Bows, but not that kind
Symphonia is something really special. It feels like a game which, once somebody starts talking about it, will be talked about a lot. It’s a puzzle-platformer where you, a violinist called Philemon, traverse the world of Symphonia by catapulting yourself off of pin cushions using your violin bow, and reawakening everything by playing music.
I recently had a chat with Simon Larguier, the social media manager (as well as a level designer and QA tester) for Team SPEAR, the group of thirteen developers who made the game as part of their final project at ISART Digital Paris, a school dedicated to games development.
You’ve said that the original pitch for Symphonia was a game where you navigated the world using a spear. That turned into a violin bow over time, but what I find especially interesting about it is just how much you use that violin bow, and what for; where did this mechanic of catapulting yourself with it come from?
The initial concept was pitched by Quentin, one of our programmers, to all graduating students. At this stage, the spear wielded by the avatar was controlled with the mouse movement, kinda like in Getting over it with Bennett Foddy. When you moved your mouse fast, the character would also launch faster: that made for a very physics-based game.
Later on, the concept evolved: we wanted to create an aerial gameplay, but also a dependency on the environment. You have to use the walls, the ground, to progress. That’s because our violinist Philemon, and the forgotten realm of Symphonia, are two tightly linked entities. You can picture this interaction between Philemon and Symphonia, as mutual help! So we came to make the catapulting more deterministic, but also more reliable, trustable.
Classical music is baked into Symphonia, not just visually. I noticed a lot of the sound effects in the game had been created using orchestral instruments. What was the process like of exploring these instruments to get the right noises?
You’re right, our composer and sound designer Olivier has used a lot of orchestral instruments and classical sonorities for this game. The idea was to tightly link the gameplay elements and the sound effects, including Philemon, to the tone of the music. That way, the world feels like one big entity, and Philemon feels in tune like a note on a music sheet. It was quite the challenge for Olivier because he’s originally more used to creating electro music, so we do think he really surpassed himself!
I studied game design back in college, and I couldn’t possibly have imagined releasing what I was working on to the public and simultaneously being graded on it. What was the process like of taking this game you all made for your studies and then putting it out there?
We started sharing our content on Twitter as early as possible, and you’re right, it’s usually not what graduating students do. But our early concept and 3C version had been very well received at school, and we were confident our universe and setting would really interest people online. For me personally (Simon), as a game designer, it wasn’t easy to take care of the game’s production and the sharing at the same time (maybe even a bit risky), but it’s an exercise I really enjoyed, and it helped me stay confident and focused on what kind of experience we were creating.
What inspiration did you draw from in the creation of Symphonia? Aesthetically, mechanically, or otherwise? Are there any unconventional works or concepts that informed its development?
Well, regarding the game design, our game is inspired by a long tradition of platforming games and metroidvanias, especially the recent indie ones. But our game also has a contemplative and rhythmic side to it, and so we were influenced by the colourful universe and music of Rayman (dare I say, a French icon)! The structure of Symphonia has also been inspired by some of Studio Ghibli’s work, like Howl’s Moving Castle, for the castle feels alive and breathing in itself. Finally, the Marble Machine from Wintergatan is an instrument we found really funny and interesting, so marbles do have a special place in our world.
What are your hopes for Symphonia?
Now that the game has released, people from all over the world can try it out! We are hoping to get a lot of feedback, and that our game really clicks with people. We developers are not making games just for ourselves and our degree, it’s only when the audience involves in the game’s universe that it really starts making sense! And if we acknowledge a certain amount of positive feedback, we might consider pursuing our work on Symphonia.
Is there anything else in the works for all of you? Another game, maybe?
Right now, we’re mostly focused on Symphonia, putting it out there. Some of us also are taking well-deserved vacation time. But If Symphonia really clicks with people, and right now we think it’s on the right path, we’re considering the idea to create a studio and start looking for funding and business opportunities! We have scores of ideas, and if we were to continue working together on a project, we would rather work on Symphonia. We have so much more to offer!
Astrid is a formidable foe that has studied the art of the keyboard for many years. Her primary subjects of interest include labour rights in the games industry, really weird and artsy indie games, and adding “but Communism” to the ends of game titles as a means of coming up with ideas for what to write about.