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Template:Infobox video game Limbo is a puzzle-platform video game and the premiere title of independent Danish game developer Playdead Studios. The game was released in July 2010 on Xbox Live Arcade, and will later be released as a retail game pack along with Trials HD and 'Splosion Man in April 2011. Limbo is a 2D sidescroller, incorporating a physics system that governs environmental objects and the player character. The player guides an unnamed boy through dangerous environments and traps as the boy searches for his sister. The developer built the game's puzzles expecting the player to fail before finding the correct solution. Playdead called the style of play "trial and death", and used visually gruesome imagery for the boy's deaths to steer the player from unworkable solutions.

The game is presented primarily in monochromatic black-and-white tones, using lighting, film grain effects and minimal ambient sounds to create an eerie atmosphere often associated with the horror genre. Journalists praised the dark presentation, describing the work as comparable to film noir and German Expressionism. Based on its aesthetics, reviewers classified Limbo as an example of "video game as art".

Limbo received positive reviews, but was criticized for its minimal story; some critics found the open-ended work to have deeper meaning that tied well with the game's mechanics, while others believed the lack of significant plot and abrupt ending detracted from the game. A common point of criticism from reviewers was that the high cost of the game relative to its short length might deter players from purchasing the title, but some reviews proposed that Limbo had an ideal length. The title was the third-highest selling game on the Xbox Live Arcade service in 2010, generating around $7.5 million in revenue. The title won several awards from industry groups after its release, and was named as one of the top games for 2010 by several publications.

PlotEdit

The primary character in Limbo is a nameless boy who awakens in the middle of a forest on the "edge of hell" (the game's title is taken from the Latin limbus, meaning "edge").[1] The boy seeks his missing sister, and encounters only a few human characters that attack or run away from him.[2][3][4] Once during the journey, the boy catches a glimpse of a female character, but she vanishes before he can reach her.[5] The forest eventually gives way to a crumbling city environment.[4] On completion of the final puzzle, the boy is thrown through a pane of glass and ends up in the forest again. The boy continues traveling until he encounters a girl. When he approaches, she stands up, startled; the game abruptly ends at this point.[6][7]

GameplayEdit

File:LimboGame1.jpg
A pre-release development screenshot, showing the boy crossing a dangerous chasm on a rope bridge. The game's art style and presentation have been consistent through the game's development cycle.

The player controls the boy for the entire game. As is typical of most two-dimensional platform games, the player can make the boy run left or right on the screen, jump, climb up short ledges or up and down ladders and ropes, and push or pull objects. The game is presented through dark, greyscale graphics and with minimalist ambient sounds, creating an eerie, haunting environment.[8][9] The dark visuals also hide numerous environmental and physical traps, such as bear traps on the forest floor or monsters in the shadows that will attempt to kill the boy. These monsters include a giant spider and worms that dig into the boy's brain and force him to travel in one direction until the worms are killed.[10]

The second half of the game features puzzles and traps involving more mechanical aspects, such as water, machinery, electromagnetism, and gravity. Many of these traps are not apparent until triggered, often killing the boy. Should this happen, the player restarts the game at the last checkpoint; there is no limit on how many times this can occur. However, the player can often avoid these traps and then use them later, such as using a bear trap to clamp onto an animal carcass at the end of a rope and pulling it taut, allowing the boy to climb up to a ledge that was otherwise out of reach. Because these traps are not known until the player activates them, the developers called the game a "trial and death" game, as the player will likely encounter numerous deaths before they solve each puzzle and complete the game.[11] Many deaths are animated with images of dismemberment or beheading of the boy, but an optional gore filter blacks out the screen instead of showing these deaths.[12][13] Game achievements (optional in-game goals) include finding hidden insect eggs and completing the game with five or fewer deaths.[14]

DevelopmentEdit

File:Limbo gdc awards 2011 cropped.jpg
Arnt Jensen, game director of PlayDead (left) and artist Morten Bramsen (back) receive the "Best Visual Art" award for Limbo from Tim Schafer at the 2011 Game Developers Choice Awards

According to Playdead partner Dino Patti and lead designer Jeppe Carlsen, Playdead's game director, Arnt Jensen, conceived Limbo around 2004.[1][3] At that time, as a concept artist at IO Interactive, Jensen became dissatisfied with the increasingly corporate nature of the company. He had sketched a "mood image" of a "secret place" to get ideas, and the result, similar to the backgrounds of the final game, inspired Jensen to expand on it.[10] Jensen initially tried on his own to program the game in Visual Basic around 2004, but found he needed more help and proceeded to create an art style trailer by 2006.[15] He had only intended to use the trailer as a means to recruit a programmer to help him,[1] but the video attracted much interest in the project from across the Internet, eventually leading him to meet with Patti, who was also dissatisfied with his job.[10] Their collaboration led to the founding of Playdead Studios.[10] Although Patti helped in the first few months with programming, he realised that the project was much larger than what the two of them could handle, and Patti developed the business around the game's expanded development.[10]

