Baba Is You surprises gamers with word power
Finland is recognised as a global force when it comes to the games industry. But some of its most intriguing projects originate outside traditional games studios. Finnish indie developer Arvi Teikari is a testament to that.
Sometimes the simplest things can bring the biggest surprises. This is the case with Baba Is You, a PC game developed by 25-year-old Finn Arvi Teikari. On the surface, it looks like a classic puzzle game where blocks are shuffled around to solve a problem. But Baba Is You takes the challenge up a notch by allowing players to bend the rules.
“What makes the game special is that all its rules are visible as movable ‘blocks’,” explains Teikari. “This makes it possible for a player to change the rules in the midst of playing the game, for example, make solid walls passable or turn water into a goal line.”
The result is clever wordplays and surprising interactions, as well as a win at the Nordic Game Jam (NGJ) last year. Although Baba Is You was only meant to be a 48-hour development experiment at the NGJ, winning the main prize changed Teikari’s plans. As a consequence of the interest this generated, he is now working on a more complex commercial version of the game set for release in summer 2018.
Teikari is nothing short of prolific. He has over 35 titles (as far as he remembers) in his portfolio and two in development. This is in addition to studying psychology at the University of Helsinki and working at small Finnish studio Nolla Games, which he co-founded in 2017.
“My real game-making hobby started when I was in the fourth or fifth grade when a classmate introduced me to the Game Maker tool,” Teikari recalls. “So, I would say I have developed games for about 16 years now.”
In that time Teikari, or Hempuli as his one-man company is called, has become known in the games circles as a specialist in small experimental games. He enjoys working in short time-frames at game jams – where you typically create a game in 48 hours – and makes most of his games available to everyone for free. An exception here is Teikari’s first commercial game, a space adventure called Environmental Station Alpha which he published in 2015.
Now Baba Is You has the potential to take Teikari’s commercial endeavours further. At the end of March, he will present it at the global Game Developers Conference (GDC) and its side-event, the Independent Games Festival (IGF), in San Francisco. This could bring Teikari further accolades as Baba Is You is nominated for four IGF awards, including the 30 000-US dollar Seumas McNally Grand Prize.
Keeping it simple
Despite the international interest in Baba Is You, Teikari remains level-headed. For him game development is not about commercial success, but about creating games that evoke a strong response whether that is surprise, awe, empathy or even sadness. Baba Is You achieves this with the deceptive simplicity of the game.
“In my opinion, a perfect puzzle is one where a player is given very few tools and the puzzle appears impossible to solve with these tools. These kinds of puzzles are very satisfying because they are based on working out a certain ‘trick’ rather than managing a complex system,” Teikari summarises. “I aim to take Baba Is You in a direction which maximises this effect.”