Each year when I explore the show floor at GDC, I always try to check the IGF finalist section. Some of the games the show has featured have already made names for themselves, such as Don't Starve, Device 6, and Papers, Please, but it also provides a chance to get a peek behind the curtain at games that developers are currently working on. 

Most of these games are brimming with innovative ideas you just don't see every day. This year, a game called Paralect immediately caught my eye. Not only because it was a nominee for excellence in narrative at this year's IGF awards (mind you, the first USC, student-based game to get into the main competition), but also because its simple nature just drew me in. One minute, you're controlling a figure that's walking across words, the next you're platforming, trying to solve small puzzles to open up new places to venture.

Paralect has you scouring strange places in black and white. You don't know the people or rules; every time you try to communicate it's like a riddle. This is deliberate. Paralect's creative director Loan Verneau wanted something to reflect his experience of moving from one country to another in his youth. It no doubt shaped him as a person and the way he perceives cultural differences.

Since moving away from his home country of France at eight, Verneau has lived in numerous places, including Switzerland, China, and Japan. "This has been described as the 'global nomad' phenomena by some, people with no national origins due to them living in so many cultures," Verneau says. "I wondered if there was a way for me to create a game that could recreate these experiences, and I started working on Paralect."

Paralect started as an idea for his thesis project while attending USC, but since then many others have joined up pro bono to turn it into something more. "Working with a team full of students has unique complications, but Loan's vision was strong enough to pull a bunch of people together to create something cohesive and meaningful," says producer Andrea Benavides.

While I was playing Paralect, I was taken back. The game is hard to categorize; it's immediately striking, with a surrealist vibe, and it's clear there's so much more going on than what's on the surface. Verneau sums it up as, "the fusion between a surrealist autobiography, an experimental game, and a personal statement on dealing with cultural differences."

In Paralect, you're born into this strange world called Cobblepot, but you slowly make your way out of your town. During my time, I platformed my way through obstacles and used the colorful people around me to advance past barriers. For instance, certain areas were blocked off, but if I did a favor for someone they were more than happy to let me through. Each person you interact with enters you into a storybook-like monologue, and you must jump on words to progress. Some of these stories have different threads, so you can make a choice between two different words by hitting the spacebar, like what you want to name a dog, or choosing between different characters both looking to woo the same lady.

What's immediately evident is how well the gameplay ties to the story. Platforming my way through shifting structures like a rotating house is one thing, but meeting new people and having them help me persevere is stimulating for the story.  "The first ten minutes usually take people aback, but once you are past the first paradigm shift, you are immersed in the phantasmagorical universe of Paralect," Verneau says. "It's not a game for everyone, but if you are crazy enough, or open-minded enough, you will discover giant worlds filled with humor, secrets, and adventures."

Paralect is unlike anything I've ever played, and that's what keeps drawing me back it. The simple nature and focus on exploration kept me in the world. I was captured with the wonderment. It definitely is different and that's what makes it work. "The game has no enemies, no explicit player goals besides discovery, and a whimsical cast of weird and wonderful folks," Verneau says. If that's enough to draw you in, it's worth your time.

Right now, you can try a demo of Paralect here for free. The team plans to release a full version eventually. "There is a release window in mind," teases designer Bryan Edelman. Verneau takes the tease one step further responding, "There is? Oh yeah, there is...or is there? If there is, it probably is that we promise not to release the full version this summer. Still a lot to work on, including a few surprises and story twists!"