E3 2012: Scale Hands-on

One of the fun things about E3 is seeing games in various stages of development, sometimes polished and near-complete but usually with a few quirks that will get ironed out before the game eventually ships.  Few games, however, were earlier in development than Scale, Steve Swink’s FPS-style puzzle game about stealing and redistributing size* from objects.  The graphics are placeholder, the levels a series of puzzles tossed together before the show, and various bugs not even trying to go unnoticed.  As early as it was, though, the sheer fantastic promise of Scale’s mechanics shot it to the forefront of the most entertainingly creative games at E3.

In its current form, Scale is a puzzle game about using a size gun to shrink one object down in order to grow another.  You start an area with an empty tank of “scale juice”, and stealing size from, say, a wall allows you to transfer it to a boulder.  Or a tree, butterfly, dollhouse, mushroom, or any number of other objects kicking around the world.  This can have any number of interesting effects, all of which are fun to see.

For example, one area had a couple of ground switches, a small rock you could pick up and carry, plus a couple of trees, all near a sealed gate.  Obviously you’ll need to press both switches to open the gate, but putting the rock on a switch, or even standing on the switch with the rock, doesn’t cause anything to happen.  Stealing size from a tree enables you to transfer it to the rock, turning it into a boulder heavy enough to finally activate one of the switches, but you need two to open the door.  The solution was to steal size from everything available, put the rock in the center of the switches, and grow it to a ridiculously huge size in order to hit both at once.  It’s dind of obvious when spelled out like that, but years of moving blocks onto switches have hardwired my brain to expect a specific kind of solution.  Seeing a puzzle play with that expectation fills the lateral thinking cortex with anticipatory glee.  Plus it’s just plain fun to grow something a foot across into a multi-story behemoth, as anyone who’s ever played Katamari Damacy can understand.

At this early stage of development Scale is already loaded with potential.  Growing and shrinking items at will opens up a whole host of possibilities, especially when you can stand on top of an item while changing its size, or even shrinking an entire level in order to make it small enough to cross.  There’s a long way to go to see this develop into its full potential, with the developer estimating at least a year or two on his blog, but whatever it turns into over the years should be well worth following.

*Not mass!  One teaspoon of white dwarf material (size) has an estimated mass of roughly 4,000 kilograms (mass.  Because as everyone knows, weight is only constant on Earth while mass is the same no matter where you are).