Road To The IGF: Mazapan's You Have To Burn The Rope

Continuing interviews with the 2009 Independent Games Festival finalists, Gamasutra talks to Mazapan's Kian Bashiri about You Have To Burn The Rope -- a short, cheeky commentary on gaming conventions -- nominated for the Innovation Award.
[Gamasutra is talking to this year's Independent Games Festival finalists, this time interviewing Mazapan's Kian Bashiri about You Have To Burn The Rope -- a short, cheeky commentary on gaming conventions -- nominated for the Innovation Award.] You Have To Burn The Rope (YHTBTR) is unambiguous in its efforts to ferry players to its ending, providing instructions for defeating the game's sole enemy, not only in its first seconds after starting up, but also in its title. After players have burned the rope holding up a chandelier, dropping it onto the Grinning Colossus boss -- which can be completed in less than a minute -- they're treated to screenshots recounting their perilous journey, as well as a song praising their bravery and perceptive assessment of the task at hand. Mazapán's programmer, Kian Bashiri, a 21 year old studying at School of Future Entertainment in Sweden, admits that he created the game as a joke, a commentary on difficult games and on titles that patronize their players. We spoke with Bashiri about You Have To Burn The Rope, nominated for the Innovation award at this year's Independent Games Festival (part of Think Services, as is this website). Here, he shares what he would do differently given the chance to remake the game, and also what other projects he's been working on since YHTBTR's release. What kind of background do you have making games? Kian Bashiri: I started with Macromedia Flash 4 in 1999. I was originally drawn to it because I wanted to animate, but then the code editor was just too much fun. It had this great feature where you could just drag and drop lines of code; it was a fantastic way to be eased into the world of programming. I continued playing around with Flash for many years as a hobby until I realized I wanted to make games professionally. So I went to this university to study game development, I stayed there for two years before I realized it wasn’t for me. Now I’m at the School of Future Entertainment, where I’m studying game programming, and so far it has been great. What development tools did you use? KB: I used Adobe Flash 9 and FlashDevelop for coding, MS Paint for sprites, Mappy to create the tilemap, and Dr. Petter’s Sfxr for sound effects. I think Henrik used Reason for the music.

Why bother including the ineffectual axe-throwing ability at all -- it seems misleading, considering almost all other aspects of the game's design work to help the player efficiently reach the end? KB: If you see it from the “YHTBTR is about difficulty”-angle, it sure seems odd, but if you see it from the “YHTBTR is about limited/non-existent interactivity,” it makes more sense. Both the ability to throw axes and the option to go up the left or the right set of staircases are examples of false choices. They give you the illusion of interactivity, but of course they don’t matter at all. Maybe it’s not the most profound satire; it is silly, but then the whole game is supposed to be funny. If you could start the project over again, what would you do differently? Any ideas you now have that you think would have communicated the joke better in your mind? KB: Both me and Henrik think the best kind of humor is the kind where you’re not really sure if it is supposed to be funny at all. I mean, a joke is often funnier if the one who tells it stays in character and says it with a completely serious tone of voice. That’s what we tried to do with the game and everything that surrounds it. I think that kind of backfired, though; as a result, it is vague and unfocused, and we went way to deep with the silly joke, with the game manual, walkthrough, etc. We never meant for it to be some kind of in-joke or a meme. So, yeah, there are numerous ways I think I could have made it more focused without ruining it. For one, I should have added a way to die. If there was a variable outcome, it would be more of a game, and the more interesting theme of interactivity and false choices would have been more obvious. A crayon castle Why the black hat and pink boots? They don't really match? KB: The graphics are just graphics, I didn’t put any kind of meaning in the graphical design. The reason things look like they do is because 1) I thought it would fit with the retro style and 2) that I’m not a graphics-guy. Both the player avatar and the boss had more elaborate designs that I had to simplify a lot when it came to animating. That’s why the boss is a square and the player a circle with a hat to vaguely disguise it. Were there any elements that you experimented with that just flat out didn't work with your vision? KB: Nothing major was cut, but then there is really nothing more to YHTBTR then the bare minimum. Have you played any of the other IGF finalists? Any games you particularly enjoyed? KB: I have played most of the available ones and they are all awesome games! Maybe I’m a bit biased, but Blueberry Garden and Night Game are my personal favorites. Braid creator Jonathan Blow recently criticized designers for sacrificing the "challenge" in games like Fable II and God of War with simplified interaction/combat, and instead providing just "the feeling of challenge" to make it easier for players get back to the stories. I was wondering about your thoughts on that? KB: I definitely agree, I don’t care for (pre-authored) story-telling in games at all. I don’t care for challenges that much either. Being challenging is only one way to play with interactivity, and it’s not always the most interesting one. I know I’m bordering interactive art here, and I guess my definition of what constitutes a game differs from the norm, but to me, it’s all about what cool stuff we can do with this interactive medium; the interactivity always has to come first. Having said that, I don’t think every game has to push the boundaries, I enjoy bad movie-games once in a while too. What sort of direction did you give Henrik for the music he provided? KB: We worked very closely, I gave constant feedback on everything he did and vice versa. I think I had some ideas for the in-game music, but the credit-song was all his making. Henrik was really into Jonathan Coulton and "Still Alive" at the time and wanted to make a tribute. I didn’t know how the game was going to end, so it was relieving that Henrik stepped up and was all passionate about that bit. I’m glad he was, the game wouldn’t have been as successful without the credits-song.

What do you think of You Have To Defecate Upon King Bhumibol [a political satire game based on YHRBTR's design]? KB: I’ve been a fan of Marcus of Raitendo for many years, I think it’s very funny – and interesting. We need more funny serious games! What sort of games have you been designing since YHTBTR's popularity? KB: I don’t think I have changed the way I make games; maybe I have more courage now to experiment and to try out weird ideas. For example, I made Metro Rules of Conduct, which is somewhat similar to YHTBTR in that is is more of a joke than a game. I have also made a few (yet unreleased) prototypes of more traditional games. I like all kind of games, from artistic 'proceduralist' ones to the more traditional ones about guns and explosions and gore, both to play and to develop. How did you spend the rest of your day after you beat the game (when the final version was completed)? KB: I think it was a combination of watching a video and being completely terrified.

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