Initial development was funded personally by Jensen and Patti along with Danish government grants, including funding from the Nordic Game Program, while large investors were sought later in the development cycle.[10] Jensen and Patti did not want to commit to major publishers, preferring to retain full creative control in developing the title.[3] Jensen originally planned to release Limbo as a free Microsoft Windows title, but by this point, Jensen and Patti decided to make the game a retail title.[10]

Playdead chose to ignore outside advice from investors and critics during development, such as the addition of multiplayer play and adjustable difficulty levels, and extending the game's length. According to Patti, Playdead felt these changes would break the integrity of Jensen's original vision.[14] Numerous iterations of the game took place during a two-and-a-half year development cycle, including changes Jensen had demanded to polish the title.[14] Patti stated that they "trashed 70%" of the content they had developed, due to it not fitting in well with the context of the game.[1] The core development team size was about 8 programmers, expanding to 16 at various stages with freelancers.[16] Playdead developed the design tools for Limbo in Visual Studio; Patti commented they would likely seek third-party applications for their next project given the challenges in creating their own technology.[1]

Limbo was released on 21 July 2010 on the Xbox Live Arcade service, as the first title in the yearly "Summer of Arcade" promotion.[17] Although the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) had listed entries for Limbo for the PlayStation 3 and Microsoft Windows platforms, Playdead confirmed that this was a mistake on ESRB's part, and that they had no plans for the game on these systems.[18] According to producer Mads Wibroe, part of their decision not to release for the Windows platform was to avoid issues with software piracy, something they could control on the Xbox 360.[19] Patti stated that staying exclusive with the Xbox platform was an assurance that they would be able to recoup their investment in the game's development. Patti affirmed that Limbo will not be released for another console, but that their next game, already in development as of October 2010, may see wider release.[20][21] In March 2011, an Xbox 360 retail distribution of Limbo alongside other indie games Trials HD and 'Splosion Man was announced, to be released on 19 April 2011.[22][23]

Story, art and music directionEdit

From the game's inception, Jensen set out three goals for the final Limbo product. The first goal was to create a specific mood and art style. Jensen wanted to create an aesthetic for the game without resorting to highly-detailed three-dimensional models, and instead directed the art towards a minimalistic style to allow the development to focus its attention on the gameplay.[15] Jensen's second goal was to only require two additional controls—jumping and grabbing—outside of the normal left-and-right movement controls, to keep the game easy to play. Finally, the finished game was to present no tutorial text to the player, requiring players to learn the game's mechanics on their own.[24] The game was purposely developed to avoid revealing details of its content; the only tagline the company provided was, "Uncertain of his sister's fate, a boy enters Limbo."[25] This was chosen so that players could interpret the game's meaning for themselves.[19]

Jensen drew inspiration from film genres, including works of film noir, to set the art style of the game; the team's graphic artist, Morten Bramsen, is credited with digitally recreating that art style.[26][27] Much of the game's flow was storyboarded very early in development, such as the boy's encounters with spiders and mind-controlling worms, as well as the overall transition from a forest to a city, then to an abstract environment.[10] As development progressed, some of the original ideas became too difficult for the small team to complete; originally, the spider sequences were to be present near the end of the game, but were later moved to the first part.[10] In retrospect, Jensen was aware that the first half of the game contained more scripted events and encounters, while the second half of the game was lonelier and puzzle-heavy; Jensen attributed this to his lack of oversight during the latter stages of development.[10]

The game's audio was created by Martin Stig Andersen, a graduate with specialization in acousmatic music from the Royal Academy of Music in Aarhus.[10] Andersen sought to create non-traditional acousmatic music exclusively incorporating the sound effects of the game's environments; one example he pointed to was the use of electricity noises while in the presence of a ruined neon "HOTEL" sign.[10] Many reviews for the game stated that there was no music in Limbo, but Andersen countered that his sound arrangements helped to evoke emotions; the acousmatic music was intended to leave room for interpretation by the player in the same manner as the game's art and story.[10]

Gameplay directionEdit

File:Jeppe carlsen gdc 2011.jpg
Jeppe Carlsen, the lead designer for LimboTemplate:'s puzzles, speaking at the 2011 Game Developers Conference

