Simon Flesser is one half of the developer duo at Simogo, the Swedish developers behind atmospheric puzzle games DEVICE 6 and Year Walk. Along with Magnus “Gordon” Gardeback, Simogo builds intrigue and interest through its fantastical story elements in its games, where often the answering of puzzles helps breaks down the mystery. Simon was kind enough to answer some questions emailed his way:
1) Most popular games built around touchscreen devices tend to focus on puzzles or simple platform mechanics. Yet, you’ve carved out a niche of games that also do puzzles with heavier story elements, particularly your last two: DEVICE 6 and Year Walk. What drove you to want to build stories for touchscreen devices rather than only puzzles games? What are the challenges of creating narrative for the on-the-go format?
I’m not sure there is a specific reason, other than that we have to create just the type of things that we want to create. So there was no goal set in that sense. We always hear that people are surprised that games like this works on mobile, but I think it’s perfect for the format. People are used to reading and digesting information through their screens, which is just what those type of games are about.
We don’t tend to see it is as a specific on-the-go format, it just happens that you can take them with you. I don’t imagine people playing our games on bus stops, really.
2) Staying on development, what usually comes first: the puzzle or the direction of the story? Or are the two developed side-by-side? How do you figure out which puzzle fits which portion of the story?
For both Year Walk and DEVICE 6, there was a story before puzzles. But specifically with DEVICE 6 we set out to do a story that would allow us to create puzzles that felt natural in the narrative.
It’s not so much to try and fit in puzzles in a story as it is creating both stories and puzzles simultanously, and trying to make them sing together, actually. So both puzzles and story influence each other and are continuosly tweaked along the way to work together.
3) I played DEVICE 6 on an iPhone, and I feel like it’s the first game that understood the platform and fully utilized it interesting ways. It wasn’t just certain areas needing to be touched to progress, but other things played into progress as well, like the rotation of the screen, the audio playing into some of the puzzles, the use of mirroring, the flipping of colors. I’m wondering after pushing the platform to the brink, were there any ideas that were left on the cutting room floor? Since this seemed like new ground for iPhones, where did you look for inspiration? Are you tapped out of ideas or are you just getting started?
Thank you! I don’t think the idea bank ever runs out, you just have to stimulate it properly. There are always some ideas that get left behind, but I can’t remember something specific that revolves around the platform, for DEVICE 6. And if I did, I’d probably want to keep them a secret if we should need them later on!
We try to not look at other games so much for inspiration. For us it’s more of getting into a mindset, so inspiration can come from anywhere; Places, books, movies, people…
4) You tend to use mystery elements in your work to keep the audience off balance but engaged. DEVICE 6 creates a world set off by bizarre gadgets and devices and a guy in a bolo hat pushing the player forward; Year Walk uses the supernatural to enhance a sense of dread yet does the same. In both cases, the intrigue of the world keeps audiences tuned in (in my opinion). How important is mystery in creative a story? Why have you leaned heavier into this type of storytelling in your more recent works? How do you balance mystery without completely confusing the player (and turning them away)?
Good question that I don’t have real answer to. While I don’t believe every game should have challanges, we felt that both those games needed some kind of friction, to keep things interesting.
We’re just fans of those types of fragmented stories, like you’re looking into an archive and piecing together all the bits and pieces to see the fuller picture. It’s sort of creating puzzle of the narrative itself.
5) As a two-man team, you’ve built five works in four years, with some critical success. What are the advantages of being a duo (rather than, say, a group of 20) bring to your projects? Disadvantages? Is there any pressure to grow your group? Would you prefer being small or large? Why?
Advantages are that we can take really quick decisions and act on them directly. Two people means low costs, so we can afford to experiment. I think a lot of the personal things shines through easier in games created by smaller things, making it feel more personal, perhaps.
The disadvantages is of course that scope and size is limited, but we like compact things so it’s really not a problem for us. Being two persons in one room is always going to create some friction I guess so that is another disadvantage.
No real pressure, but it has been nice for us to work with outside people for music, writing and such on both Year Walk and DEVICE 6, so that is something we will continue to do. It’d be nice to be maybe just a few more people to create more dynamic group, but we’ll see what the future holds.