“We think a lot about the pacing and the rhythm of the experience,” says Kian Bashiri, “and we do it at different scales.”
It may sound like Bashiri is talking about music, but the indie video game developer is actually talking about his new game, Pid. Developed by Swedish studio Might and Delight, where Bashiri is lead programmer, Pid is a dreamy puzzle platformer that follows a young boy as he tries to escape a mysterious, robot-filled world.
A puzzle platformer is only as good as its core mechanic, that singular way in which we navigate the perilous game environment (the portal gun in Portal, for instance, or the time manipulation in Braid). It must be simple to grasp but, in order to keep things interesting, flexible enough to be adapted to a constantly evolving series of sticky situations. Like the fugue in classical music, a puzzle platformer is about theme and variation.
For Pid, the melody is the gravity seed. Toss one seed against a surface and a beam of energy springs up. Leap into the beam and you will slowly float along its length and, if you string several such beams together, you can maneuver in any direction and around any obstacle. The point of the game is to explore every facet of that mechanic.
“It was a matter of introducing the mechanics in an interesting order and combining different gameplay components that played well together,” explains Bashiri. Like composers with sheet music, the development team works off a graph that visualizes the gameplay experience, charting variations in graphics and narrative. As the score progresses—“here is a very calm part and then here it builds up to a climax and at this point it drops down again for the final crescendo”—the game introduces new ways for the gravity beam to interact with the world.
On ground level is the player, the musician, directly controlling the actions of the protagonist, Kurt, and guiding him through the composition, often with dramatic effect. “Running and jumping over obstacles creates tension. Before the jump, the jump itself is a very stressful climax, while the landing and continued movement creates relief and resolution,” says Bashiri, referencing a talk by fellow indie Swede Mattias Ljungström of Space of Play.
This kind of interdisciplinary thinking seems to be the rule at Might and Delight, a small studio Bashiri describes as “sort of indie.” The cross pollination is likely the product of Stockholm’s small but friendly game development community, which boasts major studios like DICE and Mojang. “There’s a very friendly atmosphere,” explains Bashiri. “People move around between companies and eventually work with…everyone.”
For Pid, that means a team that mixes game developers with traditional 2D animators, a sound engineer from the movie biz and more. With such a mix of mindsets, it is only appropriate that the actual game music, by a band of studio musicians called Retro Family, is a bombastic brand of jazz.
“We are in an awesome position. No one is putting pressure on us,” says Bashiri. “We can make this game exactly the way we want it to be.”