‘Semblance’: A Game By Nyamakop

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Nyamakop is a young company based in Johannesburg, South Africa, with a team of three full-time and two part-time designers, just out of university. There are a few extra challenges to making games in South Africa, as lead designer Ben Myres explains: “Internet speeds can be pretty bad… sometimes the power goes out… and the people in Africa don’t play indie games as a community. People play games but not games made by people in the country, so the people we sell to are Americans and Europeans so… we have to come to an event like [PAX] and meet the people who want to play our game and meet the press who might be interested in our story.”

Their game, Semblance, is described as a puzzle platformer featuring a world made out of playdough. Originally, only the game’s protagonist, a soft and bouncy little blob they call “Squish,” changed shape, but the idea developed into Squish, under the direction of the player, changing the shape of his world. The difficulty of making that happen reportedly made programmer Cukia “Sugar” Kimani cry, but the result is an engaging game. Playing the demo reminded me of Terraria without the RPG aspects, but with more freedom of movement and the ability to alter the landscape rather than dig through it. Visually, it’s a very pretty game. The demo world is a forest painted in purples and greens and populated by “playdough” versions of real world animals such as a cat, a frog, and a bunny. There are three other worlds in development and the artwork is definitely one of the game’s strengths.

gif of Squish interacting with his world in the game Semblance
Credit: Nyamakop

The art and design were crafted to be “comforting,” Ben explained, so it would be attractive to everyone, including “non-hardcore gamers, even though there’s a challenge to it. The design paradigm we have is to be conceptually difficult but easy to execute… like if you figure out the steps that complete the puzzle, executing those steps shouldn’t be difficult.” The plan is for there to be about thirty minutes of puzzle game play per world for a total of two hours, but also allow players to just bounce around and explore.

“On a meta level we hate puzzle games where if you get stuck that’s it, you can’t progress, so we made sure that most of the game you can just go on to the next puzzle and the game doesn’t block you.” There is a story told through background cave paintings and “you need to collect everything to get the final story, but it doesn’t block your enjoyment. You can experience 90% of the story, and explore the world, without completing any puzzles at all.” My daughters and I have spent literal hours ignoring all the missions in the Spider-Man 2 game and just exploring virtual New York City so that is a huge selling point for me!

Semblance will be available for Windows and Mac, and Nymakop is meeting with additional platforms and distributors. The game is still in active development–but I look forward to buying a plush Squish at a PAX East of the future.

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