Indie Dev Interview: Arvi Teikari, Baba is You
08 Dec, 2019
Arvi Teikari created Baba is You, which won our 2019 Into Indie Games award for Best Original Concept. Here’s our exclusive interview with him.
This year’s winner of the Into Indie Games Award for Best Original Concept was the logic-bending puzzler Baba is You. Don’t let its simple visuals fool you: Baba is You is all about messing with its own rules to solve puzzles.
In Baba is You, the rules the game follows are represented by blocks that you can manipulate directly. This means nothing can be taken for granted, and everything’s up for change.
In honour of Baba is You winning the Best Original Concept award, we caught up with its developer Arvi Teikari (who goes by the studio name Hempuli). Here’s our interview below.
Baba is You’s concept is as meta as it gets for puzzle games. How did you come up with it and refine it?
I was at the Nordic Game Jam, held annually in Copenhagen, in 2017. The idea of the event is to develop a game in 48 hours under a loose theme. This time the theme was “Not There”. I concentrated heavily on the word “Not” for whatever reason, and started thinking of how in logic the meaning of a thing can be reversed by adding a “Not” in front of it, e.g. “Fast” vs. “Not fast”. This concept combined in my head with inspiration from some block-pushing puzzle games I had played, such as Stephen’s Sausage Roll, Snakebird and A Good Snowman Is Hard To Build, and this in turn resulted in the mental image of a tile-based game where blocks of ice could be safely put near hot lava with the statement “Ice Is Not Melt”.
I didn’t feel very confident about this idea, but decided to make a prototype out of it, since game jams are ideal for these kinds of endeavours. Over time I realized that it’d be better if the inherent meltability of ice wasn’t removed by “Not Melt”, but rather that neither ice or lava had any inherent features at all without the explicit statements “Ice Is Melt” and “Lava Is Hot”. I got some ~10 levels made during the event and got the basic concept of the game pretty well implemented. Other developers took interest in the project and this encouraged me a lot – Baba Is You ended up being voted as the best game of the event, and after some hesitation afterwards I decided to make a full game out of the 48-hour prototype. It took just under 2 years to get from this to the final product.
Was there anything that was to be included in Baba is You, but had to be cut before release?
Yes; the first year or so of development was spent largely on adding new things and brainstorming new ideas, and some of these weren’t usable in the final game for various reasons. For example, I made ~80 new levels during the first couple months of development for the first testable build of the game, and several levels in this first batch were really weak because I went too fast and didn’t really “get” the feel of the game yet.
Similarly, there were multiple words that I ended up cutting, mainly because they were too tough to implement elegantly or because they didn’t create as interesting puzzles as I had hoped. Examples of the first category include Back, which would’ve made objects move backwards in time, and Stick, which would’ve made nearby objects of the same type stick together. In the latter category is e.g. Hold, which would’ve made an object grab others and not let them move off. This kind of movement-prevention seemed interesting at first but ended up being too one-note.
What do you think of the indie video game space right now, and how do you think will it change in the future?
There’re lots of games! A lot of people are making a lot of cool games, and there are enough that many really interesting titles get hardly any attention while others get boatloads of it. It’s hard to imagine this structure changing and that’s very unfortunate because of course it’d be ideal if every game had a good audience. One possible way I’ve seen hypothesized for things to go is that there might eventually appear a new movement relative to the indie scene, kind of like how the current indie scene appeared relative to the AAA scene, that’d allow for some currently-unnoticed cool games to get an appreciative audience. On the other hand, there are some predictions that in the future things might get even tougher for indie developers instead via e.g. streaming/subscription services, so it’s very hard to say for sure what the scene will be like even a little bit into the future.
Would you consider working with an established publisher, or a non-indie studio in the future? Why, or why not?
Possibly for the former, almost certainly not for the latter. I enjoy implementing ideas and having creative freedom, and I’d rather make games as a hobby for the fun of it than start working in a non-indie team without the freedom indie game development offers. As for publishers, it really depends on what I do next. If there was some reason or opportunity that’d make working with a publisher seem interesting/useful, then sure. Generally I feel that self-publishing works better for me on a mental level, but that a publisher would almost certainly handle things like marketing & PR way way better than I ever could.
For further information on Baba is You, including store links and more, check out the official website here.
Also have a look at our interview with Sean Han Tani, founder of Analgesic Productions (who created Anodyne and Anodyne 2: Return to Dust). For our full list of winners, check out the 2019 Into Indie Games Awards.