For those of us who can barely walk up a flight of stairs without doing something clumsy, movies like The Matrix or John Woo’s The Killer offer an additional layer of fantasy: not only being a hard-as-nails hero, but also being able to do somersaults in slow-motion while also wielding a pair of semi-automatic pistols.
My Friend Pedro, the forthcoming 2D platform-shooter from developer DeadToast Entertainment, delivers on that fantasy, albeit with its own wild twists. Here, you’re able to leap and roll through the air, ricochet a bullet off a frying pan and into a bad guy’s head, do a backflip off a wall and then maybe kick an ashtray at another bad guy’s sternum. All in glorious slow-motion.
For the creator behind My Friend Pedro, Victor Ågren, it all began about 14 years ago while he was still at college in Sweden. Back then, his gun ballet shooter was a little Flash game he’d created as a final-year project. Initially, there was a prototype called Extreme Russian Gymnastics, which first explored the jumping and spinning mechanics – to which Ågren would add all the shooting in later builds. For about eight years, My Friend Pedro lay dormant, a Flash file languishing on a hard drive, until Ågren polished it up and put it online in 2014.
“It got well-received and people kept asking for more,” Ågren tells us, “and that gave me the confidence to make it into a full game.”
Since then, Ågren has formed his own studio, DeadToast, and is now in the latter stages of making a new, improved version of My Friend Pedro in Unity. Ågren has also built up some vital industry experience: after finishing college, he moved to the UK for a job at Media Molecule, developers of the hit LittleBigPlanet series. He was just 19 years old at the time.
“It was really good to learn the process of how a game is actually made,” says Ågren. “What priorities to have at what stage of development. Ideas of keeping things modular and knowing the hook of what you’re trying to create. And just being around amazing people and being able to absorb a bit of knowledge about everything.”
When Ågren saw the reaction to My Friend Pedro, though, he decided to leave Media Molecule to work on his new iteration full-time; a process that has meant getting to grips with Unity, and figuring out how to realise his vision of a gracefully chaotic platform-shooter.
“There’s always a bit of a learning curve when picking up new tools,” Ågren tells us. “The biggest thing for me was probably getting used to a 3D engine, as I’ve never done any 3D modelling or the like before. A lot of the physics in the game is sort of only half-using Unity’s physics engine. I generally find that relying on pure physics too much for gameplay can make things a bit unpredictable at times, which can lead to frustration for the player.”
For My Friend Pedro, Ågren wanted to move on from the evocatively hand-drawn 2D graphics of the Flash game. For inspiration, he turned to the work of Liam Wong – a celebrated game director at Ubisoft, and also a photographer noted for his colourful, neon-infused images of Tokyo at night. In the process, he also came up with a way of creating My Friend’s Pedro’s assets by himself.
“I kept seeing Liam Wong’s amazing photography popping up all over the internet, and that inspired part of the visual direction,” Ågren tells us. “What I ended up doing actually saved me a lot of time. So all the textures for the backgrounds in the game are actually black and white, and things get coloured with post-processing and lights. This meant I could reuse a lot of textures and it also helps making the game more readable, bringing emphasis to the things the player will interact with.”
What will likely become My Friend Pedro’s unique selling point is its array of movement options. As the game progresses, the masked hero’s sidekick – incidentally, a grinning, talking banana – relates a growing roster of moves that players can use as they see fit. Like the classic Max Payne, the hero is able to slow down time as he rolls, dives or twists through the air; the wrinkle here, though, is that the pair of pistols held in the protagonist’s hands can be aimed and fired independently.
You can therefore barge your way into a room, shoot one bad guy down on some stairs and another standing on a catwalk above; indeed, the constant kill bonuses actively encourage you to pull off as many daring and graceful assassinations as your skill allows. The 2D perspective also plays a part in My Friend Pedro’s appeal; with a plan view of an upcoming room full of enemies, the player can take a moment to consider their attack.
“I like keeping the gameplay to two dimensions, since it makes it easier for the player to process what’s actually going on,” Ågren says. “There are sections where you might want to plan ahead a bit before diving into a room full of baddies, while other sections might force you to just push on through and deal with each situation from moment to moment. I found that trying to keep the action super-intense all the time can be a bit too much, so it’s important to bring down the energy level occasionally, only so you can ramp it up again from there.”
As for life as a solo developer, the experience has been rewarding but similarly intense, Ågren says.
“It can be quite overwhelming at times, but also liberating sometimes too, as I can take the thing I’m making in whatever direction I want. I love the hype the game is getting, but at the same time I sort of have to not take it too seriously, in order to not crumble under the pressure to deliver. Solo indie development is a great way of finding your limits!”