Review

Experiment 12

Chain Gang

Twelve designers played a game of development telephone, and the result is Experiment 12.

By Joe Keiser • August 28, 2013

Folks everywhere are familiar with the game of telephone. Although it’s known by different names, the game is always the same. A group of people sit in a circle. One person whispers a message to her neighbor, who then passes it on to the next person. By the time the message has circumnavigated, it has accumulated so many errors as to be unrecognizable. It’s a game that illuminates some of the failings of the human mind—the vagaries of communication and the blind spots of memory. Children think it is hilarious because they are monsters.

Experiment 12, which was built using a process much like telephone, is also about these flaws, and it is not in any way funny. To make it, 12 solo developers each built a chapter and passed on creation duties to the next person. Terry Cavanagh, who put the project together, completed the first chapter in three days before throwing it to Ian Snyder to continue the work. The process repeated 12 times, with each designer spending 72 hours explaining or expanding on the chapters the others had made. They did this just to see what the end result would look like, and it’s not surprising that it’s uneven and misshapen.

Experiment 12

Parts of it work well, particularly the early ones. The first chapter is thoughtfully constructed to act as a foundation for the others. A person breaks out of a glass tube. They start unwell, and as the chapter progresses their physical condition worsens. They are injured, sickened, and made delirious. Items strewn about the chapter’s hallways portend dark things and provoke more questions. Where are you? Why are you in such pain? These holes are intentionally left for the next chapters to fill.

And for a while, they do. The second chapter explores physical illness through a game where your vision swims if you leave the support of the walls. The third chapter presents mental illness via crude, surreal drawings. The next few chapters begin to unravel the mystery suggested by the first scene’s glass tube. Everything culminates in chapter six, a wild-eyed game where you control so many people at once that I felt the creeping madness the previous chapters described.

Experiment 12

It’s the high point of Experiment 12, and things probably should have ended there. But even though all the meat is off the bones, there are still six designers left in the circle who have to make something, and you can see them start to flail. Chapter seven tries to do too much with too little and hides the lack of progression behind a literal text cypher. By chapter nine, ideas are being invented almost entirely out of whole cloth—we’re now controlling orbital weapons, a conflict so far from the internal struggles of the first few chapters that it can’t help but feel hollow. Chapter 11 does its level best to pull all the disparate threads together and put a bow on the story, but it’s all so pat that it diminishes the early chapters’ madness. Chapter 12 is a return to form, using careful callbacks to previous scenes and a layered sci-fi score to create a stirring denouement.

It doesn’t all work, but this is an experiment—it’s right there in the title. In that context, it’s safe to call Experiment 12 a success. There are chapters here that could be explored further in longer games, and the whole outing is worth it just for chapter six. Still, more collaborators could have wrung more out of this process if the first chapter were longer or more varied than the ones that followed, or if they were working on a different story entirely.

Experiment 12

Which is to say, Experiment 12 is a game for designers, both the ones who built it and the armchair designers who like to watch. The more familiar you are with the process of making games and the previous work of Experiment 12’s creators, the more you are likely to get out of this work’s varied approaches, smart solutions, and interesting failures. Otherwise, it’s like being the person at the end of a game of telephone—the one with none of the context, holding a bit of curious nonsense in your brain.

Experiment 12
Developers: Michael Brough, Jasper Byrne, Jake Clover, Terry Cavanagh, Alan Hazelden, Richard Perrin, Benn Powell, Jack King-Spooner, Ian Snyder, TheBlackMask, Guilherme Töws, Robert Yang
Publisher: Self-published
Platforms: Mac, PC
Reviewed on: Mac
Price: Free
Rating: Not Rated

Share this with your friends and enemies

Write a scintillating comment

18 Responses to “Chain Gang”

  1. SamPlays says:

    Experiment 12 = Purple Monkey Dishwasher!!

    • Effigy_Power says:

      There’s no need for that, is there? These people put their heart and soul into this game to bring us left biscuit horse-radish Aukerman field trip puma and all you can do is sneer.

      • Xtracurlyfries says:

        Ftqdq’e za zqqp rad ftmf, ue ftqdq? Ftqeq bqabxq bgf ftqud tqmdf mzp eagx uzfa ftue smyq fa nduzs ge xqrf nueoguf tadeq-dmpuet Mgwqdymz ruqxp fdub bgym mzp mxx kag omz pa ue ezqqd.

  2. Kyle O'Reilly says:

    This is my kinda game.  Weird esoteric ideas strung together through disparate gameplay chapters? Yes please!  Even if the second half starts to flail as you say, this is still a rock n’ roll idea right here.

    I only know Terry Cavanaugh (fuck yeah VVVVV) off the top of my head so I’ll have to read up on the other devs.  This was miles away from my radar but it’s on there now.  Thanks for the tipoff as always Gameo!

    • Jackbert says:

      Well, that would’ve saved me forty bucks (could’ve bought another game) given that in around one hundred hours of 3DS playtime I’ve used the 3D slider for maybe fifteen minutes. On the other hand, it’s not purple.

      • DrZaloski says:

        To be honest, I’d pay the extra 40 bucks just for the clam-shut screens and for it to not look generally atrocious. The design looks just awful, I honestly can’t tell how I would hold it. I’ll probably just pick up an XL by the end of the year, since I’ve been told Luigi’s Mansion, Fire Emblem, and Animal Crossing are the most amazing things since foldable chairs.

    • Boonehams says:

      I thought it was a joke… until I found the video on Nintendo’s YouTube channel.

    • psib says:

       I feel like the design of this could’ve been fleshed out a lot more. It looks like an early stage prototype that wasnt focus tested at all. Kids are gonna break those screens so easily without the clamshell function.

      • It definitely doesn’t look comfortable to hold.  I’m not sure what niche this fills except ‘something cheap to give to the kids but they have to keep it at home’. I wouldn’t trust my grabby-pawed 10 year old self not to smash up a slate-form machine this size.

    • Citric says:

      I like how they appear to have made a portable system that can’t be carried in any pocket known to man.

    • Colliewest says:

      Clamshell 2DS XL, $100 Black Friday 2014, please.

    • Unexpected Dave says:

      I still don’t have a 3DS, so this intrigues me. It looks uncomfortable to hold, but I’ll try it.

  3. duwease says:

    Speaking of oddball games, can anyone explain this Japanese horse racing “simulator”???

    http://dailypicksandflicks.com/2013/08/25/hilarious-japan-world-cup-3-horse-race-video/

  4. Burger_Bob says:

    If they were trying to recreate the effects of the telephone game, then each designer should only have been given the one chapter immediately preceding theirs, not every chapter so far. So the person making Chapter 12 should have only seen Chapter 11.

  5. voliulo says:

    Find out how you can earn 50 usd a day at home. simply go here surveymoneymaker dot net