GDC Indie Gem: Farsh
One of the great things about GDC is that it’s so international. On the show floor this year, places like Scotland and Nova Scotia were trying to recruit game designers (both cold places, someone pointed out to me, where there’s nothing to do but sit inside and code). Attendees fly for hours to hob-nob with their colleagues and try to find work.
Iranian developer Mahdi Bahrami never got the chance – he couldn’t get a visa to come to the US. It’s a real shame, and though this is not the space to discuss international politics, I hope he gets the opportunity in the future — he deserves the chance to show off his game Farsh, which had pride of place at the 2013 Independent Games Festival Student Showcase.
Farsh is a distinctly Iranian game — the name means “carpet,” in Farsi — and players control, quite literally, a Persian carpet, moving it along tiled tracks to escape the level. Special red tiles provide axes of rotation; players will plant one end of the carpet on a red tile and then unroll it to the desired length, creating a rotating column of tiles that can be used to bridge gaps, allowing the carpet to progress. Other colored tiles introduce new mechanics and different ways to move the carpet. Though the game seems simple at first, it gets tricky quickly, in the best way possible.
The concept was created in tribute to Bahrami’s mother, who worked as a carpet weaver when she was a young woman. The game musters an corresponding sense of quiet dignity — the design is very sparse, with patterned tiles floating in a sea of white. Warm, occasionally avant garde piano music by Iranian composer Moslem Rasuli adds to the contemplative atmosphere. To be honest, my Western ears were expecting the game to feature a certain, stereotypical kind of Middle Eastern music, with plenty of traditional instrumentation, so I was glad to hear the game not fulfill my expectations.
Every year, the IGF is full of clever, innovative puzzlers, but not many can offer Farsh’s distinct cultural identity and intriguing backstory. That said, it’s a fun, contemplative puzzle game in its own right, and would be worth playing if it had been designed in Lawrence, Kansas. Pick it up at Bahrami’s website, where the game can be downloaded for PC or MAC. It’s also available for iOS.