By Jason Herring, February 23 2016 —
With a display of his new project secured for the biggest game development conference in the world, Radu Muresan has a lot to be excited for. His stealth puzzler Semispheres is expected to launch on a variety of platforms starting this April.
Semispheres is a single-player game where players solve puzzles by simultaneously controlling two characters in connected, parallel worlds. The unique mechanic, which Muresan says represents the two sides of the brain, is used to craft progressively difficult puzzles that must be solved with reason and dexterity.
Because of the game’s unusual mechanic, Muresan says he’s had difficulty conveying Semispheres’ core idea to people who don’t play many games.
“I used to refer to the game as a single play co-op, but that left some people a bit confused,” he says. “What I meant was you play co-op with yourself. You control both the left and right sides of the screen at the same time, but independently.”
The game melds two different genres — puzzle and stealth. While the former is fairly self-explanatory, stealth games are more niche. They ask players to accomplish tasks by using tools to remain undetected and limiting resources to force conservative gameplay. While Semispheres contains elements of both genres, Muresan says the focus of the game shifted significantly since it was originally conceived in August 2014.
“That first version was more of a stealth game. Then it morphed into more of a puzzle game. Realistically, the two genres are close, but the puzzle genre is a bit more constrained,” Muresan says.
Although he altered Semispheres as development progressed, Muresan thinks making necessary design changes shaped the game.
“I believe constraints are what make games. For me, it was mostly about power-ups and consumables, because in many stealth games you start with [a set number of items] and you’re afraid to use them because you might run out and I wanted my players not to worry about it in my game,” he explains. “But when I took out the restriction of not being able to access those tools all the time, it wasn’t a very interesting game.”
Muresan demoed Semispheres in showcases across the province over the last year, as well as at a conference in Boston. But the game will see its biggest audience yet in March when it is featured as part of the Indie Mega Booth in San Francisco at the Game Developers Conference, which typically welcomes around 25,000 attendees.
“There’s a larger group of us going to San Francisco from Calgary and I’ve been selected to be part of the Indie Mega Booth at GDC. It’s a great honour for me because the admission is very selective, and it doesn’t cost anything for us,” Muresan says. “It’s a free event and you get lots of exposure. I’m really proud to get in, and it’ll definitely be the largest audience I’ll show the game to.”
Muresan plans to launch Semispheres on the Xbox One and PS4 in addition to a PC release, as well as a possible Wii U release. He will become the first Calgary developer to release a game on these consoles. Previous local game releases were exclusive to the PC.
Despite this, Muresan still thinks there’s a long way to go before Calgary is known as a game-developing city.
“Funding for games is always a problem, regardless of where you are in the world, because it’s a very competitive business and it’s hard to make a living out of it. In Calgary specifically, we have some additional challenges because there’s not many commercially successful companies in the city and Calgary isn’t a cheap city to hire developers,” he says. “Out of all the major cities in Canada, I don’t want to say we’re in the worst shape — but we’re definitely having the least amount of success so far.”
One thing is certain — as games like Semispheres start attracting international attention, Calgary is establishing itself as a city where great video games are made.