Pid's dilemma - how do you make a 2D platformer that stands out?
2D Puzzle platformers are now ten a penny in the indie game space and, as such, it can be tricky for a studio to get noticed amongst all the noise. Might and Delight, the studio behind the newly released Pid, has found its own solution to this problem -- simply don't refer to the game as a puzzle platformer.
"I think of it as a platforming adventure," notes Kian Bashiri, lead programmer on the title and creator of the cult Flash mini-game You Have To Burn The Rope, "since our puzzles aren't of the kind that most people think of when the genre is mentioned."
Sure, Pid features numerous lengthy sections that most players would describe as classic puzzling, but for the most part Pid is made up of what Bashiri describes as "moment-to-moment navigational puzzles that make up the core of the game."
"The beam, like the grappling gun in Bionic Commando, forces you to read your environments in a unique way," he adds. "When you really 'get' how to use it and when you get comfortable with using it (because it is a demanding mechanic), you get extremely agile. Planning your route around the various hazards is a kind of puzzle that gets richer and richer the further you get in the game as new 'rules' and restrictions are introduced in form of enemies, gadgets and clever level design."
In this way, Bashiri hopes that Pid will stand out from the crowd -- although he notes that some people have already taken it upon themselves to label the title as they see it.
"Some commenters have criticized us -- and indies in general -- for making nothing but [2D] puzzle platformers," he says. "I think that is unfair. There's a huge difference between Portal 2, Limbo and Braid! Pid is much closer to Megaman or Donkey Kong, I think, than those indie titles."
Portal 2 in particular is a slightly sore point for Bashiri. Pid uses gravity beams as a main gameplay mechanic, and has been since well before Portal 2 was released. As it turns out, Portal 2's 'excursion funnels' work in a very similar way to Pid's beams -- although Bashiri isn't too bothered by the comparison.
"We did worry about the similarities when we first saw the excursion funnels, but after having played Portal 2, I think that the two mechanics are only superficially similar," he says. "They play very differently and they have very different roles in both games."
Pid has far more going for it than just gravity-based mechanics -- the game's world and overall feel are a force to be reckoned with, as one moment you're trudging your way through dark, dungeon-like settings, and the next you're being attacked by a giant eyemask-wearing, revolver-totting balloon.
"We have a 'beat chart' for the whole game that dictates the pacing of the experience," laughs Bashiri. "Like this area is very calm and this other area slowly builds up to a climax. The pacing is a guide for the gameplay, which is king. Then we dress up the gameplay in graphics, animations, music, sound, story, etc that motivates the gameplay and fits in with the desired tempo."
"So for instance," he continues, "the Crook boss you mentioned looks the way he does because he needs to be able to move around a lot. The encounter puts a strong focus on lifting things in the beam. These two reasons motivated us to make him float freely, so why not a balloon?"
Pid is currently available to purchase for PC and Mac, and is coming soon to Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. Notes Bashiri, "We didn't think too much about mobile platforms -- the kind of game we wanted to make really can't be played on a touch screen, it demands a good controller. Releasing on PC, Mac, XBLA and PSN was ambitious enough for our small studio!"