How long is a piece of string?
Filament is one of those games I could play forever – gentle, dreamy, quietly cerebral. And because of that last part it’s one of those games that I think I probably will be playing forever. I’m not stuck as such, but I am making progress very slowly. It feels like the right pace, though. Filament is emphatically not a game to be rushed.
You play as an astronaut exploring a largely dormant spaceship in orbit around a beautiful prog rock planet. The place feels like it’s in stasis – at first, almost no doors open and the area you can move around amounts to a few rooms. But there’s a voice in your head – warm and funny and filled with digressions. Someone else is on the spaceship, trapped in a room somewhere. Can you find your way to them and free them?
You do this by bringing sections of the spaceship back to life. Every now and then you come across interactive objects which house a handful of puzzles. Completing the puzzles opens a door or turns on new interactive objects and generally gives you more options. So the person who’s trapped on the spaceship somewhere is guiding you, and then when you play these puzzles? Well, you’re guiding someone else.
You’re guiding a little robot with a thick tether unspooling behind them. The job is to wrap the tether around a bunch of different nodes in each room you encounter – handily all of Filament is viewed from above – thus opening up the room’s door and allowing you on to the next challenge.
The rules start simple: you can’t go across a line you’ve already laid, and you have to trigger all nodes. Also, you have to make sure you can actually reach the exit door once you’ve opened it. Pretty soon, though, complications emerge. Nodes move around like planets in an orrery – I always worry I’m getting that word wrong – or coloured nodes require certain threads. Sometimes there are gates and nodes that open them. Sometimes there are nodes that cut the power from your filament. Onwards and onwards the complications pile up. It’s dizzying at times. But it’s also approachable, because each puzzle is only a room, and how hard can a room be? I’ve failed this one fifteen times, sure, but it’s just a room! Just a piece of string! Onwards to the sixteenth attempt, the seventeenth.
Outside of these core puzzles the strings continue. You follow the cables strung between the interactive objects and you follow the links between the little snippets of information the trapped voice in your head is telling you. This is a sprawl of a game, but there is a single thread running through it, surely? It leads me through a spaceship that, at times, looks nothing like a spaceship, with arm chairs and wooden flooring and strange folksy human touches. It leads me through the narrative of a singular person who is far less chilly than the Kubrickian sci-fi archetype.
And so far it’s led me through the last few weeks. I play Filament for a few minutes every day, but then I spend hours thinking about it, about solutions and connections and tangents and things that don’t quite fit. I dream about this game. And I think about the thread I’m following and the developers who made it. Maybe they started out with a handful of ideas for puzzles, but then they followed their end of the thread and it led them to great discoveries and new challenge types and virtuoso complexity. And they continued to follow their end of the thread and I will continue to follow mine, and maybe in the end we will meet.