I have had advance warning - a few days - but it is not really enough. Simogo, the developer of Year Walk and Device 6 and much else that is good and clever, has been determined to release SPL-T, its new minimalist puzzle game, without announcing it in any way. In a similar spirit, I've been playing it for the last few days without reading the instructions. Simogo wants you to come to this cold - and I have been willing to accept those terms.
In truth, isn't it always this way with puzzlers? You might skim the rules, sure, but the rules rarely translate meaningfully to the activity of playing the game. On top of that, the more elegant the game, the uglier the rules have to become. The rules for Drop7 include chilly little words like "contiguous". I'm not looking that up!
Instead, I'd rather tap away and see what happens. You prod at puzzlers, more than any other kind of game. You poke at them, and they slowly reveal their secrets. More than any other kind of game, the process of picking up a puzzler is the process of sounding out a potential relationship. Are we going to click? Are you going to fit into my life? Little wonder, really: puzzlers are the games that you can theoretically play forever. They are the most serious of commitments.
I think SPL-T may have legs. Although, in actuality, it barely has anything at all. There is a careful minimalism here - a minimalism that I suspect has taken a lot of work to arrive at. It's a territory game at heart, and your interactions couldn't be simpler.
Tap the screen to divide the playing area. The first tap will place a horizontal line, the second a vertical. Then a horizontal, then a vertical, then... At some point, deeper systems start to emerge - systems that even now I am only really starting to understand. Territory is captured once you the splits you are placing create a cross consisting of four or more equal sized blocks. These are how you score points, but even then you must be careful, because they will not last forever, and when they're gone they may have changed the landscape for better or for worse. Split from the bottom: that's my current theory. Split from the bottom!
I don't expect any of this to make much sense, but that's my point. Split has five pages of instructional text, but everything I've learned so far, I've learned from tapping away, from prodding. I've just learned how to change the colour of the graphics! I think that's a secret. And I think there are more secrets waiting...