This interview is part of our Road to the IGF series. You can find the rest by clicking here.
Infini explores the interactions of personified concepts like hope, time, and technology as players work their way through looping puzzles built around infinity.
David Martin of Barnaque spoke with Gamasutra to chat about what interested them in seeing interactions between concepts, the spark that inspired the game's ever-shifting puzzles, and how they found some of their own answers about existence in creating the game.
My name is David Martin, and I'm part of Barnaque with Émeric Morin. Since we're only two developers, we each do a bit of everything. I do the art, the music (with my band Roche Ovale), and some programming, Émeric does the deeper programming and most of the level design, and we do everything else together.
I've been making games with Émeric since 2011. We worked for two years on and off on Nulle Part, our first game. We then proceeded to make a bunch of freeware titles of varying sizes prototyped through game jams.
In terms of the gameplay, we stumbled on the main mechanic while making Nulle Part. There was a short platformer segment in which we used vertical wrapping, and at one point you could fall endlessly, but we hadn't restricted the player's horizontal movement. This inspired an early prototype of Infini called Tombe that we made in a game jam.
As for the story, it emerged from our earlier games. All of Barnaque's games take place in the same narrative universe. The idea of using concepts as characters originally came from Nulle Part.
Tools of the endless
We started with Game Maker Studio 1 and later transitioned to Game Maker Studio 2.
Disorienting through visuals
The art sort of evolved on its own from the visual signature we've been developing through the years. The initial style got all kinds of surprising positive reactions, and we were encouraged throughout the development to not hold back on the strange and unsettling aspect of it. We wanted people to feel as disoriented by this world as the main character, Hope.
Creating characters from personified concepts
Our intention was to make characters that really were the concepts and that didn't just represent them. Technology, for instance, isn't like the god of technology, he actually IS technology. Therefore, Technology should behave as the real-world idea does.
One of the constraints of this is always trying to find a way for the character’s concept to be integrated into the game. Not only in narrative terms, but also in regards to the gameplay or the game structure, to make sure the character’s essence really transpires through the game. Narratively, this constraint could sometimes help because it was a clear guideline on how characters would react to any given situation. If we asked ourselves “If this were to happen in the story, how would X react?” the answer would often be easy to find.
If we looked at ideas as if they were beings that had experiences and that felt that they were controlling their choices and actions, what would they feel? What intentions would they seemingly have? Hope, for example, can't give up, by definition. It's just not an option for him. He was a good fit with the gameplay that makes you die and try again indefinitely until you can get to the goal, while remaining optimistic that you will, at some point, win. Through the interactions we created between concepts, we could also say things about how we view the world.
Reflecting on the burden of hope
We wanted the player to feel Hope's struggle through Infinity and to reflect on the burden of being hopeful. Since the story is experienced in a non-linear way, we wanted Infini to feel like trying to remember something as you attempt to assemble different narrative fragments in the right order in your head, in a similar way as memories are retrieved in our minds. Infini’s narrative landscape has several layers, and we wanted different types of players to experience it in their own way. There is hidden stuff you can discover if you want to dig deep and understand the workings of this universe, but you can also just experience Hope's journey as a surrealist tale with strange characters and fill in the gaps with your own interpretations.
We also wanted to keep the players in learning mode throughout the game and continually challenge their conception of space, so every level section has new mechanics and re-imagines the controls.
Creating gameplay around infinity
At first, we focused only on infinite wrapping and gravity and tried to forget everything else about platformers. We designed levels were you could only move horizontally and your character would fall constantly. Making it so every obstacle was instantly deadly added an "action" aspect to the mix. We came up with all the "what if" actions that we could and tried them. Those that opened new puzzle design possibilities were the ones that we kept.
The main theme of the game, Infinity, came from the wraparound. We tried to loosely let all aspects of the game seep into each other, so story and themes influenced gameplay as well the other way around.
Finding their own answers through exploring concepts
Putting all the narrative and mechanical elements together and letting them interact surprised us at many points in the development of Infini. By thinking about how a conscious idea would react to certain events, we learned about how we view certain concepts and about the nuances of the relations between ideas. Seeing concepts as powerful beings also made us think about what it could mean if certain ones died or if new, life-changing ideas were born.
This game, an IGF 2020 honoree, is featured as part of the Independent Games Festival ceremony, which will be free to stream virtually starting at 5pm PT (8pm ET) Wednesday, March 18 on GDC’s Twitch channel.