Human beings are very good at navigating three-dimensional space. After all, that's how the real world works. But try and add an extra dimension to something as simple as even, say, Minecraft, and suddenly things take a sharp turn into the confusing.
Confusing, then, is how I'd describe 4D Miner. Available as a free demo on Steam, developer Mashpoe's extradimensional take on Minecraft is a lot to get your head around, even after following a brief tutorial that explains the concept of dimensionality by way of a cute frog.
The playable tutorial introduces the concept of rotating through dimensions by showing you a 2D platformer, with a visualisation of how that "slice" of the world is representative of a greater 3D space. Scroll the mouse wheel, and that slice will rotate, changing the 2D view.
Enter the game itself, and the same concept applies. You explore a 3D world, as per regular Minecraft. But scroll the wheel and your "slice" of the greater 4D space rotates, shearing the world against itself. If it sounds confusing, that's because I'm still struggling to mentally visually how the dimensions even relate to each other—at one appearing to fold the world within itself, a cubic world finding diagonals as another, hidden plane rotates against, or within, or on top of it, and oh god it's all very confusing isn't it?
As you explore the world from a 3D perspective, you'll have to rotate your way through the fourth dimension to continue exploring. Items may fall from trees or rock blocks outside of your current perception, caves may unfold into forest valleys, and you'll be attacked by horrendous Hyperspiders from outside your current frame of reference.
Fortunately, there are tools to help you wrap your head around 4D space. Crafting 4D glasses from mysterious ore will let you percieve things outside of your limited perspective, while a compass doesn't just let you know where you are, but gives you a solid visualisation of how the 4D space is actually constructed.
Right now, 4D Miner is a pretty basic emulation of Minecraft's mechanics. But that extra dimension adds infinite complexity to something even as simple as "how do I build a house in four-dimensional space". The developer even toys with the idea of four-dimensional multiplayer, which sounds like a wonderfully chaotic way to get confused with a friend.
"On the surface, this game does look a bit like Minecraft, and the inspiration is undeniable," Mashpoe said in a YouTube explainer. "But things like building, collecting resources, and even navigating the in-game world are completely different, and this effects pretty much every game mechanic.
"I plan on expanding this aspect of the game much further in the future, so that most of the new game mechanics and features focus on how the player interacts with the fourth dimension."
Mashpoe attempted to Kickstart 4D Miner last month and was unfortunately unsuccessful, but has taken to Patreon to continue development. Ultimately, it's hard to say if 4D Miner will be able to stand on its own merits as a game, or remain a curious tech demo too confusing for its own good.
But I do absolutely want to see Mashpoe's experiments in 4D space continue. Just let me have a quick lie down first, all this dimension-bending's given me a bit of a headache.