Puzzles, and all that jazz
The breeziest, bounciest, happiest trailer we’ve seen in a long time belongs to Gwen Frey’s Kine, an ingenious new puzzle game featuring a trio of sentient musical instruments. “There’s just so much negativity in the world that I knew I wanted to make something light-hearted and joyful, that makes people smile,” Frey says. As founder of The Molasses Flood, Frey was at a loose end after the studio’s gorgeous survival game The Flame In The Flood shipped. “I started prototyping and pitching things at work and one of them had this kernel of something interesting, which was the way that a character could move in a 3D grid,” she says. “I just liked the way this character moved. I thought it looked funny.” With the studio considering multiplayer for its next project, Frey found herself in a similar mindset, imagining a competitive turn-based game where players would try to push one another off a platform.
That idea didn’t stick, but still there was something fascinating about this cuboid character with extendable limbs. “I had these design constraints, where the character could push off from a limb, but the limb wouldn’t be able to support their weight if the body rolled off the edge of the world. And so that had to look right.” Eventually, Frey realised that an accordion matched the shape she was after, but there was one problem: she wanted a jazz theme for the game. “I talked to some of my musician friends, and asked them if it was possible to have an accordion in jazz music. And they said, ‘Anything’s possible if you believe!’”
The idea of a jazz-centric game came from a surprising source. “I was really into La La Land,” Frey says. So is the yellow body of these musical characters inspired by Emma Stone’s yellow dress? “It totally is!” she beams. “It’s funny you picked that up. But I’ve referenced La La Land imagery constantly. I thought that was a gorgeous movie.”
Yet still there was something missing. It was only when Frey played Stephen Lavelle’s formidable puzzler Stephen’s Sausage Roll that everything started to come together. “That was the moment when it clicked,” she says. “I played it and realised that all I had to do was make the levels much smaller. And within this much more constrained space, it became way more fun.”
A year on, Frey has built Kine up into something special. The game’s structure is like a performance, with each protagonist embarking upon a solo career, gradually unlocking new levels where they can jam with other instruments. “Each character is building a composition,” Frey explains. “We’re layering more and more tracks of a song, and then when you reach the end you hear the whole song and it’s this huge, beautiful composition that they’ve made together.” Is this the start of something wonderful and new? Who knows, but so far Kine seems to be very much our tempo.
A trombone’s slide lets one character cross gaps more easily, but manoeuvring them around tight spaces is tricky.
The characters move wonderfully, but that’s no great surprise: Frey was the sole animator on The Flame In The Flood.