Baba Is You is an innocuous little puzzler that emerged from the Nordic Game Jam last year — and it’s received nominations for four different awards for March’s Independent Games Festival. Its curious charm is undeniable, and draws on developer Arvi Teikari’s deep love for brainteasers like Jonathan Blow’s iconic indie title Braid and the quirky yet elegant Stephen’s Sausage Roll from Increpare. Teikari is hoping to release the game sometime this summer for PC, though he’s also considering

“The theme of the [game jam] was ‘Not There,’ which made me think of the logical operator ‘Not,'” said Teikari in an email to GamesBeat. “I didn’t think much of it at first, but during the evening/night of the day the theme was announced, I got the mental image of a Sokoban-like game that used the Not operator. The mental image didn’t feel very interesting and I was sure that I’d run into some large technical roadblock quickly, but I decided to have a go at it anyway. And here we are!”

Baba Is You cleverly plays with language, inviting players to change their environment and take on new abilities by manipulating the words around them. As it progresses, it becomes more complex. Some of the later puzzles look almost like rudimentary programming, tasking players to “code” the way they move and the way objects around them behave. For the release, Teikari will also include a level editor so players can create their own puzzles.

Teikari has 35 games on his webpage, many of which he also developed at game jams. Many of these events are only 48 hours long, which he says leads to an exciting atmosphere and also give developers permission to ignore troubleshooting bugs that don’t break the game. Instead, they can just focus on shipping.

“The most boring part of game development is often the very end, the slow process of polishing everything up, and with game jams, people are way, way more understanding of rough edges,” said Teikari. “After all, the fact that there was a game made in 48 hours is a great achievement in itself.”

Here is an edited transcript of our interview.

Above: A demonstration of the main mechanic in Baba Is You’s puzzles.

Image Credit: GamesBeat

GamesBeat: How did you get into game development?

Arvi Teikari: I’m a 25-year-old psychology student from Finland. I’ve always been hugely interested in drawing, and later, painting, and due to the Super Nintendo at our cousins’ place, I’ve also been really into playing games for as long as I can remember. I was maybe less than 10 when my brother and some people of their age showed me that making games is an actual thing one can do by dabbling with Turbo Pascal and QuickBasic; I also made some simple text adventures in primary school using the latter.

In third or fourth grade, a classmate asked me if I’d want to make a game with them, and introduced me to Game Maker. GM’s requirement for scripting proved to be a massive barrier for us due to not really understanding English, and eventually I stumbled to Clickteam’s Games Factory, which didn’t have as steep a learning curve, via another schoolmate.

Back in 2002 to 2005 or so, there was a short-lived but fairly active scene of young game devs setting up websites where they showed their games made using the Games Factory, and while I didn’t have a website of my own, me and my friends participated by making our own games and showing them to each other. RPG Maker 2000 was also involved at times.

Over time my IRL friends lost interest, but I kept going, migrating from Games Factory to newer Clickteam products but never really leaving their safety.

GamesBeat: What was the inspiration for the game?

Teikari: I’ve wanted to make an inventive puzzle game for a long time (having originally been inspired by Braid), and over the years I’ve made lots of small, experimental puzzle games (usually of the non-turn-based sort). Some puzzle games had really amazed me earlier with their way of being able to surprise the player (e.g. Stephen’s Sausage Roll, Snakebird, the aforementioned Braid), and I had been playing various very cool puzzle games earlier in 2017, such as Corrypt, Recursed, A Good Snowman Is Hard To Build, Cosmic Express, and Jelly No Puzzle.

Now then, going to the Nordic Game Jam 2017 I had a feeling that I probably wouldn’t have the motivation to make a new game, instead approaching the event more as an opportunity to work on existing projects in a relaxing environment. The theme of the jam was “Not There,” which made me think of the logical operator “Not.”

I didn’t think much of it at first, but during the evening/night of the day the theme was announced, I got the mental image of a Sokoban-like game that used the Not operator. The mental image didn’t feel very interesting and I was sure that I’d run into some large technical roadblock quickly, but I decided to have a go at it anyway. And here we are! The idea came to my head very spontaneously, but I feel that the dabbling-with-puzzle-games I told you about had a large effect on the circumstances.

GamesBeat: A lot of your previous games seem to come out of game jams as well. Why do these kinds of events appeal to you? What’s the benefit of participating in jams?

