Glitchspace: Learn Programming with a Puzzle-Platforming Game

By Published March 18, 2014 at 9:39 pm
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Programming meets puzzle game in Glitchspace. Developed by Space Budgie, this first-person platformer presents a simple environment where a node-based programming system is used to move through levels.

Set in a cyberspace world, you're trying to find a place known as “Glitchspace” -- a by-product of cyberspace and its various glitches or inconsistencies. Access can be gained across all systems in cyberspace through careful, programmatic exploitation, but the game isn't inaccessible to non-coders, either. Story mode is used to help introduce players to programming concepts, but a Sandbox mode is used for experienced players and programmers who'd like the full tool-set immediately available.

Glitchspace (P)Review/Overview & Gameplay Video

In the above Glitchspace (p)review and gameplay video, we take a few quick minutes to look at how the game actually plays and works.

Programming with Null - Glitchspace Gameplay

The node-based programming system for Glitchspace is called 'Null.' The “glitches” in the world are represented by flickering objects (non-solid, so you can't use them as platforms) and various other interactive elements. Glitches can be made programmable using a decrypter or non-programmable with an encrypter; using Null, decrypted objects have a default program applied with a specific, predefined set of function nodes to use for editing. Players use Null to bring up options like object, vector, multiple, number, maths, etc. Each of these are what make (or, probably, break) your 'program' – you can see a demo of it at work in my video preview above.

Some of the objects and obstacles in Null are programmable and some are static, so there's a balance to be found between using existing platforms and innovating new pathways. Null is a little confusing at first, but shapes are used to help players understand what function nodes can be used with others. I am told by GN Editor-in-Chief Steve that the 'shapes' are similar to what is found on a programming flowchart or diagram, generally used during the concepting process for software.

glitchspace-1

Examples of programs that can be made (following list from Space Budgie):

  • Apply a force to an object, moving it out of the way.
  • Scale an object down to make it the correct height for jumping on.
  • Duplicate and move an object to create stairs, or floating platforms.
  • Make an object have no collisions to pass through it.
  • Change the physical properties of an object.
  • Make an object move when you touch another object.
  • Replicate the functionality of the Portal, and Gravity gun.

Null isn't restricted in Sandbox mode and all programming functions are available.

For My Fellow Non-Programmers

While I grew up in a time when learning basic HTML meant I had a cooler MySpace page than my friends, I was in no way prepared for the challenge that is Glitchspace. Logic and guesswork will help anyone who's interested in playing, regardless of experience, and is similar to any puzzle game in that regard. Space Budgie designed the game to introduce players to programming and progresses them at a rate that will keep the non-programmer from rage-punching their monitor. Taking into account that Null and the programming terms are a little overwhelming at times, here's an easier breakdown:

Levels are designed so that glitches exist where players have to exploit the glitch in order to progress through the game. If a player cannot create a program that can work in a specific situation, they're doomed for all time in Tron-land. And not the cool, edgy 1984 Tron-land. Glitches are easy to spot and are in the form of a red cube that flickers in space.

Players call-up Null and must find the part of the program that can be altered. A small lock appears on any parts of the program that cannot be altered and a player has to complete the program using the function nodes. The function nodes available are minimal in the first few levels. This is part of the easing-in process. Introductory functions include a set of numbers, for example, that a player must attach the program to in order to alter a cube's size to make a walkway or move a block out of the way.

glitchspace-2

As the game advances, more options become available in the function nodes. If you're like me, it's a lot of trial-and-error while trying to create the right program to move forward. Generally finding out if a program works or not involves testing a glitch. The game has plenty of checkpoints, so if you find yourself falling through a glitch and into oblivion you won't be reset at the beginning of the game. If your program doesn't work and you're set back to the last checkpoint, you won't lose the programs that you did create in the level. This will include the non-working program that set you back.

Space Budgie

Based within the Abertay Gamelab at the University of Abertay (Dundee, Scotland), Space Budgie released their first game last year. 9.03m was a game made in response to the victims of the tsunami and all proceeds went to charity. Glitchspace will be their next game and aims to give the player something to take away with them.

Final Thoughts

This game is challenging in a great way. Being able to see how the level functions in space and realizing that you, the player, have now become the game programmer is exciting. You're programming within a game – and I think that's cool. I found myself studying existing programs I saw along the way in order to help me figure out future programs that I'd need to create. I've never been the kind of player to glitch games and exploit them, but it's something that appeals to a lot of gamers. I'm excited to see how other players handle the harder levels and utilize the unlocked Sandbox mode. I don't know if I'll be able to call myself an amateur programmer after all of this, but I've enjoyed the challenge so far.

It also teaches a very important lesson for would-be programmers in the corporate world: Failing to fix the bug will result in condemnation to one-thousand years of purgatory and punishment.

I jest. You'd probably get a pay-raise and be promoted to middle-management.

If you're interested in playing Glitchspace, it is in alpha now (true alpha) and can be purchased here for a few bucks. Glitchspace is available on Windows, Linux, and Mac OS X and is tentatively set for full release in Q2 2014. Glitchspace is fully-enabled for Oculus Rift.

- Paige "dino pillow" Spears.

Last modified on March 19, 2014 at 9:39 pm

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