A little over five years ago, an acrobatic Flash shooter called My Friend Pedro launched on Newgrounds.
Developed by one-man studio DeadToast, this Matrix-esque amalgamation of bullets and bedlam quickly cemented itself as a cult classic, but was unfortunately lost in the bygone era of browser games.
Recently, however, My Friend Pedro received a massive overhaul, to the extent that an entirely new set of systems and mechanics were assimilated into its makeup. Now, Pedro exists as a violent rendition of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, teeming with spent ammunition and devastatingly lethal frying pans. Also, it stars a sentient banana.
Building a Flash cult hit into a full-fledged indie success
“A lot of the original inspiration for My Friend Pedro came from Flash games released around the year 2007,” DeadToast developer Victor Ågren tells me. “That's when the original Flash version of My Friend Pedro first started taking shape.”
“Flash games like Madness Interactive definitely had an influence, but also Half-Life mods like The Specialists,” he continues. “The most influential game, though, must have been Rag Doll Kung Fu. Sprinkle in a fair share of Max Payne, The Matrix, and Equilibrium and you've got the core of the seed that later grew in to My Friend Pedro.”
Although the sources that inspired the original Pedro span far and wide, the modern remake sought to build on its predecessor more so than to incorporate new influences.
“Most things in the game grew very organically and it was all about discovering as I went along,” Ågren explains. “The 'secret spice' of My Friend Pedro was discovered in the Flash version of the game, which is the flipping-through-the-air-in-slow-motion-mechanic.”
This mechanic may seem ostensibly and exclusively aesthetic, but its primary purpose is to serve a performative function. According to Ågren, “The idea was to make the player feel like a puppeteer in control of the movement of the playable character, rather than having the player just press a button to watch a cool looking animation.”
When the original Pedro launched, this mechanic was what made it stand out from the saturated market of Flash shooters. It’s no wonder, then, that when Ågren began work on the contemporary Pedro remake, this was the first detail he implemented into the game. “From there I kept experimenting with various levels, guns and enemies,” he explains. “The enemies ended up feeling a bit overpowered so it felt like some sort of dodge-maneuver was needed, and that's where the little pirouette was born.”
Pedro has been widely celebrated for its ballet-like mobility style, with the pirouette becoming a core mechanic designed to dodge incoming fire. However, because Pedro’s movement mechanics are hyper-stylistic, implementing the pirouette necessitated more work on the mobility system as a whole.
Juicing up the slo-mo acrobatic bullet ballet
“Since I didn't want the player to get stuck in a single animation while performing an action, I had to make sure all the moves could blend dynamically,” Ågren explains. “There isn't really any smart system going on behind the animations. Most of the time it's been a case of manually adjusting the bones of the character in LateUpdate to make them, for example, aim towards the cursor. It was a lot of tweaking a number, play to see the difference, go back to tweaking the number, play again, and so on. Today, with a bit more experience with Unity and 3D game development, I probably would have done things a bit differently.”
On top of the mobility overhaul, Pedro 2019 also implemented a whole new range of shooting features. “The split-aiming was something I always wanted to do,” Ågren tells me. “At first I wasn't sure how to do it, but then I just tried the most obvious thing that came to mind, which ended up being what stuck in the game. I think coming from making games in Flash, I was just really excited about being able to use the right mouse button for the first time.”
Although fan reaction to split-aiming has been massively positive, incorporating the mechanic game came with its own set of trials and tribulations.
“While still figuring out the fundamentals of the game I remember having the bullets of the player and enemies travel a bit too slow to be pleasing,” Ågren tells me. The intent here was to make dodging easier for the player. “Also, I hadn't figured out how to do reliable collision detection with objects that were moving too fast.”
“Eventually I sped up the bullets and figured out the technical aspects and suddenly the game was a lot more fun,” Ågren continues. “In order to have faster bullets, but still giving the player time to react to incoming enemy fire, I had to spend some time tweaking the enemies’ accuracy and reaction times.”
The Pedro remake also replaced the knife from the original game with a kicking action, which naturally begot a whole range of kickable objects. “Adding objects to the world for the player to interact with was a fairly late discovery in making the game,” Ågren explains. “It started with the idea of being able to kick a gas canister into the air so that you could shoot it at just the right time for that classic action moment.“
“After adding that I was just messing around with kicking other objects that I already had models for,” he continues. “One of those objects was the frying pan. After playing with that a bit I wondered what would happen if you shot the frying pan in mid-air with the gas canister. It seemed like a fun idea to have the bullets ricochet to nearby enemies, so I tried that.”
“I recorded a GIF of that moment and put it up on Twitter,” Ågren adds. “The reaction to that GIF was the biggest reaction I'd seen so far. People loved it and it got me thinking about what other silly over-the-top objects I could add and how else I could use the kicking mechanic.”
Finding the right look
On top of the fact that the Pedro remake drastically improved on its predecessor in terms of its systemic makeup, it also implemented a radically different art style. In the original Flash game, the protagonist is dressed in full Matrix leather, whereas the new version features an aesthetic that combines parkour with some sort of sublime delinquency.
“Funnily enough there is pretty much no concept art for most parts of the game,” Ågren tells me. This is surprising, given the fact that Pedro’s aesthetic is unwaveringly confident in itself. “Sometimes there’s a rough sketch, but usually, since I've been doing this as a solo developer. I never had to communicate my ideas to a team. So I just jumped straight into making the final thing.“
“I knew this game would mainly be about the feeling of playing it, rather than how it looked,” he continues. “And again, since I was making this solo, I knew I had to choose how I spent my time and energy wisely. My main goal was to find a look that was easy to read and fast to make — but still stood out among other indie titles.”
“I decided to make all the environmental textures grayscale and tint everything with lights and post processing effects,” Ågren adds. “That way I could reuse a lot of assets and still make things feel fresh, but also ensure that the player and enemies always had a good contrast against the backdrop.”
Amidst all the changes to Pedro, there stands one feature which is almost entirely the same as it was in the original. “As I was wrapping up the development of the original Flash version of My Friend Pedro, I needed some sort of tutorial helper to appear and help you progress through the game, and also provide some sort of weird, simple substitute for a story,” Ågren explains. “I wasn't very precious about how the game would turn out and thought ‘bananas are easy to animate’ — and so the banana was born.”
“It also turned out to be a good eye catcher when used in key art, and it signaled to players that the game doesn't take itself too serious,” he continues. And that’s what seems to make My Friend Pedro stand out: it's more than just bullets and ballet. It’s bullets, ballet, and sentient bananas.