Toward the end of last year I was in search of a game that I could play on the train during my commute to and from work. I was looking for something easy and laid back to ease me into my mornings and help me relax in the evenings, so when I saw an indie game in the App Store with a colorful bird for its icon and a description that read “A Memory Maze,” I thought to myself, “Bingo! This looks simple enough.” But it was soon into my gameplay of G30 when I realized that it was far more than just a puzzle game. It was unexpectedly powerful, emotional, and truthfully, it hit close to home.
Before I continue – I find it difficult to discuss this game without giving away its major plot point. So here’s your chance to turn back now to avoid spoilers (but feel free to check out one of my other reviews in the meantime).
What struck me about G30 is that it takes a real approach to and raw look at what happens to someone facing a cognitive disorder. If you’ve ever known someone who has been diagnosed with memory loss then you understand what it’s like to witness the struggle the patient endures and how it affects not only them but everyone around them. One of the hardest things in the world is to watch someone you love, slowly… forget. And if you can relate to that experience, then you can understand the pool of emotions I found myself in while playing this poignant story in the palm of my hand.
Developed by Ivan Kovalov from the Ukraine, G30 is a game told through the point of view of a person exhibiting memory loss as they try to hold onto their memories before they all fade away. This is Ivan’s first game and was initially a test project when he decided to become a game designer. But once G30 began to take shape, he realized it wasn’t just a test project but something special that he had to see fully realized.
The game is entirely made up of text and puzzle pieces. Each level has a black background with a distorted rainbow-colored image that players must manipulate to create a recognizable picture. For example, one level features a green circle, with a blue planet inside, and a red arrow sticking out of the whole structure. Circular dotted dials correspond to each color of the tangled shapes and are used to manipulate them to form a clear image. So in this example, the dotted blue dial changes the blue planet into a solid blue circle or a DNA strand, or back to a blue planet. Continue to manipulate all the dials and move each piece around to create the final image, in this case, a magnify glass. Some dials can even control two colors at once making it a little more challenging to align the pieces just right.
While players are spinning dials to piece the puzzle together, words above the image appear to form the game’s narrative. Each time players spin a dial words are added to or taken away from the sentence above, constantly changing its message. For example the single word “Search” appears above the image of the distorted magnify glass. Manipulating the green dial creates a solid green circle and transforms the words to say “G30 started the search.” Once the image is pieced together the full sentence will be displayed above the image. Players can click on highlighted words within the sentence that are then stored away and complete the game’s narrative.
Kovalov explains the inspiration behind his two-part puzzle system came to him when he looked out the window during a bus ride in the winter. The frost pattern on the window reminded him of different images, stirring the idea to create the mechanic of moving pieces together to form a clear picture. And while the design may look simple, it was actually quite complex to develop. “I had to consider the image’s form, variations, mechanics, number of pieces, their interactions and movement, as well as the colors’ harmony,” Kovalov says.
On its own this puzzle mechanic could become stale but Kovlaov created a narrative that maintains momentum and keep players engaged. While researching human memory studies he found that recreating images aided patients dealing with memory loss. Combining his puzzle mechanic with a narrative focused on recreating memories transforms G30 from just a 2D puzzle to a captivating story that keeps players on their toes. Kovalov tells me, “My aim was to try and show how people with diseases like the Alzheimer's see the world and how they feel about the past they can’t remember.”
On a deeply personal level, this past year or so has been difficult for me dealing with a family member who has been exhibiting memory loss. I know how it affects me and I can see how it affects the rest of the family but what G30 has allowed me to do is to understand the disease from the patient’s point-of-view. The person experiencing memory loss can’t understand why people are frustrated with them, or why people seem so concerned all the time. They feel like they are doing something wrong or unsure of what they were supposed to be doing to begin with.
It is with this game that, for the first time, I could feel what they are going through. When I couldn’t figure out how to piece a puzzle together I felt frustrated. There is no hint system, forcing players to feel helpless if they can’t figure out the solution. As the sentences shifted each time I turned a dial I would grow confused about the message until I could see the final solution. The mechanics allow players to methodically piece together a fractured mind and find clarity in a world shrouded in hazy memories. For a mobile game to teach such a valuable lesson in an engaging and meaningful way is truly spectacular, and an experience that I am forever grateful for.
Kovalov adds, “If G30 helps somebody to better understand people with memory diseases, to feel for them and recognize their needs – I’d be happy.”
G30 is available now on iOS and Android.
Check out the trailer below: