Unlike many independent video game creators, before starting development of his first title, Toronto-born but now Chicago-based Willy Chyr hadn’t played a game in nearly 10 years.
“It was a friend who was really into indie games that introduced it to me. He showed me the works of Thatgamecompany, and Indie Game: The Movie. It was definitely the ‘games as art’ angle that attracted me to it at first,” said Chyr.
Chyr explained that Relativity, his upcoming mind-bending, gravity defying title, was inspired by indie games like Braid, Antichamber, Starseed Pilgrim, NaissanceE, as well as other off-beat games like Journey and Valve’s ultra-popular Portal series. The famous scene in Inception where Ellen Page and Leonardo Dicaprio’s characters fold Paris on top of itself, and then proceed to walk up a wall, also played a role towards inspiring Relativity’s inventive gravity switching mechanic.
“The initial idea was to make a game inspired by the M.C. Escher print Relativity, which shows people walking on different surfaces in a room. I wanted people to learn to see the world from a different perspective,” said Chyr.
Chyr expanded on this thought by explaining Escher’s art had a huge influence on him when he was younger, despite his tendency to gravitate towards math and science, rather than the arts.
“I actually had a huge phase during college when I was completely obsessed with Escher’s works, and had checked out all the books about him from the library,” said Chyr.
But Relativity’s gravity switching mechanic has evolved significantly since Chyr started creating the game. The title’s initial concept involved the world rotating while the player’s orientation remained the same.
One of Chyr’s major concerns during Relativity’s development is something he calls “puzzle fatigue.” Initially the game was created with a Portal-like linear structure in mind, funnelling the player through individual levels rather than dropping them into an open world. But in his initial playtests Chyr noticed many players got bored with the game by only about level 6.
“I’d see them start to yawn and get distracted.”
According to Chyr, puzzle fatigue is a common problem in the puzzle genre, and popular titles like Portal have found inventive ways to circumvent this issue in order to keep the player engaged.
“Portal solves this issue by having extremely clever writing and voiceover, and a story that draws you along. I knew if I attempted to solve the problem the same way, I would never be able to do it as well.”
Rather than rework the game’s direction and include a story in Relativity, as well as voice acting, two features that are nearly impossible for a one person development team to create, Chyr instead decided to shift his game’s focus on puzzles with a new emphasis on exploration. This instilled the concept of an open world filled with interesting and inventive architecture as a major theme in his game.
These new open areas spliced between Relativity’s main puzzles prevented Chyr from being forced to resort to including a standard “level select” screen in his game, and also helped maintain player interest throughout the experience.
At first glance Relativity also seems to share a lot in common with iOS gravity shifting hit, Monument Valley, a fact Chyr doesn’t deny.
“I actually started Relativity long before development of that game [Monument Valley] began, so when it came out, I was actually too far to be inspired by it, at least from a game design standpoint,” explained Chyr.
In early June, Chyr is headed down to E3 to show off Relativity to journalists, marketing representatives and gaming enthusiasts, giving him the first opportunity to present his title to a mainstream audience. A project that initially was only supposed to take three months has grown into something much larger than Chyr ever intended it to be.
“To find myself now going to E3 with a game to show is pretty surreal,” said Chyr
“So far, most of my efforts have been in the indie scene, and I needed that time to develop and refine the design of the game. At this stage, there’s still a lot of work that needs to be done, but I feel like the game is ready to be seen by more people.”
Relativity is set to be released for PlayStation 4 and PC at some point in 2015.