A screenshot from the newly announced game Dyad from Toronto-based ][ Games.
Following the critically acclaimed games Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP and Sound Shapes, Toronto continues asserting its place as a capital for independent game development with yesterday’s official announcement of downloadable game Dyad on the PlayStation blog. In Dyad, you play as a particle traversing along tunnels of a Large Hadron Collider and must solve colour-based puzzles in order to accelerate faster. The game, by Toronto’s ][ (or Right Square Bracket Left Square Bracket) Games, is a hybrid of three genres—puzzle games, shooters, and racing games—and has started drawing buzz from media such as Kotaku and Joystiq for its graphics and innovative play mechanics.
In the demo we had a chance to play, your particle begins by hooking onto other particles along the tunnel and accelerates by successively matching pairs of same-coloured particles. Often, you have to avoid running into the other particles, as a collision will slow you down. However, the game rewards you for getting near and grazing rival particles, as an energy transfer occurs powering up a meter on the lower part of the screen—and once that meter fills up, it allows your particle to propel forward with a “lancing” move that is fast enough to break through any obstacles in your way. With these puzzle elements, then, Dyad moves away from the traditional structure of racing games, which demand memorization of an ideal path on the track, to focus on creating thoughtful interactions with the course.
The trailer for Dyad.
Game developer Shawn McGrath says the initial inspiration for Dyad came from wanting to improve upon another game, a similarly styled shooter with racing elements called Torus Trooper. (Full disclosure: McGrath has also spoken at Gamercamp, a festival I co-founded.) “I wasn’t satisfied with the game,” he says, “and I wanted to explore why I wasn’t satisfied.” However, over the past three years, Dyad has become the synthesis of broader influences. Beyond creating an enjoyable play experience, McGrath says he is striving for something akin to meditation. “Playing Dyad is supposed to put you in a mental flow state where you zone out and observe yourself in the game,” similar to that attempted in thatgamecompany’s games Flow and Flower, explains McGrath. The music in Dyad, for example, adjusts to the speed of your gameplay to create a feedback loop of experience. In its spare graphical style and emphasis on music, Dyad is also a spiritual cousin to influential games like Sega’s Rez and Toronto-based Queasy Games’ Everyday Shooter.
While Dyad may owe debts to a list of weighty game influences, the soul of the game came from literature and film. McGrath calls Italo Calvino his favourite author and says many elements in Dyad stem from the Italian author’s If on a winter’s night a traveler, a postmodern work that is about a reader trying to read a book of the same name. “The author is actually playing a game with you and it’s your job as a person absorbing media to figure out what the game is and the logic behind it,” says McGrath, with the impetus being “to come up with meaning that couldn’t be explained in normal methods.” McGrath also told us he was struck by Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, but didn’t elaborate—although the concept of implied cognition in a particle you control does hearken back to the science-fiction classic.
Of course, McGrath is also influenced by his contemporaries in Toronto. “We have a lot of people doing good stuff,” he points out. Game development can be a lonely journey, but McGrath says it is made easier by a supportive environment. As he finishes up his own game, he isn’t sure how Dyad will be received but is holding onto a piece of advice given to him by Metanet’s Raigan Burns: “Raigan has a theory that if you do something you genuinely like—with no bullshit—then there are going to be enough people out there who have the same sorts of interests as you to like it.”
Certainly inspired advice for a game full of inspirations.