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Impromptu PAX East indie developer meeting sneaks a peek at Volume

Fate is a strange mistress. She’ll step in at the oddest times and present opportunities that you never would have had otherwise. Fate played her game at PAX East 2015 on Saturday morning while I was resting my sore feet and prepping for my first media appointment of the day. The show floor had just opened, which meant that the halls were nearly barren, aside from the lines waiting to enter their first panel of the day. An empty chair is hard to find at the convention hall, so when a young english man asked if he could take the seat across from me, of course I didn’t mind. We struck up a conversation about how much we were enjoying PAX East and, as he noticed my media pass, he mentioned that his first media appointment of the day had cancelled and asked if I’d want to see the game he was there to show.

When someone wants to show you their game, especially at PAX East, never say no. That “someone,” in this case, was Mike Bithell, developer of Thomas Was Alone, popular PC indie platformer. While never having experienced the game for myself, I know of it and told him so. “That’s fine,” Bithell assured me, “my new game, Volume, is nothing like it.”

Understatement of the year.

Releasing on PC, Playstation 4, and PS Vita (with cross buy) “later this year,” Volume is a stealth-based puzzle game that requires precision control to complete a level flawlessly, but also has a degree of forgiveness for when you inevitably screw it up. The objective of this top-down title is to move throughout each level collecting gems. The difficulty comes in the form of roving enemies, each with different lines of sight, weapons, and patrol paths. Sure, you can see the sight lines of the patrols and hide around corners to avoid them, but timing and decision making is your biggest ally, rather than pure speed. Once you’ve collected all the gems, you’re able to proceed to exit to continue on to the next level.

You’re not without tricks of your own though. Scattered throughout some levels are gadgets that you can obtain and will be required to use in order to see success. There are nine gadgets in all, but only two were on display: Ricochet Noise and Disguise. Disguise sees you to don the outfit of your enemy, allowing you to pass through their sight lines without being gunned down. It’s got a very short timer though, so triggering it at just the right time is critical, otherwise you’ll find yourself at your most recent checkpoint. Ricochet Noise is entirely different, it’s a gun that allows you to bounce noise off of walls, only to trigger it at a certain moment. If you’re within range of an enemy when you trigger it, they’ll want to investigate and, as expected, will abandon their post, opening the way for you to sneak through.

It’s very reminiscent of Metal Gear Solid’s VR Missions, but one thing stood out: the narrative. Voice acting is done by Youtube Vlogger Charlie McDonnell and Danny Wallace (Thomas Was Alone, Assassin’s Creed), and even from the little I was able to witness, they work very well together. Conversations with the AI has a very “Portal-like” feel to it, something many games have mimicked to differing results.

The final experience was what surprised me most. Built on Unity 5, Bithell included a level editor for players to challenge the community. While there are leaderboards attached to the game, here is where you’ll find the community’s glory. Everything in Volume is available in the level editor and one level that was shown was very reminiscent of Pac-man, although lacking the tell-tale “wakka wakka” sound.

While a release date wasn’t expressly stated, Bithell made it a point to stress it would be, “hopefully before Metal Gear Solid 5,” which has already been announced for September 1st. The price was quoted at “around $20,” but both pieces of information could easily change. Game time for the development team was quoted around 5-6 hours, but for players on their first voyage, it could be 8-10.

You can find more information about Volume, including news updates, at Mike Bithell’s website.

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