Teikari: I’d say that the short timeframe (usually 48 hours) for making a finished game is one of the largest factors. It lends a cool, thrilled atmosphere to everything, and creates an environment where people are concentrating on whatever they’re doing in their own ways, but also really excited to showcase things they’ve done to others.

The time limit also gives a developer a free pass to disregard any non-game-breaking bugs: The most boring part of game development is often the very end, the slow process of polishing everything up, and with game jams, people are way, way more understanding of rough edges. After all, the fact that there was a game made in 48 hours is a great achievement in itself.

Using a game-creation tool such as Multimedia Fusion helps here, of course, because such tools are often very fast at prototyping, leaving more time for adding content (or in a live jamming situation, for walking around and being social!)

GamesBeat: Does Baba Is You have a story or is it mainly about the puzzles?

Teikari: The game will be mainly about the puzzles. Back when the jam version was made, several people told me that the game had raised some intriguing philosophical thoughts regarding consciousness in them. This felt really cool, but, not being a writer, I wasn’t sure what to do about these thoughts.

The game could definitely benefit from a narrative that explored those concepts, but at the same time, I’d have to take the risk of the whole narrative backfiring and making the game less enjoyable. Some players would inevitably find any kind of a story disappointing, even if I hired an actual writer to do the job, that much was certain from the start. On top of this was the fact that I tend to want to do as much as possible on my own (which is extremely hypocritical considering that I use a game-creation tool, haha). So after lots of worrying and thinking about it, I ended up going a more puzzle-driven route.

GamesBeat: How has the game evolved since the Nordic Game Jam?

Teikari: The complexity of the game system has increased enormously; what was originally a very simple system of “X is Y” is now one that supports sentences like “X Not Near Y Has Z,” along with various complicated edge cases.

The game has become a lot more cutesy with the addition of music and more detailed art (and the ‘wobbly’ air everything has), too. I’d also like to think that I’ve managed to add a couple more “wow” moments to the game via interesting words, although whether this thought is correct will be seen only after release.

A large part of the finished game will also be a level editor, and making that and trying to design it so that it can be used by others than just me has been a massive hurdle.

GamesBeat: Do you have a rough estimate for when you’ll release the game? Will it be for PC only or are you planning on releasing it on consoles as well?

Teikari: The game will be released as soon as it’s fully done (and everything release-related that doesn’t depend entirely on me has been handled, whatever that’ll be); I was originally aiming for a spring release but right now summer is much more likely. I don’t want to say any more precise estimations so that I don’t accidentally set deadlines for myself, haha.

I’d like to release the game on Windows, Mac & Linux initially and possibly on consoles later, but these plans depend on a couple variables so only a Windows release is absolutely, 100 percent certain.

GamesBeat: What’s the indie game dev community like in Finland? Are there a lot of resources that you can draw on to support your game development?

Teikari: I’d say that the indie community in Finland has been gathering momentum over the past few years; however, when I started participating in jams, the Finnish indie scene was pretty quiet (from my point of view). There have been lots of amazing Finnish indie developers, mind you, even before the term “indie” existed (think of games such as Wings, Liero, Mine Bombers etc.)! It’s just that there hasn’t been an active “scene” for indie devs here in the same way as, say, in Sweden or Denmark.

A lot of work has been done in the past few years to create more hubbub in the Finnish indie scene (there’s a monthly indie beer in Helsinki organized by Petri Purho, a game design course at the Aalto University, and various Finnish game jams, to name a couple), but because I got used to the indie scene by visiting other Nordic countries, I’ve kind of kept feeling that the scene I “belong” in is in those countries rather than here.

The greatest resources for me in Finland have been various talented individuals who’ve helped me along the way, among these Roope Mäkinen (who has made music for several games of mine, including Environmental Station Alpha), Joonas Turner and Niilo Takalainen (who did the sound effects for Environmental Station Alpha and have participated in several game jams along with me), Petri Purho & Olli Harjola (my teammates at Nolla Games, who’ve taught me a lot about things like setting up a company and how bad C++ and/or C# are), and Jukio Kallio (a musician who has also participated in many jams and been all around great company). I guess this turned into a credits section, whoops.

IndieBeat is GamesBeat reporter Stephanie Chan’s new weekly column on in-progress indie projects. If you’d like to pitch a project or just say hi, you can reach her at stephanie@venturebeat.com.