Kenji Eno is sitting next to me. He is slightly larger than your average Japanese developer, with a full face and stringy, shoulder length, jet black hair that he keeps pushing behind his ears. He is holding some unkempt paper, on which is scrawled what looks like words in English, penned in biro. He is mumbling under his breath. Realisation kicks in. He is practising a presentation, one he's about to deliver here, high up on the 31st floor of the Centre Point building in London's West End, to press. He doesn't look nervous, just flustered.
Eno is, and there is no disgrace in not knowing this, famous for founding now defunct Japanese developer Warp and directing and producing the original survival horror game, D, in 1995. He is also something of a recluse. "Japan's wayward son", is how 1UP described him in a piece from last year. In 2000 he went quiet, refusing to give interviews. Now he's back, not exactly in the big time, but certainly on a console that is, with the interesting downloadable WiiWare puzzle game You, Me and the Cubes.
Eno's presentation is short and sweet, but certainly memorable. Here's how it goes:
Thank you. I'm Kenji Eno, designer, director and also the music composer on this game, You, Me and the Cubes. I'm happy to be here. I'd like to talk about why I created this game, You, Me and the Cubes. I created in 1999 my last game, D2 for Dreamcast, but I'm happy to create a video game again here. So, I have kind of a story of why I wanted to create video games again with Nintendo. Maybe in 2005 or 2006, I saw a presentation and announcement for the Revolution by Mr Iwata, online on my PC. I was surprised at the unique controller he held. I thought, I want this one, but I could not get that one because I wasn't creating video games. So I drew with Photoshop a Wii Remote, printed it out, and then cut it, so I created the "paper craft" Wii Remote. I laughed at me, at why I created a "paper craft". So I called Nintendo, "I really want to create a new kind of game with this controller with you". That's why I'm here. Thank you. Ciao. Bye.
And that's it. "Thank you. Ciao. Bye." Eno disappears behind some curtains. I think to myself, I can't wait to play his new game.
It's where I head first, actually. Eno is standing by a Wii hooked up to a television on a pod. Near him is a translator, a very good one in fact. I wait my turn, watching the screen intently. At first glance You, Me and the Cubes looks incredibly simple. A giant cube exists floating in space. You shake the Wii Remote to generate two Fallos, You, Me and the Cubes' little people. With the pointer you decide where your two Fallos will land. Then you flick the Wii Remote forward, sending the Fallos flying through the air as if coming from behind the camera. They land on the cube. Small speech bubbles contain onomatopoeia - "oomph!", "gwaah!". The weight and place of the Fallos exerts a physical force on the cube, tilting it. If both Fallos are on the right hand side, for example, the cube will tilt to the right. Then gravity kicks in. The Fallos begin to slide. As they near the edge they cry out. They hang on for dear life. Then they fall, tragically, screaming as they slip into the pit of nothingness, the dark void that exists below the cube.
Now it's my turn. I hold the Wii Remote - with strap on, of course, Nintendo staff are keeping an eye out for deviants - and decide the first stage would be best. All I need to do is place two Fallos on a single cube. I pick two central positions, then flick. They land and, thankfully, the weight distribution doesn't disturb the cube to any great degree. The Fallos are happy. I'm happy. CLEAR!
The perspective shifts. My Fallos remain in place, defying gravity as if spiders. The cube is no longer on its own. Now there are six. To clear the stage I need to balance the cubes with at least one Fallo on each. It's harder than it sounds. I have to place two at a time, and there's no moving them once they land. There is a time limit I'm now very mindful of. I rotate the perspective for a better view of the angles and dimensions of the cubes. One Fallo I place tips the balance. The Fallos begin to slide. I frantically shake the Wii Remote, generating two more - but where to place them? Two Fallos fall to their doom, screaming as they do. Each one hits my remaining time for minus five seconds. But I quickly generate two more Fallos and try to stabilise. I succeed, with about ten seconds remaining. The remaining five stages make up the first batch of levels. The number of Fallos remaining on the cubes after clearing a series of stages is counted to give me my score, 22/26, for example. You, Me and the Cubes might sound like an easy going Hollywood romcom, but it's stressful in the extreme.
This, essentially, is Kenji Eno's new game. It obviously gets more complicated, with later stages filled with cubes, but you soon get better at predicting how the cubes will be affected by the placement of Fallos. The concept is simple and has the potential to have an almost Tetris-like addictive quality. Cleverly, You, Me and the Cubes can be played two player, each one controlling a single Fallo. This, to my mind, sounds like brilliant fun, and a proper way to bring core and casual gamers together. And the minimalist art style, the cold, harsh reality of the adorable Fallos falling to their doom, the inky blackness, the mysterious giant floating cubes, the trippy electro soundtrack, composed by Eno himself, should ensure the game gets a decent amount of interest online.
The Fallos will even try and help each other from falling to their doom. You feel sorry for them. You feel responsible for them. You almost shed a tear for them when your mistakes lead to their destruction. But at the end of the day, it's all about balance. It's all about bringing harmony to the universe. Sacrifices will have to be made.
Eno is standing arms folded. Every now and again, when I do something right, clearing a stage with loads of time to spare, for example, he nods in approval. This fills me with joy. If only Eno came with every download of the game. I shake his hand. Thank you. Ciao. Bye.
You, Me & The Cubes will be out on WiiWare this month.