When I get really tired, I begin to get tunnel vision. I doubt that I’m unique in this regard, but my tunnel vision has a unique quirk: every person that I see will invariably have a GoldenEye-style giant head. I refuse to understand it (out of fear of discovering what Freudian implications this may have) but that also makes this hollow sensation all the more mind-juicing. My vision begins to stretch and meets the endless horizon, but these giant floating heads remain in perfect proportions to albeit a bloated reality.
So know that when I say Dyad is sufficiently more psychedelic and frightening and exhilarating than this drowsy state of interminable absurdity, I mean it.
If you don’t know what Dyad is, I think it can best be explained as Tempest with Rez visuals applied over a layer of Audiosurf-style mechanics that have the potential of reaching DDR “Max 300” levels of insanity. Watching this video can help impart upon you how incredibly mind-altering this game can get.
But until you play it, you just won’t fully understand what the game is about. Each of its 26 levels seems to build upon what was given to you prior, almost as if it was a continuous tutorial. Grasping the core concept of each new concept will net you a single star, but mastering it will get you all three and, hopefully, a high score. And then the trophy levels take each of those things and turn them into a sadist pig wallowing in a mud pit of your agony.
For instance, you first start out simply rotating around your tube attempting to hook together pairs of enemies (hence “dyad”) to boost through the level. Then, you’ll start to Lance enemies which ostensibly shoot you through time and space while rapidly pushing you towards a mental breakdown through visual overload. And that’s just level 4.
In an interview with Joystiq, developer Shawn McGrath likens the game to a stripped down version of games like Forza Motorsport and Gran Turismo in that, at its essence, Dyad is indeed a racing game and for that, it utilizes a rather modern racing game convention: the racing line. It’s that line that is overlaid on the track that tells you where to go and whether to accelerate or hit the brakes. McGrath wanted to distill Dyad to the basest elements of this mechanic so that you don’t have to deal with other drivers, drifting, or the physics of actually driving a car; all you need to concern yourself with is the line. Stay the course and you’ll succeed. Deviate and you’ll falter.
And this simplicity compounds upon the over-the-top WinAmp visualizer-style of the game to make for an unparalleled experience. It is simple in the way that Tetris is simple (not surprisingly, Tetris was the first game McGrath became obsessed with). When you reach that Zen state of mind with Tetris, where all you see are gaps in your body and mind that need to be fulfilled with life-affirming tetrominoes and the acts of rotating and dropping blocks is as natural to you as breathing and blinking, everything within and around you begins to shut down. Your vision dwindles to the small box of light in front of you, your hands lazily drape across a small array of buttons and joysticks, and your thinking slows to a primordial state of impulses and reactions. Complete thoughts are foreign to you. The only things you innately comprehend are those blocks and that song.
And that’s what it’s like when you finally click on Dyad. You are reduced to a similarly mindless yet infinitely complex state of mental acuity. Eventually you don’t see the globs of color floating around you, pulsing and pounding to the THUMP THUMP THUMP of the soundtrack. You don’t even see the score counter or that you’re fucking killing it this round. Eventually all that you see is a tunnel, once full of shapes and sounds, and a line. That line becomes everything to you the way breathing is your everything. Every moment you spend off that line is a brief dip into drowning, suffocating your lungs with an emptiness that you don’t want or understand. You’re slow and weak and it’s everything you, at your very core, have hated since the moment you could comprehend hate.
But every moment you ride that lane is another full breath of pure oxygen, giving you a momentary high and a clarity you only achieve late at night or early in the morning when you’re so tired that the only thing that makes sense is your mind. Every nook and cranny is laid bare like slinky being uncoiled and put before you. Riding that line threads you through a tunnel that is constantly on the cusp of ending, blowing you out to the top of a sunny, snow-capped mountain that endlessly groans on below you through a sea of impenetrable clouds.
But that tunnel never ends. And that Zen moment eventually drains away as the speed becomes unmanageable. You’re tumbling out of control and crashing towards in inevitable stop, a momentous collision where your elucidated mind and the sharp, tangled mess of your reality intersect.
And then those god awful floating heads are back.