At PAX West in Seattle last year I attended an indie game night in the basement of a local bar. It was one of the loudest, most lively rooms I’d ever been in- you had to shout just to talk to someone right in front of you. And it was in this setting I played Semispheres, a “meditative parallel puzzle game” as described by the game’s designer, Radu Muresan. Radu walked me through the demo of his beautifully vibrant puzzler. I played a couple mind-bending challenges, heard a sparsely ambient soundtrack over the loud atmosphere and even got hints of a charming story with lovely chalk drawn screens. I was really taken in, I rarely find a puzzle game that challenges me without frustrating me and I excitedly looked up Radu on Twitter and awaited the game’s release.
I got the game on Valentine’s day and while my valentine was in another city, I sat down and played through Semispheres it in its entirety with my friend Paris. We tackled some of the trickiest puzzles and shared in “Aha!” moments that reminded me of my favourite puzzlers like Portal and Grim Fandango. Finally figuring out how to get my two half-circles to their goal whilst avoiding spotlights and crossing sides of the brain gave me an immense sense of satisfaction. I wanted to know more about this wonderful puzzler and the man behind it so I reached out to Radu to ask a few questions.
[Stephan] How did you get into videogames? What were some of your earliest and most inspirational moments with games?
[Radu] I dabbled with them a long time ago on my first computer (a ZX80 clone), then had a brief encounter with them again in early 2000s, but only really got into it in 2010. Probably one of the earlier titles that really impressed me was Alone In The Dark.
[Stephan] When did development start on Semispheres? Were you always working on it full time?
[Radu] First version of Semispheres was a game jam version (Ludum Dare 30 – Aug 2014). I started working on the game in December 2014 and I’ve worked on it mostly full time since, with the exception of some contract work I did on the side.
[Stephan] You’ve said one big inspiration for your game was Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons. How did Brothers influence Semispheres? How did Semispheres solve some of your issues with Brothers?
[Radu] I’ve always joked that I took the worst part of Brothers and added it into a game. Honestly, that just happened to be the first game I played with that mechanic, as there have been many games before and after using it. Initially Semispheres wanted to solve the problem of the two brothers crossing paths which caused the player to become really confused really fast about which thumbstick controls which brother. I don’t think Semispheres really solved any problems in Brothers – that confusion is present in Semispheres as well, but I made it into a core part of the game and hopefully taught how to use it more gradually.
[Stephan] What’s your process for designing puzzles? In Semispheres, the complexity and difficulty of each puzzle built upon the one before it in an awesome way but were you ever worried the jump in difficulty would be too much for some players or not enough for others?
[Radu] The puzzles were not designed in the order they appear in-game. For the most part, they were designed as I was thinking about a specific mechanic. Then, after end-to-end playtesting, came up with this level progression that was trying to make sure everything has been properly presented properly beforehand. About a quarter of the levels are procedurally-assisted – that’s too long of a topic to go into, but it’s a really interesting one too 🙂
[Stephan] The theme of the left and right side of the brain and complimentary blue and orange colours all fit together so nicely. How long did it take to land on those themes? Were there other ideas before?
[Radu] First version linked before didn’t have any special coloring. I was able to find proof of using this color scheme as early as January 2015. The complementary colors just happened to be my favorite (using them in my company’s logo – Vivid Helix – where the logo is half blue, half orange). It also happens to be one of the best color combos that works well with colorblind people.
[Stephan] The music and sound effects really amplify the experience, can you speak about who you worked with and how those came to be in the final game?
[Radu] All the audio in the game is by Sid Barnhoorn. I was very fortunate to be able to work with him and our cooperation was very smooth.
[Stephan] What’s some advice you wish you’d had at the start of the development of Semispheres that someone trying to get into indie game dev should know?
[Radu] I think the only thing to be mindful is how much the whole ecosystem can change in a year or two.
[Stephan] A week after launch how do you feel about the reception and sales of Semispheres?
[Radu] Reception has been great. Sales have not been very good, though that seems to be mostly a global trend where non-replayable game tend to get less exposure.
[Stephan] What are your plans for the future? Ports of Semispheres? Another puzzle game? A new genre entirely?
[Radu] I want to finish up Semispheres, the only major thing left is to get it on Xbox One as well. For the future, if I’m working solo it will probably be a puzzle or something in that area. If we can work it out, we have a bigger project for a team comprising two of my friends.
[Stephan] Is there anything else you want people to know about Semispheres and indie game development?
[Radu] Not really, I’m just happy to have it out there and have completed something of this scale.