Limbo was designed to avoid the pitfalls of major titles, where the same gameplay mechanic is used repeatedly.[10] Carlsen, initially brought aboard as a programmer for the custom game engine, became the lead designer after Playdead found him to be capable at creating puzzles.[10] Carlsen stated that the puzzles within Limbo were designed to "[keep] you guessing all the way through".[3] Jensen also wanted to make the puzzles feel like a natural part of the environment, and to avoid the feeling that the player was simply moving from puzzle to puzzle through the course of the game.[10] Carlsen identified examples of puzzles from other games that he wanted to avoid. He wanted to avoid simple puzzles that gave the player little satisfaction in its solution, such as a puzzle in Uncharted 2: Among Thieves that involved simply moving a sun-lit mirror to specific points in a room. In contrast, Carlsen wanted to avoid making the puzzle so complex with many separate parts that the player would resort to trial-and-error and eventually come out with the solution without thinking about why the solution worked; Carlsen used an example of a puzzle from the 2008 Prince of Persia game that had seven different mechanics that he never bothered to figure out himself.[28][29] Carlsen designed LimboTemplate:'s puzzles to fall between these limits, demonstrating one puzzle that only has three elements: a switch panel, an electrified floor, and a chain; the goal—to use the chain to cross the electrified floor—is immediately obvious to the player, and then tasks the player to determine the right combination of moves and timing to complete it safely.[29] The decision to provide little information to the player was an initial challenge in creating the game. Early playtesters would have no idea of how to solve certain puzzles. To improve this, they created scenarios before troublesome spots that highlighted the appropriate actions; for example, when they found players did not think about pulling a boat onto shore to use as a platform to reach a higher ledge, they presented the player with a box-pulling puzzle earlier to demonstrate the pulling mechanics.[24]

The team developed the game's puzzles by first assuming the player was their "worst enemy", and made puzzles as devious as possible, but then scaled back their difficulty or added visual and audible aids as if the player was a friend.[24] One example given by Carlsen is a puzzle involving a spider early in the game; the solution requires pushing a bear trap to snare the spider's legs in it. Early designs of this puzzle had the bear trap on the same screen as the spider, and Playdead found playtesters focused too much on the trap. The developers altered the puzzle to put the trap in a tree in an earlier off-screen section when facing the spider; the spider's actions would eventually cause this trap to drop to the ground and become a weapon against the spider. Carlsen stated that this arrangement created a situation where the player felt helpless when initially presented with the deadly spider, but then assisted the player through an audible cue when the trap had dropped, enabling the player to discover the solution.[24]

Playdead included gruesome death sequences to highlight incorrect solutions and discourage players from repeating their mistakes.[24] While they expected players to run the boy into numerous deaths while trying solutions, Carlsen stated that their goal was to ensure death wasn't a penalty in the game, and made the death animations entertaining to keep the player interested.[24] Carlsen noted several early puzzles were too complex for the game, but they would end up using a portion of these larger puzzles in the final release.[24]

ReceptionEdit

Template:VG Reviews Limbo has received universal acclaim from video game critics and journalists and some compared it to previous minimalist platform games such as Another World, Flashback, Heart of Darkness, Oddworld: Abe's Oddysee, Ico, Portal and Braid.[30][31][32][33][34] Reviews consistently noted LimboTemplate:'s short length for its higher selling price: three to six hours of gameplay for 15 euros or 15 U.S. dollars. Reviewers asserted this length-to-price ratio was the largest drawback for the game, and would be a deterrent for potential buyers.[4][11][35][36] Some journalists contended that the length of the game was ideal;[36] The Daily TelegraphTemplate:'s Tom Hoggins considered the short game to have a "perfectly formed running time",[37] while Daemon Hatfield of IGN commented that "it's better for a game to leave us wanting more than to overstay its welcome".[11] Numerous independent game developers, in an organised "Size Doesn't Matter" effort, commented on the critical response to LimboTemplate:'s length-to-price ratio. The independent developers questioned the need to quantify that ratio, and noted that it only seems to be used as a factor in judging video games and not other forms of entertainment such as films.[38]

