 2020

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oprainfall | Backworlds

Editor’s Note: Due to the postponement of GDC, oprainfall has taken it upon themselves to help provide coverage to developers who were going to showcase their games there. This is one of those games.

Backworlds, developed by Logic Ember Limited, is a 2D puzzle-platformer with a colorful art style that brings its worlds to life. The game sees you exploring inside a painting, where you can use your brush to switch between two parallel worlds. The brush is your mouse, and you can simply paint or unpaint an area to switch which parallel world that part of the screen is currently occupied by. You can also change the brush size using the mouse scroll wheel. This often changes the properties of that area. In the image below, it toggles the gray stone between solid rock and air, allowing you to make a path through it. Other effects that you may see include things like inverting gravity in the painted area. It should be noted that the game does also have gamepad support.

Backworlds | Painting

Painting here makes the grey stone turn into air, allowing you to make a path through it to the other side.

The world design of Backworlds aims to be non-linear, allowing you to go where you want. If you get stuck on one puzzle, you can wander off to a different area and try a different one for a while. Each puzzle is in its own room or screen in the world. Periodically you will run into gauges that fill with paint as you solve puzzles in the area. Each time you solve a puzzle in order to collect a blob of paint, it fills the gauge a little more. When you fill a gauge, a door somewhere in the surrounding area will open. When one of these doors is unlocked, it reveals a path that leads to a boss fight involving harder puzzles.

Back Worlds | Paint Gauge

A paint gauge that must be filled to open a door somewhere nearby that leads to a boss.

Each area’s paint blobs look different in Backworlds. So you have collect the right types to fill a given gauge, too. The game has four different worlds to explore, each of which has its own mechanics and visual theme. There are also the boss battles, which themselves involve a bit of puzzling. For example, one is a bird where you have to figure out how to move objects, each of which triggers a projectile to be unleashed to hit the boss.

Backworlds | Map

The world map is fairly large, and this screenshot only shows a bit of it.

The game’s paint-themed art style is nice to look at, and employs vibrant colors. The paint mechanic has another artistic, but subtle effect that doesn’t affect gameplay much. In addition to switching which parallel world a space on the screen is occupied by, it also sometimes reveals extra cosmetic details that you couldn’t normally see there. They don’t usually have anything to do with nearby puzzles, though. It’s just a nice touch of extra detail. Backworlds also has a beautiful and relaxing soundtrack that goes great with puzzle solving. The sound effects are simple, but well done. They accentuate things happening in the game but don’t interrupt your focus.

Backworlds | Black Holes

Occasionally you’ll encounter a black hole. Once discovered, it appears on the map screen where you can click on it to warp back there.

Backworlds stumbles a bit when it comes to puzzle design, however. You see, early on the game teaches you the basic controls, and the most basic mechanics. After that, it starts adding new mechanics as you enter unfamiliar¬†areas without properly introducing them. This means that in many cases you’ll run into a puzzle that you cannot solve yet, at least until you blindly stumble upon the game mechanic(s) needed for it. So your first attempt at such a puzzle is like trying to remove a screw with a hammer. Your toolbox lacks the right tools for the job. A good puzzle aims to create a rewarding “AH HA!” moment. Unfortunately, some puzzles in this game instead make you feel like “Ah, so that’s what the level designer expected me to do in that one puzzle.” You didn’t solve a puzzle, you just stumbled onto a mechanic the game didn’t teach you, and which happens to be the key to that puzzle. To be fair, not all of the game’s puzzles are like this, as many are indeed good, too.

Backworlds | Enemies

Enemies can be trapped in stone walls to keep them out of your hair. Here, you need to trap him or he’ll keep ramming you away when you try to interact with the lever on the ground.

You can find out more about Backworlds at the official website and on the Steam page. Here is the Backworlds launch trailer:

 

 

About Michael Fontanini

Michael is a veteran gamer in his late 30s, who grew up around video games, with fond memories of the oldies like the NES, SNES, and N64 among others. He loves Nintendo, but also plays a lot of games on his PC. Michael also enjoys going for walks/bike rides, loves animals, and enjoys thunderstorms (and science in general).

Michael is also a computer programmer. This started with a toy he got as a kid called Pre-Computer 1000 that was made by V-Tech. It had a simple programming mode (a bare-bones version of BASIC) which is what started him down the road of being a programmer! Michael can program in BASIC, Visual Basic, C++, C#, and is familiar with Java and Lua Script.

Putting programming and gaming together, Michael became a hobbyist game developer, which may give him some good insights on game development! Most recently, he has been playing with the Unity 3D game engine (a powerful and easy-to-use engine) and learning 3D modelling in Blender.

I love Nintendo but I also play a lot of game's on PC, many of which are on steam. My favorite Nintendo game's include Zelda, Metroid, and Smash Bros to name a few. On PC I love the Half-Life games, as well as most all of the Source Engine games just to name a few.