This interview is part of our Road to the IGF series.
Independent Games Festival finalist Hadr sees players guiding a cloth as it flits through environments. If you can slip that cloth over something, the object will disappear. Using this trick, players wil explore the game's worlds and its themes of forgetting.
Gamasutra sat down with Dominik Konečný, creator of the Best Student Game-nominated title, to discuss the title's playful origins, why they looked to weave interactive music into the experience, and how the game drew from their experience working with live sound in clubs.
Who are you, and what was your role in developing Hadr?
Hello! My name is Dominik, and Hadr is my first big game project. I had help from my friends, namely Vit Dvořák who wrote the short story, Honza Tomáš who made some of the tracks, Bohdan Heblík who did the text in the game, and also Vojta Vaněk who helped me with releasing the game. I did the rest - the design, the programming, the modeling, the music.
I grew up playing all sorts of games, and I was always curious how they got made. I went to study sound at university, and during my studies I came across a Unity workshop. And since then, Unity has been running nonstop on my computers.
I didn't know any other people who were into gamedev at that time, so I started educating myself in all the disciplines that come with making games. Then, four years ago, I went to study at the Faculty of Fine Arts here in Brno at the Studio of Game Media led by Vojtěch Vaněk. We have established our parallel studio Ateliér Duchů. Hadr is one of the first bigger projects we did, but there are more coming soon.
During this time, I made a bunch of small digital games and some board games, such as my latest edible board game Hlad. I also participated in a bunch of game jams, mostly Ludum Dare.
In the past few years I also got some experience in big studios. I worked as a level scripter in Hangar13 on the remake of the original Mafia and I am also working part time as a level designer/scripter at Ingame Studios.
How did you come up with the concept for Hadr?
That is actually quite silly. A few years ago, I vaguely remember looking at a towel hanging on the hanger and thought "it would be cool to control this like an RC car."
Since I already had some experience with Unity at that time, I immediately started making a prototype. In the first few months, it was just a piece of cloth flying around a vase stand, but there was already something beautiful and tranquil about the way it moved. The weirdness and uncertainty of how the cloth itself was controlled. It was just fun to play with; it was a great toy. I think that this playfulness in the core of the game is super important and it's what makes it so great. Then, you just have to come up with the goals and create the space for them.
What development tools were used to build your game?
Hadr is made in Unity. The first big challenge was to find a solution for the cloth simulation. It turned out that pretty much all the solutions for cloth simulations are made for hero capes, flags, and other nonsense and that just wasn't good enough. Unity cloth simulation at that time could work with about 16 colliders at most, so in the end, I used a plugin called Obi Cloth from Virtual Method Studio.
I just went through the painful process of upgrading the whole Unity and Obi over three years from the past to the present - HDRP, new input system etc., because we have planned for a console release in the upcoming months.
Then it was Blender for all the 3D models, which was fun, because at the very beginning of the project I didn't know how to make even a simple cube in it.
Finally, for the interactive music, I used FMOD, which for me was a completely new way to approach sound and mixing, but I fell in love with it and can't wait to dive back into it for our next projects. I also used Reaper for most of the editing and recording.
What made you want to make a game around disappearing? Around this one magic trick?
When we had the flying cloth and it was good enough as it was, I had to come up with some simple goals and how to achieve them. This was a great way to interact with the environment. Also, the reference to the magical trick was something quite cute to use. Then, lastly, I wanted to go against the flow a bit. Try to create a game that is reducing itself instead of throwing new content at the player every second.
And it can sometimes get quite demanding if the object is just big enough. When you finally manage to make it disappear after a minute of trying, it feels great.
What thoughts went into creating puzzles you solve by making things disappear?
It's not just the puzzles. It was the whole environment. The thought was always: this needs to look unique, this needs to feel unique, and it needs to play unique. This needs to be something you can screenshot, print, and hang it on the wall.
So, there was always the flying around and disappearing. But then there always had to be something extra in every room. Some new rule, or some old one broken. You don't have to go too far, just work with what you have at the very core. For example, the camera is following the cloth the entire game except for that one moment when you are outside and the camera is static. That is a very small change, but it affects the experience a lot.
Hadr is not really a puzzle game, even though there are some puzzle elements sometimes. In puzzle games, you know what the goal is and just try to find the solution. In Hadr, you are first trying to find out what the goal is and when you do, you are already halfway there and you can just enjoy the rest.
Making items disappear is a compelling gameplay mechanic in-and-of itself in Hadr. What thoughts went into making this endless magic act of making items disappear feel so fun on its own?
It had to be difficult just enough, and it had to feel great, because you make a lot of things disappear in the game.
For the difficulty part, there is a great deal of uncertainty in controlling the cloth, so when you finally manage to make something quite big disappear, it is a small accomplishment on its own. But the movement itself is simulated deterministically; it doesn't cheat. It is doing exactly what you tell it to, and sometimes that just will not work [laughs].
For the feeling part, for me, personally, what makes it feel great is what happens with the sound. There are almost no sound effects in the game; it's all music. Sometimes the sound effects are part of the music. When you make something disappear, the game blurs the music. The game takes whatever is playing at that moment and runs it through several effect buses, crossfades it with the main audio output, and then fades out. So every time you make something disappear, the sound that comes with it is unique. That makes the disappearing itself feel unique every time. Not just during your playthrough, but for everyone who ever played the game.
What challenges went into designing the movements of the cloth through the air?
Ridiculous amounts of tweaking. There are specific curves for all sorts of movement types to make the cloth feel more alive. Then there was (and to some degree still is) the conflict between how detailed the cloth is, how well the collisions and physics are handled, and performance.
The fun part is not flying around - it's the moments when you start hitting objects or try to cover them. Or when you try to hang the cloth somewhere. Since the movement was something we had from the very beginning, I iterated on that often. I also tried to create the rooms that were really small and crowded to actually avoid long, boring flying.
How did you weave story into the environments and player interactions within them?
[laughs] I don't think I really did. For me, the whole game is a metaphor of forgetting. You forget things and people that disappear, and if you forget something or someone, it also disappears. The short story in the game is mainly there to support this metaphor and the atmosphere and the mood that comes with it. It is a bit dark, a bit sad, but also a bit beautiful and free.
There is really no explicit story that the game is trying to tell; the story the players experience is their own, they can decide for themselves what is happening as they play the game. The game is rather trying to convey feelings and atmosphere.
What interested you in having interactive music created as the player explored? What do you feel this added to the experience?
Well, I have been working as a sound engineer in clubs for the past several years, so I have a lot of background and experience when it comes to working with sound in real time. That is also where I met Honza Tomáš who made some of the tracks in the game.
When mixing live music or any sort of performance, you have to react in an instant to whatever is happening on stage, and I wanted to use these skills in Hadr.
As pretty much everything I did when working on Hadr, I wanted to learn new skills or improve in things I already knew. So I grabbed FMOD, implemented it in Unity, and started exploring where this could go.
For me, music is the strongest tool you have when it comes to creating an atmosphere, and the whole game is all about the atmosphere.
I wouldn't say it adds to the experience. The music is the experience. Hadr is just as much a game with interactive music as it is a music album with some game elements.
This game, an IGF 2021 honoree, is featured as part of the Independent Games Festival ceremony. You can watch the ceremony starting at 4:30PM PT (7:30 ET) Wednesday, July 21 at GDC 2021.