It’s a tad tough to parse EXPOSURE at first, another in a long line of games that are kinda-sorta difficult to describe, explain, or even understand until you’ve got hands on a controller and the go-ahead to let your curiosity guide your play. As the accompanying videos of this article show: it looks like a Mondrian Möbius strip collapsing in on itself, taking Bridget Riley optical illusions and military dazzle camo kicking and screaming with it. There’s a few jagged red shapes patrolling the landscape dotted with a teeny-tiny tadpole thing on it because, hey, why not?
In EXPOSURE, you are that teeny-tiny tadpole thing, and your only task here is survival. Only, of course, it isn’t that easy. As black and white shapes drift into the perpetually gliding screen, you tap any button to change colors: from black to white or vice versa. Doing so allows you to blend in with the crawling shapes, but therein also introduces the game’s first complication, which is far more punishing than it might sound at first.
When you blend in with the environment, you also lose sight of yourself as the environment continues to move. Or, as developer Brian S. Chung says, “It’s like the player’s perspective is that of the predator.” You want to protect yourself—the prey—but you also can’t see where the hell you are. Those aforementioned red jagged shapes, though, will keep an eye on your point of entry and know roughly where to expect you to emerge. The question is: Can you keep them guessing while also keeping track of where you are? Probably not.
It’s a mix of chill bullet-hell intensity diced with fight-or-flight stealth. It’s intuitive, but weird.
And, before you get to thinking that this reminds you of Ikagura, think again—everything in this game creeps along at a slow, methodical pace. Again, like a predator.
It’s intuitive, but weird.
The predator/prey metaphor here isn’t an instance of GDC-addled writer-brain laziness (okay, maybe it is), but rather an example of how deeply embedded nature is in EXPOSURE. Rather than citing any videogames as its core inspiration, Brian and his developing partner/girlfriend GJ Lee say they were inspired by the pepper moth’s evolution over the last 200 years. They’re moths—you know what moths look like—that exist in two strains, white and black.
Says Brian, “[Peppered moths] are often cited as an example of natural selection. There’s lighter and darker variants of it … the white form was dominant until the Industrial Revolution, but the pollution and soot made the bark on trees turn dark, so the dark form became more dominant.”
Additionally, the game’s audio consists exclusively of field recordings and “sounds made with musical instruments.”
And although Brian insists emphatically that neither of them are musicians, the game pays careful attention to the rhythm of play. There is no HUD, no onscreen text, or anything. Just you being set loose on the first level as it drifts into becoming the second, the third, and so on. There is an invisible branching path of dynamically shifting difficulty that’s varying levels depending on your playstyle (if you tend to dive more into white, you will get more organic shapes, versus black which yields geometric hard lines), but never a game-over screen or anything to interrupt the flow of being in the game. (“We wanted to keep you away from UI cluttering the screen,” says Lee.) If you get attacked too much by those jagged red things, your only punishment is being sent further and further back—although after about five minutes of doing fairly poorly at this game, I wasn’t sent back yet. Your mileage at being miserable at EXPOSURE may vary.
Your reward for not sucking is eventually evolving into a predator yourself, going backwards through the levels and hunting others of your own kind. “It’s kind of disturbing,” says Brian.
It sort of cheapens the game, as well as how serene, stressful, and charming it is when finishing up by telling you when you can get your hands on this game, and what platforms it will be available on. But given these are folks who couldn’t afford a GDC exhibitor pass, and were flagged down via Twitter during the show, know this: It’s worth keeping an eye out for when it hits PC, Mac, Linux, and Wii U towards the tail end of this year.
Find out more about EXPOSURE on its website.