Edge: What I Learned

As expected, I finished Edge last night, even to the point of picking up all the crumbs in the game. (They’re actually called “prisms” by the game, which I suppose is accurate: geometrically speaking, cubes are prisms. But I’ll continue to call them crumbs.)

If this game has one really memorable gimmick, it’s the way it exploits the ambiguity of isometric perspective. Without the depth cues provided by perspective, two objects that look like they’re next to each other could be separated by any distance in the direction perpendicular to the screen. If those two objects are floor tiles, it can look like a continuous navigable surface when it’s not. There’s one fairly advanced level that appears identical to the simple tutorial-like level 1, but is actually completely different. Fortunately, the game provides a mini-map in one corner that shows a schematic of the actual level geometry around you. Without this, some bits would be absolutely hopeless, particularly the occasional level containing secret crumbs in places that are completely occluded from view. But it’s not something you’re looking at all the time. I had to keep reminding myself to look at the mini-map occasionally, in case there was some revelation to be found there.

Also significant: unintuitive limitations on movement. Your avatar is a cube that moves by rolling without slipping from one face to another. The usual way to climb is simply to roll up onto an adjacent block; this is why you can only climb walls that are one cube-unit in height. The thing is, it actually enforces the physical consequences: if you’re in a trench, for example, with walls directly to your left and right, it’s impossible to climb out, and you have no option to roll along the trench lengthwise. I found it was easy to overestimate what was impossible, and thereby miss ways to get places. There’s generally an obvious approach, but you can miss out on crumbs or simpler approaches this way, possibly things that would shave seconds off your level-completion time if you care about that.

Now, I mentioned that there was a particularly difficult move, apparently called “edging”, where you start to roll up a vertical surface, but arrest your motion by supplying just enough force to keep from falling. (Usually this is done as a way to hitch a ride on a moving object, but it’s also a way to stay put on a precipice while you wait for a moving floor tile to position itself under you.) I’ve discovered the secret to executing this, by the way: switch the controls to virtual-gamepad mode, and all it takes is a particular rhythmic tapping on the virtual button. But the reason I bring it up is because of one particular level that illustrates everything I’ve said so far: level 18, “edge time”. (The game only uses lower-case letters.) This is a level based mostly around increasingly-difficult acts of edging — or so it seems at first. But if you explore, and look at the mini-map, and think about how the grooved areas can really be navigated, you can get through it without any edging at all. When you first encounter this level, it functions as a tutorial on a difficult technique that you’ll need later. But to a sharper inspection, it’s an exercise in doing things the non-obvious way. Now, there are definitely crumbs in the game that can only be reached by feats of edging, but this level makes me wonder if there are other places where there are alternative routes that I missed. I’ve mastered the game enough to eat every crumb, but not enough to get high speed ratings, and this sort of inquiry might be crucial to that sort of achievement.

Which, however, doesn’t make speed play more appealing to me. If this game has more secrets, they’ll probably remain unfound by me.


More iOS gaming on the bus today while I contemplate what, if anything, to do about my repeated inability to run PC games without crashing. Today, I try out Edge, a game that I probably wouldn’t have heard of without Tim Langdell‘s attempt to suppress it. Langdell is so loathed in the games industry that I’d like to say that I relished giving money to his competitors, but as Mobigame (the makers of Edge) is an actual game company, they can’t really be said to be in competition with Edge Games, just as First National Bank wasn’t a competitor of John Dillinger.

But about the game! Edge is essentially a simple isometric platformer in a retroesque style: it’s all monochrome cubes, except for the player avatar and the crumbs you’re supposed to eat along the way, both of which are cubes that cycle through pastel hues in a pulsing, Atari 2600 way. Challenge is created mainly by moving elements, either cycling or triggered: cubes that threaten to knock you off platforms, cubes that you have to ride on top of, and, trickiest of all, cubes that you have to cling to by an edge in a diagonal posture without letting your angle decay or resisting the decay too hard and pivoting to the top and slamming into a wall and falling down. The last is something I still find very difficult, regardless of what control scheme I use.

Now, about those control schemes. There are three, and they’re all awkward, but they’re awkward in different ways. By default, you have a touch-and-drag interface where the relative movement of your finger is turned into a directional force. This is awkward mainly because of the mismatch between analog, any-direction finger movements and four-direction, discrete-steps cube-rolling, but also partly due to the limited space available to drag your finger around. Even on an iPad screen, I find myself sometimes running off the edge. Alternately, you can switch on a four-button directional virtual gamepad, which at least links the discrete directions to discrete inputs, but has the problem that it’s easy to lose track of where it is while your eyes are fixed elsewhere. Finally, there’s an accelerometer-based tilt-to-move system, about which the less said the better. Edge has recently been ported to PC, and it seems like pretty much any PC-based control scheme would be easier to use than what we’ve got here on its native platform. (Sort of like Machinarium in the opposite direction.) But then, making it easy may not be the point.

Also possibly missing the point: playing it for an hour at a time, like I’ve been doing. It’s a phone game, hence it is made for quick bursts, not obsessive play. I’ll probably finish it tonight.