Dyad: The Lost Interview

We interrogated Shawn McGrath about his unique PSN game at GDC, and the transcript has finally been declassified.
Author: J.D. Cohen
Published: April 26, 2012
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Shawn McGrath has a company named ][. To quote the company website, "][ or 'RSBLSB' or 'right square bracket left square bracket' is an indie game development studio located in Toronto, Ontario, Canada." It may not roll off the tongue, but it's easier to describe than Dyad, the game which Shawn demonstrated at this past GDC with the assistance of his wife.

Dyad is a tunnel racer with objectives that vary across stages. At the core is a tightly designed set of interactions involving environmental objects and player abilities that balance risk and reward on the edge of a razor. The visuals are abstract, and the music is pulsing and electronic. It will be released on PSN this summer.

We had a chance to play a lot of Dyad at the Sony booth, and more yet at the Indie Showcase where we cornered a somewhat harried Shawn in order to probe his brains. I don't use the majestic plural to sound fancily editorial; TPS stalwart Vincent Ingenito rolled with me for this assignment. He and I were both immediately drawn to the game, and we were eager to learn more about it and its genesis.

See what amazed JD and Vin here:

Shawn McGrath: I'm Shawn McGrath; I made Dyad. We're going to PSN in a few months, this summer.

TotalPlaystation.com: Any prior games?

I did commercial work for various companies over the years, and saved up all the money I made with this as the goal.

So, you're striking out on your own?

Started 4 years ago, finally…

You're probably tired of the comparisons, but—

—No, I'm not tired of them at all… it's very Minteresque. I've gotten a lot of comparisons, especially to Tempest 2000.

I bought a Nuon just so I could play Tempest 3000, so I'm a huge fan of his work, but what I was thinking about was that aside from the aesthetic similarity, you have some gameplay similarities, too. The actual mechanics are very different, but, well I don't know if you refer to them as enemies…

I do in text, because English is not good enough to describe what they are.

Right, it's weird to use that word for it, but they have very unique behaviors, and it seems like understanding those is very key to doing well. They present different risk/reward scenarios.

Yeah, that's the idea. If, in a game, you have something that's always good to do, then you should just always do it, right? So, one of the things I wanted in Dyad was… to not limit your use of anything, but to make it so that there's always a downside to anything you do. So, no matter what you do, there's a positive and a negative thing, and your thinking about how to balance the positives and negatives of each action is what makes the game interesting, and I think that is what makes all games interesting. One of things I want to make sure of in Dyad is that we don't limit the interactions that you have; you can always do the main interaction, and the secondary, where you turn into a weapon—you can almost always do it. Towards the end of the game, you can always do it, and it's just not always the best thing to do.

So, at any given moment, you're juggling different priorities, like the classic balance between score and survival; the grazing mechanic is a great little version of that.

If you treat the enemies just as solid, straight enemies—let's go back a bit: how they work in Dyad is that they're your only way to go forward, and they're also your only way to go backward. Dyad means two, or a group of two—two things in unison that balance off each other, which I thought was really fitting for the game. When the graze circle idea came about, it was instead of having—if you treat the play field as black and white or red and green or whatever, where green is good and red is bad… it's all green, and then you put an enemy somewhere and now there's red everywhere, but if you're right behind them, then that becomes green. To make it even more of a gradient, you have a graze circle around them that's an even deeper green than everything else, so it's a very gradated play field that's always changing and developing, and you'll always have to read it, so that's the idea behind the graze circles.
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