Psychochild's Blog

A developer's musings on game development and writing.

12 January, 2009

Weekend Design Challenge: What makes this game tick?
Filed under: — Psychochild @ 11:45 PM

This week, we’ll take a look at a game to see what makes it tick. The game in question is Eversion.


Actually, that’s about your only hint before downloading that the game isn’t as innocuous as the screenshots seem to imply. After you run the game, you see the H.P. Lovecraft quote.

So, warning: the game is full of surprises. Actually, it doesn’t even really tell you much about how to play the game; you don’t really find out what the “everse” button does by reading the instructions. You have to pay careful attention to really understand what’s going on. This isn’t a game for the impatient, but the game is pretty brief overall.

So, play the game and see what makes it tick. Think about the design decisions, perhaps think about these questions:

  • Why are the instructions so sparse?
  • How does the music play a role in the game?
  • How do the puzzle elements work with the overall theme of the game?
  • When did you finally realize the horrible, horrible truth?

If you get truly stuck, there are some videos on YouTube that show you how some of the things are done. Give it a go on your own first, though.

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  1. I’m not sure I’m going to be able to solve all of those questions… I’ve managed to evert a little, but the controls of the game are just horrible – it’s just too awkvard to play it simply because it’s fast all-or-nothing controls. It always saddens me to no end that so few developers care about making the game comfortable to play.

    Comment by Stoffe — 13 January, 2009 @ 6:49 AM

  2. Stoffe wrote:
    [T]he controls of the game are just horrible – it’s just too awkvard to play it simply because it’s fast all-or-nothing controls.

    Expand upon that. What do you mean by that phrase “all-or-nothing controls” and what would you do to fix it?

    Comment by Psychochild — 13 January, 2009 @ 3:28 PM

  3. And if you so desire, you can edit the initialization values at the start of scripts/player.rb to find your favorite set of physics.

    Comment by Zaratustra — 13 January, 2009 @ 6:11 PM

  4. As for control, it remembered me my days with Duke Nukem, Crystal Caves and Commander Keen. So I was on familiar ground. But somehow, I must have lost something with the years…

    Hopefully, game is never really “over”, which is the first thing odd I noticed. Making it through without dying ain’t the point. Then I noticed that the crystals weren’t “respawning” when trying back the same level. With the score going crazy (noticed this a bit later though as I usually don’t care about score in platform games), I thought that was the whole point: Get all the crystals. I didn’t just to get to the end faster and checked spoilers afterward.

    Why are the instructions so sparse?

    Giving more would kinda defeat the atmosphere of the game I guess. In the first 2 minutes you think “well, just another platform game” and soon after you go “wait, something’s wrong…” (for the reasons I talked about before). I guess that being left in doubt is more “scarier” than knowing what you have to fear.

    How does the music play a role in the game?

    This is really what changes the mood of the game. Going from “Happy bunny” style to “Happy bunny going to hell” is really what had the most impact on me rather than the visual changes. Suddenly you feel very alone in this strange world.

    When did you finally realize the horrible, horrible truth?

    I had a lot of difficulties getting past world 6-6. That’s when I noticed that the usual “game over” message was going to things like “you’re going to die”, “mother” and such. At first it felt it was just taunting me so I get further but I wasn’t really sure. The horrible truth? Could say a bit too late.

    Too bad, I was beginning to like that little guy. You feel all powerful crushing smiling enemies. Not so much after the end.

    Comment by Over00 — 13 January, 2009 @ 6:38 PM

  5. The instructions are sparse because you’re supposed to experience dread and confusion as you progress. The problem is that there is very little incentive to progress, and a bunch of reasons to give up (inconsistent physics, ‘gotcha’ challenges, etc.) I think those of us raised with Mario know that 100 coins = 1 life, but there was no such intermediary encouragement to get them here. I can’t imagine who the first person to get all 240 coins was.

    Music is used pretty cleverly.. I don’t know of too many games that use sound cues for puzzles, probably because you never know who might be playing with the sound off. It’d be pretty frustrating if you missed an important clue in a rigidly linear progression just because the music was annoying or your roommates were sleeping. Yep, pret-ty annoying. I know there was a sight cue too.. I just was annoyed by the game in general I guess.

    Probably the best moments of the game are when it actually gets inside your jaded 21st century head. The ‘Ready! To Die’ bits were pretty great, because they flash only for a second, and you’re still processing the cognitive dissonance of that little ready screen, which you’ve seen a hundred thousand times, suddenly being a repository for evil, when the game starts up again.

    Comment by Bret — 15 January, 2009 @ 2:08 PM

  6. I have the feeling most game designers don’t like Eversion. It has too many sharp corners to be aesthetically pleasing. I myself have only started to understand why it became so popular (100k hits).

    Comment by Zaratustra — 19 January, 2009 @ 11:57 AM

  7. I think those of us old-school gamers that still have some of our dexterity and reactions enjoy the game more. I didn’t find the controls very hard to deal with, but I grew up on Super Mario Bros., Super Mario World, etc., and was able to conquer those games handily. I still remember an embarrassingly high number of secrets in the first Super Mario Bros.

    Spoiler alert for people that actually want to play the game and experience it without taint.

    The horror theming of the game is really interesting. I agree with most people above that the horror elements are really enforced because you don’t quite understand what’s going on. The game appears very innocuous initially, like another platformer clone made by a college student. But, you start to notice some things go awry: the lack of lives, for example, and the fact that the gems you collect don’t respawn as you might expect. Once you understand what the everse function is and start using it to go to the other worlds, you start to notice other things as well: the randomly scrolling then ultimately disappearing score display, for example. The music is also another great cue that something strange is going on.

    I found the game interesting because the lack of instructions help the theme a lot, but I can see why it would frustrate a “casual” type gamer. I think the popularity comes from the fact that if you go the extra mile the game surprises you (in a good way) by being something that you didn’t initially expect. It starts out as a cutesy platformer and becomes something more like an exploration game as you find all the eversion points and solve the puzzles. I think this is what really makes the game tick, because it violates some of your assumptions but still provides a good game experience.

    One problem with using a horror theme is that in this day and age, you can find information online easily. When I got stuck, I found that even a relatively obscure game like this one had YouTube walkthroughs already posted. I found out about the second “good” ending from one of those. However, I found the “final” level to be one of the least enjoyable, since it was mostly luck of the draw about which “subworld” you would everse into. Sometimes it would be great, sometimes it would just cause a frustrating death. Taking control out of the hands of the player usually causes frustration with the game. It’s an interesting concept, but thankfully I had been invested enough into the game to want to push on despite this.

    Comment by Psychochild — 19 January, 2009 @ 4:34 PM

  8. The defining moment for Storybricks

    [...] tabletop RPG experience of Stéphane Bura, the indie sensibilities like the one behind the games Eversion and Meridian 59, the MMO prowess that I and another experienced engineer brings, all run as an [...]

    Pingback by Psychochild's Blog — 2 May, 2012 @ 9:22 AM

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