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Road to the IGF: Christian Etter's Drei Exclusive

February 26, 2014 | By Leigh Alexander

February 26, 2014 | By Leigh Alexander
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More: Smartphone/Tablet, Indie, Programming, Art, Design, Exclusive, Video, IGF

Drei is a visually-distinctive physics game about building towers out of irregular objects, a feat that would be impossible to do on one's own. Therein's the twist: this iOS game is collaborative, and strangers from around the world get connected to touch and build together.

The stylish-looking game has been nominated for Excellence in Visual Art in this year's Independent Games Festival. Here, developer Christian Etter talks about how a concept once rejected for a corporate ad campaign ended up blossoming into a game about how community can defy gravity.

What's your background in making games?

Initially I started to do games when I was a child. I used a software called Game Maker. Then I did other things for fifteen years and now I do make games again with a software called Unity3D.

How much time did you spend working on the game?

We developed Drei over three years. But for most parts it was a side project, so we worked on it when we found the time.

How did you come up with the concept?

In 2006 I was working for a project for an U.S. telecom giant. They changed their company name a number of times and wanted to create a digital campaign that makes them look "cool and youthful" to improve their image again.

I developed the idea of Drei, a game that connects people to build towers together. They didn't like that idea. But I kept it in my mind because I thought one day technology would be far enough that I could produce it without a large budget. I didn't think that day would come already.

Drei works by connecting players around the world at random with one another, right? Can you explain how you tested and implemented that?

Yes, if you play Drei while being connected to the internet, the game connects you automatically with other players from across the world. We tested this first on a local network. Once it was stable we started to use a cloud-based server in Zurich (where we are too).

When we had that figured out, we studied the mysterious map of internet traffic to find out where to place the lowest possible number of servers to cover most of the world's population. Then we asked friends from different countries to test the connection from their home to see if it worked. Strangely it worked. Just not for Panama. And New Zealand, neither.

Did you hope players of Drei would experiment with ideas of community and friendship as they negotiated puzzles together?

Not to experiment, but I did hope they experience a feeling of community and friendship. That's the underlying aim of Drei.

The visual imagery is very modern and distinctive. What were some of your influences?

The design of Drei had to be honest, meaning that it's not pretending to be something it isn't. And computer graphics are made by computers, like the name says, and computers are not particularly good at drawing circles and smooth edges. But they are good with simple straight shapes, connecting dots, 0s and 1s.

At the same time the design had to be organic, to represent life and the human being. The final look was created by fusing these two criteria, colorful low polygon models, built in a very organic and imperfect way. Tribal patterns from India and Nigeria helped us to find interesting combinations of colors and shapes.

Have you played any of the other IGF finalists? Any games you've especially enjoyed?

So far I had only the chance to play Luxuria Superbia. It's naughty!

What do you think of the current state of the indie scene?

I'm new here, can't judge that. But I can see that technology allows lot of people to make a lot of games now (just like Drei). Thus the diversity and the number of games is rising, while revenue and attention per game is falling.

This probably means that people who do games for the love will be able to create even more small and beautiful games. Therefore the current state should be: poor and happy.

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