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Road to the IGF: Mahdi Bahrami's Farsh Exclusive

March 5, 2013 | By John Polson

At the age of 17, Mahdi Bahrami entered the 2011 IGF competition and received an honorable mention in the Excellence in Design category for Bo. Now in college, Bahrami has become a finalist for the 2013 IGF student competition with his carpet rolling puzzler, Farsh, for Mac and Windows.

Bahrami's Farsh (Persian for "carpet") is the kind of free game you can easily get wrapped up in. It's a puzzler where the player must twist, turn, roll, and unroll a magic carpet to get to the end of every level, using specially colored tiles to affect the path to the end zone.

Continuing the Road to the IGF series, Gamasutra speaks with the NHTV Breda University of Applied Sciences student about his authentically Persian game, the changes he's made since its release, and the representation of Middle Eastern cultures and history in video games.

What development tools did you use?

Unity and Photoshop.

Are you still working on the game? Any future plans for it?

The first version of the game was done in two weeks. For the IGF version, I worked another two weeks to fix some of my mistakes in level design, adding some elements to the gameplay and implementing UI. The game was originally released for Windows and Mac. An iOS version of the game will be released soon.

How did you come up with the concept?

It was more than a year I was thinking about designing a game based on the idea of rolling a carpet but I was stuck in how I could make something playable with it. Finally I came up with the idea of a puzzle game where the carpet has the ability to rotate the tiles.

Can you discuss what you added to the game and why you added it?

Before I put the game on my blog, it was not played by anyone other than myself and Moslem Rasouli (who made the music for the game). So I had no idea what other people thought about the game and if there was anything I should change. But right after I published the game on my blog, people uploaded some videos of their playing experience on YouTube. With thanks to those people, watching those videos helped me find out my mistakes. Then I changed many things in game.

I added a map so players can see the whole level in the map, I tried to teach the gameplay to the player in a better way, and finally, I improved the user interface of the game by adding a main menu and in-game menu, which are both implemented on carpets so players experience more of a Persian atmosphere in the game.

What lessons did you learn from Bo, an IGF honorable mention, that helped improve your design of Farsh?

The most important lesson I have learned from Bo is that I'm moving in the right direction. I just continued what I was doing. For me, an honorable mention in the main competition for Excellence in Design when I was just 17 years old was a source of motivation.

How does NHTV Breda University of Applied Sciences prepare students for independent game development (compared to grooming for triple-A work)?

As far as I know a great percentage of my classmates are going to work on triple-A games and a smaller percentage of students are going to work as independent game developers. School teaches students stuff, and how and where they use what they learn depends on the students.

What made you decide to get into making games?

I don't remember exactly when and why I decided to get into making video games but what I know is that I'm good at programming, and I like designing new things. I can make prototypes of my ideas in a short amount of time. This is the place where I can demonstrate my talents.

Do you have any comments on indie game development and game schools in Iran?

I have some game developer friends in Iran. It's not easy to say which one is an indie game developer which ones are not. But they are all talented people and I'm sure they have the potential to make great games.

About game schools I just know there is a game development institute in Tehran. But I don't know how good it is.

Why did you leave Iran for school?

For lots of reasons. For adventuring. I wanted to make some changes in my life, experience living alone, and also learn new things.

What are your thoughts on Middle Eastern cultures and history represented in video games?

There are many games based on Middle Eastern cultures and history mostly made by Western developers, but what I'm interested to see is games which are purely inspired by Middle Eastern culture. I mean, if the story of the game happened in a Middle Eastern country, that is not something special. It's still a game like other Western or Japanese games. I like to see originality in gameplay not in story.

What I want to mention here is that more than anyone else, developers from the Middle East are the right group of people who can represent Middle Eastern cultures in games. But as developers we have lots of problems (mostly Iranian developers). I personally can't attend GDC because my visa application for U.S. was rejected. And that's not the only problem. Here in this article most of the problems as an Iranian game developer are explained.

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