The Mystery of the Unmatter
This is a top-down (Asteroids-like) space exploration game. The main challenge involves picking out black objects against a dark background. Pilot your ship around to find pieces of "unmatter". The more you discover the more tech you'll unlock.
It is highly recommended that you use the in-game feature adjust so that the main challenge is not too easy or too difficult for you. Press F9 at any time in the game.
Before judging for PyWeek, I recommend that you play at least until you've unlocked the Xazer beam and discovered two gravity wells. This is roughly where the tutorial ends, and should take 10-15 minutes. At that point you've gotten the gist of the game, so only keep playing if you're still having fun. The entire game might take 45-60 minutes to finish, and the ending is underwhelming.
How it fits the theme: the game is about finding dark objects in space that are difficult to see, very loosely inspired by real-world dark matter.
Ratings (show detail)
Final entry v1
What is Dark Matter?
I used to be an astrophysicist so I thought I'd share a little bit about what dark matter is (although I don't know yet whether my game will have anything to do with that).
Dark matter is a kind of matter somewhere in space that is not made of atoms. It's something else that does not absorb or give off light. We don't know what it is, and we've never detected a single dark matter object in isolation, but we know a lot of its properties. This is because like all matter, dark matter exerts a gravitational pull on other objects. This is similar to how we can detect and study black holes even though they don't give off light, because we can see stars orbiting the black hole.
So what do we know about dark matter? There's a lot of it: about 85% of matter in the universe is dark matter. It clumps together in galaxies, alongside stars. But instead of forming a disk, it makes a larger, rounder shape called a halo that encompasses the disk. This article has an illustration of what it might look like if you could see the dark matter halo. Dark matter does not interact the way atoms do, which means it won't coalesce to form structures the way atoms form stars and planets, so the halo is just individual dark matter particles flying through space. If you do an image search for dark matter, you may see images with filaments of dark matter connecting bright dots, which are galaxies. These are computer simulations of, I believe, the distribution of dark matter in the early universe, before it had finished gathering into halos.
I'll add that there are some people who don't believe in dark matter. However, no alternative hypothesis actually fits all of the evidence we have for dark matter, and they all require throwing out the theory of General Relativity, which is the single most successful theory in all of science and which has been verified many, many times. The people who do reject dark matter are overwhelmingly non-astrophysicists. Dark matter is accepted by a consensus of experts in the field. It's the DM in the name of the Standard Model of Cosmology, the Lambda-CDM model.
I'll admit to having a chip on my shoulder about people who have concluded, without having read a single peer-reviewed journal article on the matter, that the scientific community must be deluding themselves. But I'll leave it at that. :)
About the game mechanic
My first OpenGL game just had you fly through space and land on a few shapes. I randomly made one shape almost black, and the only way to find it was to notice it blocking out the background stars. I loved this part. Staring at the screen, catching a star winking out of the corner of your eye, and then racing to catch it before you lost it and it disappeared again. I found it thrilling.
Later I tried the game on a different monitor, the black shape was much easier to see, and it wasn't fun anymore. An impossible to notice difference between black and almost black on one setup can be clear as day on another. Even the viewing angle for LED displays makes a huge difference: the game went from hard to trivial just by tilting the laptop screen a little.
I think this might be why you don't see this mechanic in video games, at least I don't know any examples. But I've always wondered if there was some way to use it reliably. So this game is my best attempt at making this black-object-on-black-background mechanic work. We'll see how it turned out.
Clearly I needed a way to adjust the prominence of the background. It took some tweaking but I got something I'm happy with. But then how to choose the right setting for any given player? I went the route of trying to describe what it should look like, and asking the player to adjust it until it looks right to them. One alternative I implemented but abandoned was a calibration minigame, where the player has to click on a black box as a background gradually brightens. Different approaches have different issues, which I'm sure you can guess some of.
I'm definitely interested in any thoughts you have on ways to make this idea work better. Thanks for trying the game and thanks for putting up with this little experiment!