Evolution takes you out of the warm, bubbling depths of the first oceans and up to the cloudy interstellar reaches of Hubble’s farthest glimpses. It shows you the patterns from which life is built, and it shows you that these patterns are often the same as each other. Swinging through a tangle of axons and dendrites isn’t really that different from navigating the twisting boughs of a giant tree, in the same way that it can be hard to separate a swirling clump of bacterial foam from the twisting spiral arms of a distant galaxy: it’s all a question of scale. This is a fantastic journey, too, one that’s filled with swarms of bioluminescent hornets and wriggling, laser-spitting squid, so when you finally reach the coldest edges of space to face off against a giant star-spangled whale, you won’t be totally unprepared for it.
But the whale’s not as simple as it first appears to be. Its skin is covered with angular blobs of infection, and as you begin to purge them a glowing white timeline sweeps along its flesh. The timeline reveals that this particular space whale is also an audio sequencer: each angular blob is a sound file waiting to be triggered, and once the musical battle is finished – once the whale has rolled over lazily, allowing you to scour its belly as well as its back – with a shimmer of light the monster transforms into a giant golden phoenix, a galaxy wide with its wings spread, its feathers and talons stitched together from solar systems.
Finally, as the shifting waves of electronica coalesce into a full-blown J-pop chorus, the battle begins again, and that’s when Tetsuya Mizuguchi, president of Q Entertainment and the creator of Rez, of Lumines, of Space Channel 5, steps back from the LCD screen and the unblinking eyes of the Kinect camera, and shakes out his arms and hands. “Exercise,” he says, laughing.
The whale and the phoenix aren’t alone in Mizuguchi’s intergalactic bestiary, by any means. Lining the walls of Q Entertainment’s snug Tokyo offices are hundreds of sketches – 1,095, according to resident concept artist Takashi Ishihara – depicting everything from swooping neon flu viruses to a candy-shelled manta ray, spectral flywheels and clouds of disco trilobites. Eels, sphinxes and troubling organic skyscrapers: all part of the visual design process for the studio’s newest – and most ambitious – undertaking.
Back in the echoing gloom of the Los Angeles Theatre at this year’s E3, Child Of Eden seemed tantalisingly simple to grasp. Unveiled at the start of Ubisoft’s annual press event when Mizuguchi, hands clad in a showman’s white gloves, waved and jabbed his way through an electrifying demo, Q’s game was an opening act that the rest of the conference – and the rest of the convention – had a hard time living up to.
Mizuguchi has always admitted that he can’t draw inspiration from other people’s work; his own, however, doesn’t appear to be too much of a problem, and it seemed that, without quite saying as much, the gaming world was finally getting the Rez sequel it had demanded for so long. A spiritual sequel, certainly, with a separate storyline and publishing duties handled by an eclectic French company rather than the sugary, high-contrast arcade factory behind the original, but a sequel nonetheless.
There’s plenty of truth to that, of course: like Rez, Child Of Eden takes a fiendishly simple paint-and-release shooter mechanic and wraps it up in complex layers of sound and colour and interlocking imagery. And, like Rez, you’re trapped within the system once again, striving to save a universe of data from an assault by unthinking viruses.
To leave it at that is to sell Child Of Eden short, however, just as to say that Q’s latest is the Kinect game that makes a system built for sports mini-bites and leopard-cuddling palatable to the core audience is to sell it short as well. Child Of Eden is both more complex than its simple control scheme suggests, and more daring for Mizuguchi than its familiar trappings would have you believe. If Rez was concerned with mere architecture, Eden is obsessed with the full spectrum of organic life; if Rez was about information, Eden is a much deeper exploration of memory.
“Rez is Rez and Child Of Eden is Child Of Eden,” says Mizuguchi, batting away a familiar question with good grace. “In my mind, after Rez, I spent ten years with the same thought in my head all the time. I think for every game designer it’s the same: what is next? I had many things about Rez that I wasn’t 100 per cent satisfied with, so the question becomes: if I had the chance to make the next game – the next game in this spirit – what kind of game would I make?