Limbo was generally praised for its puzzle design and the simplicity of its controls. Jake Gaskill of G4 TV was impressed by the complexity of the puzzles based on the two simple actions of jumping and grabbing onto objects, similar to LittleBigPlanet, with a variety of elements to assure "you’re always facing something new and challenging" during the game.[13] Game InformerTemplate:'s Matt Miller commented that part of the success of Limbo is that "every one of these [puzzles] stands alone"; the game accomplishes this in Miller's opinion by varying the elements throughout the game, and preventing the player from getting too accustomed to similar solutions since "everything changes".[39] Gamespy's Ryan Scott believed that the game empowered the player to work through solutions themselves, and its puzzle design, "with its elegant simplicity, offers up what feels like a world of meaningful possibilities".[30] The frequency of death was not considered a distraction from the game; not only were the deaths seen as necessary as part of learning and overcoming each obstacle,[34][40] but reviewers found the checkpoints where the player would restart to be plentiful throughout the game.[4] Will Freeman of The Guardian praised the game but noted that beyond the "smoke and mirrors" of LimboTemplate:'s artwork, the game is "undermined by the title's lack of innovative gameplay", which he says has been seen in earlier platform games.[41]

PresentationEdit

LimboTemplate:'s graphical and audio presentation were considered by reviewers as exceptional and powerful elements of the game. The monochrome approach, coupled with film grain filter, focusing techniques and lighting, were compared to both film noir and dreamlike tableaus of silent films, allowing the visual elements of the game to carry much of the story's weight.[11][42][43] Cian Hassett of PALGN likened the effect to watching the game through an old-fashioned film projector that creates "one of the most unsettling and eerily beautiful environments" in video gaming.[44] Garrett Martin of the Boston Herald compared the art style and game design decisions to German Expressionism with "dreamlike levels that twist and spin in unexpected angles".[17] The art style itself was praised as minimalistic, and considered reminiscent of the art of Lotte Reiniger, Edward Gorey, Fritz Lang, and Tim Burton.[26][42][45] The use of misdirection in the visuals were also praised, such as by using silhouettes to avoid revealing the true nature of the characters or shadows, or by showing human figures across a chasm who disappear once the player crossed the chasm.[46]

Reviewers found the sound effects within the game critical to the game's impact. Sam Machkovech, writing for The Atlantic, called the sound direction, "far more colorful and organic than the fuzzed-out looks would lead you to believe".[47] Edge magazine's review noted that the few background noises "[do] little else than contribute towards Limbo’s tone", while the sound effects generated by moving the boy character "are given an eerie clarity without the presence of a conventional soundtrack to cover them".[48]

IGN's Hatfield concluded his review by stating, "Very few games are as original, atmospheric, and consistently brilliant as Limbo".[11] Chad Sapeiha of The Globe and Mail summarised his opinion of the game's atmosphere as an "intensely scary, oddly beautiful, and immediately arresting aesthetic."[12] Limbo is said to be the first game to attempt a mix of the horror fiction genre with platform games.[37][46] The game has been considered an art game through its visual and audio elements.[12][17][41][49]

PlotEdit

The game's story and its ending have been open to much interpretation;[12] the ending was purposely left vague and unanswered by Playdead.[14] It was compared to other open-ended books, films and video games, where the viewer is left to interpret what they have read or seen.[30][50] Some reviews suggested that the game is a representation of the religious nature of Limbo or purgatory, as the boy character completes the journey only to end at the same place he started, repeating the same journey when the player starts a new game.[37] Another interpretation suggested the game is the boy's journey through Hell to reach Heaven, or to find closure for his sister's death.[6] Other theories considered scenarios where the boy, his sister, or both are dead.[6] Some theories attempted to incorporate details from the game, such as the change in setting as the boy travels through the game suggesting the progression of man from child to adult to elder, or the similarities and differences between the final screen of the game where the boy meets a girl and the main menu where skeletons stand in their places.[6]

The absence of direct narrative, such as through cutscenes or in-game text, was a mixed point for reviewers. John Teti of Eurogamer considered the game's base story to be metaphorical for a "story of a search for companionship", and that the few encounters with human characters served as "emotional touchstones" that drove the story forward; ultimately, Teti stated that these elements make Limbo "a game that has very few humans, but a surplus of humanity".[4] Hatfield praised the simplicity of the game's story, commenting that, "with no text, no dialogue, and no explanation, it manages to communicate circumstance and causality to the player more simply than most games".[11] Both Teti and Hatfield noted that some of the story elements were weaker in the second half of the game, when there are almost no human characters with whom the player comes into contact, but that the game ends with an unexpected revelation.[4][11] GameSpot's Tom McShea found no issues with the game posing questions on "death versus life and reality versus dream", but purposely providing no answers for them, allowing the player to contemplate these on their own.[35] McShae also considered that the brief but gruesome death scenes for the boy helped to create an "emotional immediacy that is difficult to forget".[35] The New York Daily NewsTemplate:' Stu Horvath noted that Limbo "turns its lack of obvious narrative into one of the most compelling riddles in videogames".[51]

