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In Search of a Rez 2

How a cult game about synesthesia influenced a generation of indie game experiments.

By / Posted on 01 July 2011

RezIn 2001, up-and-coming game auteur Tetsuya Mizuguchi released what would be his most-beloved game – Rez on the Sega Dreamcast and Sony Playstation 2. At its core, Rez was little more than a rail-shooter, like so many arcade games before it. What made Rez such a lasting cult phenomenon was its unique focus on synesthesia, with enemies and attacks striking in beat with the electronic soundtrack and pulsating waves of light throughout. The engrossing experience (along with its optional vibrator accessory) made Rez a favorite amongst stoners and affluent critics alike (who, yes, are often the same demographic). The niche aspects of Rez also made the game somewhat of a rarity, increasing its cult appeal.

Child of EdenMizuguchi went on to form his own studio, Q? Entertainment, which continued producing original games that blurred the lines between art, music, and game, but fans have longed for a proper sequel to Rez, a feat that is unlikely to ever occur as the game was contract work for Sega, and therefore their property, not Mizuguchi’s. Q? did work out the license for an HD upgrade to Rez, released on the XBox 360 in 2008 with no additional features. Just a few weeks ago, Q? Entertainment released Child of Eden, the long-awaited “spiritual successor” to Rez for the Xbox 360 with Kinect-supported motion control for deeper immersion. It became clear in the story (and title) that Child of Eden is actually a prequel, setting up the events that come to pass in Rez, and while Eden certainly has proven to be a beautiful experience, hardcore fans still find the game somewhat lacking and wanting for more. Honestly, it’s to be expected after nearly a decade of adoration and dreaming.

Of course, as a game all about deep personal experience and the interconnectedness of art, music, and play, Rez became a prominent touchstone for the budding generation of independent game developers, a scene that has only recently risen in profile and profitability, thanks to digital distribution on the PC, mobile phones, and all of the major gaming devices. Indie game developers, like more traditional artists, often seek to take a single idea or concept and wrap an interactive experience around it. Jason Roher’s “Passage” was a game about telling the story of a person’s entire life as simply and minimally as possible. Adam Atomic’s “Canabalt” is a game about the futility of escaping an all-encompassing death by running away from it forever. Here are four upcoming indie games that, while not attempting to recreate the Rez experience, have clearly been inspired by it in order to help convey whatever message it is they’re trying to get across:

Dyad is an action-puzzle-racer in the vein of Audiosurf or art style: lighttrax, but the smooth neon aesthetic with clean type and focus on meditative play is undoubtedly fed by a fascination with Rez. The game is being developed by Toronto-based ][ (pronounced “right square bracket, left square bracket,” aka Shawn McGrath) and is expected for release on the Playstation Network in the near future.

Planck is more of a vertical shooter a la Space Invaders. Again focusing on meditative play, there is no death or failure in Planck, rather there are rewards for effective scoring techniques. Plank also continues the theme of sounds and graphics being metaphors for philosophic concepts, which only serves to make the game all the more trippy. This one’s still mid-development, so it may be a while, but it’s good to hear more dubstep in videogames.

Proun is an abstract racing game with an style that calls back to pre-Rockstar DMA Design’s Uniracers. Long in development by Joost Van Dongen, the man behind the original De Blob student game and designer of downloadable console titles Swords & Soldiers and Awesomenauts, Proun was just released last week under the popularized-by-Radiohead Pay-What-You-Want promotion.

The Flight looks the most like Rez in that it is an on-rails shooter where your avatar flies around in front of the camera like in Sin & Punishment or, oh, I dunno, Rez. The difference, aside from the rather spacious and abstract environment, is that your bullets fire in beat with the music, making your attacks and defenses more strategic to match the tempo of the song. The Flight is still quite early in development, but Tobias Baumann‘s last game Dopplescope was very cool indeed, so we look forward to more.

Four very different but intensely cool-looking games, all designed by little more than one person with help from their friends, all clearly taking inspirational cues from the same cult game, nearly a decade old. While each game will stand on its own merits, it is always interesting to see what is the muse behind a unique piece of art.

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Derrick Sanskrit has produced critically-acclaimed work as an artist and writer for Nerve, Babble, Pitchfork, The Onion and the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art, among others. He founded The Pop Aesthetic during the coldest months of his life in 2010.