Octahedron Puts the Platform in Platformer

By Jack Yarwood on at

Octahedron is a vertical platformer all about timing and precision. Developed by Demimonde Games, it is a clever re-construction of the genre: requiring you traverse vertical levels, dodge lasers, avoid projectiles, and escape traps.

The game is the work of Marco 'Monomirror' Guardia, a Swiss musician and producer-turned-developer. He has been working on the game for five years now, alongside his day job as assistant director at Brave Wave Productions — a Japanese music label that releases the work of video game composers like Yoko Shimomura, Manami Matsumae, and Takahiro Izutani (current project: remastering the Street Fighter 2 soundtrack). Who better to make a rhythm platformer?

To find out more I spoke to Guardia, curious about both how he created the central platforming mechanic for the game, as well as how his background in music informed the project.

“I wanted to make something 2D and […] something hopefully simple for me to get into,” Guardia says, talking about the origins of the project and his relative inexperience developing games. “I had just written down a few notes about ideas, like prototype ideas, and one that stuck out to me was the one for Octahedron that was nothing but 'a platformer about making platforms.' That’s all I had written down. I didn’t know myself what that meant at the time. And I thought, let’s just try it out.”

This platform mechanic allows for a lot of satisfying movement. For example, not only can you move upwards, but you can also hold down the button for creating platforms and walk in mid-air, gliding horizontally. But it didn't arrive fully formed.

“That was not in the prototype at all," says Guardia. "It was kind of [weird], because it was a constant stop and go. You would place a platform, like jump on it, and then couldn’t move. It was really static. It felt really restrictive. But […] from that restriction, I was thinking what would be more fun is if you could have more control over it. It was all about sort of that iterative, forward thinking. Where can I go with this mechanic? Instead of introducing new things, let’s look at what’s working instead?”

The game is defined by just how much it does with this one mechanic. For instance, you can use the platform to enter pipes, fire projectiles from beneath at enemies, and launch yourself by targeting slingshot-like platforms. You can also block attacks from below, an invaluable tactic for getting ahead.

Coming up with these ideas was a very complicated process. Guardia was worried about stuffing the game with too many features, which is why he determined that ensure that everything should be a logical extension of the main mechanic, rather than being present for aesthetic reasons.

“I had like a dashing mechanic that was just completely scrapped eventually," says Guardia. "I had so many more different platform types too. The final game doesn’t have that many. It has upgrades, but they are all sort of logical extensions of what you have and most of them are also useful weapons. Originally I had like crazy stuff. I had a time platform that would stop time whenever you make it. I had a platform that would flip the entire level. Every time you made it, it would horizontally flip on its horizontal axis. There were all these crazy ideas, but I just realised they didn’t make sense.”

This extended to other standard elements of platformer design, such as collectibles. When you smash hanging lightbulbs in a level, in various prototypes, Guardia had made it so that these smashed lights dropped crystals onto the floor. He soon realised, though, that this counteracted the rhythm of the game, as the player had to backtrack in order to pick them up. As a quick solution he changed it so that, whenever the lightbulbs break, they pull up and the crystals form on a higher level, keeping the momentum of play.

“It came from the idea of wanting to have something in the game that you interact with, that you can sort of ignore if you want. It’s fun to destroy, but that grants you some sort of collectible. I was thinking of blocks in Mario, like specifically like bushes in 2D in Zelda because they are even more non-essential. The lightbulbs turned out to be a little more essential in Octahedron, but in Zelda it’s fun for players to just slash at grass and bushes and all that sort of thing. You don’t have to do it really. Most of the time you don’t really need to farm for anything. It’s just fun that it’s there.”

Other influences he cites include Llamasoft’s Jeff Minter and the independent developer Terry Cavanagh, in addition to the neon-infused Pacman: Championship Edition, and Bizarre Creations’ Geometry Wars. In particular, Cavanagh’s minimalistic approach with VVVVVV and the psychedelic visuals of Minter together inspired Guardia to take on the role of artist himself, which led to the finished game's trippy appeal.

Guardia's musical influences, however, came predominately from his own background. He was keen on exploring and revisiting the genres he had previously worked on before, including trance, progressive house, and synthwave, as he thought it would fit the game’s aesthetic and it was something he was adept at. This is where his experience at Brave Wave Productions helped: not only did Guardia know many of the composers signed to the label, and was able to bend their ear, he was also able to ask for their feedback.

“One big overlap that happened is that I got to meet Chipzel through Brave Wave, and sort of became friends with her," says Guardia. "Now she’s a pretty significant part of the soundtrack. So, I met her through Brave Wave and then really liked her music. And she actually helped out at the first event too I was at with the game, in 2014 at EGX. She just sort of helped at the booth. And then at some point it became clear: “Hey, it would be great if you could make music for the game. Somehow these styles really work together.”

Alongside Niamh “Chipzel” Houston, Guardia also got house and trance producers André Sobota and Derek Howell involved on the project. To ensure that everything went smoothly with these collaborators, he set a few ground rules: mostly to do with the tempo of the submitted tracks. Every level has a set bpm, for example with obstacles in the environment tied to that rhythm. These include lasers that fire on a beat and falling obstacles. He also asked them to produce tracks with at least one notable percussive sound on each beat, to give the player a reference - like a kick drum or a high-hat.

Octahedron is from certain angles a traditional platformer. It has warp pipes, collectibles, and destructible objects in the environment. What sets it apart is the original mechanic right at the middle, and how the game draws from Guardia’s work in the music industry to build around. Octahedron has a clear sense of rhythm and a forward momentum that keeps the player always on the move. It's no walk in the park though. More a hop, jump, and skip through a laser-infested hellscape - but one with all the best tunes.