Other reviews disliked the lack of story or its presentation within Limbo. Justin Haywald of 1UP.com was critical of the lacking narrative, feeling that the game failed to explain the purpose of the constructed traps or rationale for how the game's world worked, and that the final act left him "more confused than when [he] began". Haywald had contrasted Limbo to Braid, a similar platform game with minimalistic elements which communicates its metaphorical story to the player through in-game text.[52] Roger Hargreaves of Metro stated that the game has "very little evidence that [Playdead] really knew where they were going with the game", citing the second half, when the player is traveling through a factory-type setting and where he felt the game became more like a typical two-dimensional platform game, and led to an anticlimactic ending; Hargreaves contrasted this to more gruesome elements of the first half, such as encountering corpses of children and having to use those as part of the puzzle solving aspects.[53]

Sales and accoladesEdit

File:Dino Patti - Game Developers Conference 2010.jpg
Playdead co-founder and Limbo developer Dino Patti, accepting one of the Independent Games Festival Awards at the 2010 Game Developers Conference

Before its release, Limbo was awarded both the "Technical Excellence" and "Excellence in Visual Art" titles at the Independent Games Festival during the 2010 Game Developers Conference.[54] At the 2010 Electronic Entertainment Expo—about a month before its release—Limbo won GameSpot's "Best Downloadable Game",[55] and was nominated for several other "Best of Show" awards, including "Best Platformer" by IGN,[56] "Most Original Game" by G4 TV,[57] and "Best Puzzle Game" by GameSpot.[58] The game was nominated as one of 32 finalists at the 2010 IndieCade festival for independent developers, ultimately winning the "Sound" award.[59][60]

Following its release, Limbo was named "Game of the Year", "Best Indie Game", and "Best Visual Art" at the 2010 European Milthon Awards during the Paris Game Show in September 2010.[61] Game Informer named Limbo their Game of the Month for August 2010.[39] Limbo was awarded the "Best Indie Game" at the 2010 Spike Video Game Awards.[62] The game received the most nominations for the 11th Annual Game Developers Choice Awards, earning seven nominations including for the "Best Debut Game", "Innovation", and "Game of the Year" awards, [63] and ultimately won for "Best Visual Art".[64] The title won the "Adventure Game of the Year" and "Outstanding Achievement in Sound Design" Interactive Achievement Awards from the Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences and was nominated for "Outstanding Achievement in Game Direction" and "Outstanding Innovation in Gaming".[65][66] The Academy also named Limbo as the winner of the 2010 Indie Game Challenge award in the "Professional" category, along with a $100,000 prize.[67][68] The game was selected as the 2010 Annie Award for Best Animated Video Game.[69] Limbo was named as one of ten games for the publicly-voted 2011 "Game of the Year" BAFTA Video Game Awards.[70] In addition, the game was nominated for the committed-determined BAFTA awards for "Artistic Achievement", "Use of Audio", "Gameplay" and "Best Game".[71] The inclusion of the independently-developed Limbo among other larger commercially-backed games such as Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood and Call of Duty: Black Ops for such "Best Game" awards is considered a indication that the video game industry has started to give more recognizition to these smaller titles.[71]

Several publications, including Time[72], Wired[73] and the Toronto Sun[74] placed Limbo as one of the top ten video games of 2010. IGN named it the third best Xbox Live Arcade title of all time in a September 2010 list, following Shadow Complex and Pac Man Championship Edition.[75]

Within two weeks of its release on Xbox Live Arcade, Limbo gained more than 244,000 players to the global leaderboards—a rough measure of full sales of the game—which was considered an "incredibly impressive feat" compared to previous Xbox Live Arcade titles, according to GamerBytes' Ryan Langley.[76] Within a month of its release, more 300,000 copies of the game were sold.[24] By the end of August 2010, the number of players on the global leaderboard grew to 371,000, exceeding the number of players of other Summer of Arcade games released in 2009, and approaching the number of lifetime players of Braid, released two years earlier. Langley, who had expected LimboTemplate:'s sales to fall "due to the lack of repeatable content and being a strictly single player experience", considered that these figures had "beaten everyone’s expectations".[77] Phil Spencer, the Vice-President of Microsoft Game Studios, stated in September 2010 that Limbo was "our number one Summer of Arcade game by a long stretch", and further posed that Limbo represents a shift in the type of game that gamers want out of online on-demand game services; "it's becoming less about iconic [intellectual property] that people know and it's becoming more diverse".[78] Limbo was the third-highest selling Xbox Live Arcade title in 2010, selling 527,000 and generating about $7.5 million in revenue.[79] Applications for grants from the Nordic Game Program, which had funded LimboTemplate:'s initial development, increased 50% in the second half of 2010, believed to be tied to the game's success.[80]


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