How Baba Is You Works | GMTK Most Innovative 2019


Every December, I use my last video of the
year to celebrate the most innovative and inventive game I played in the last 12 months. In previous years I’ve looked at the YouTube
detective drama Her Story, the uncanny chatbot game Event[0], the serpent simulator Snake
Pass, and the time-travelling murder mystery, Return of the Obra Dinn. These games have done things I’ve never
seen before, and are impressive in both their idea and their execution. They might not be the very best games of their
respective years, but when it comes to fresh concepts done well, these are the games I
would recommend. I certainly had lots of choices to pick from
for 2019, like the combat-free role playing game Disco Elysium, the hilarious honk ‘em
up Untitled Goose Game, the sci-fi archeology game Outer Wilds, and the other sci-fi archeology
game, Heaven’s Vault. But this year, nothing quite beat the mind-melting
puzzle game, Baba Is You. Now, from first glance, this game looks pretty
simple. You hop around a grid and push blocks – making
it part of a sub genre of block-shoving puzzlers, all inspired by the Japanese game Sokoban. Here’s where things start getting strange,
though: in each level, the rules of the game are written on screen as simple sentences. Like, “Baba Is You”, which means you control
this funny white critter called Baba. Or “Wall Is Stop”, which means you can’t
walk through walls. “Rock Is Push” means you can shove rocks
around, and “Flag Is Win” means touching the flag will finish the level. And then here’s the kicker: those rules
are, themselves, blocks that can be pushed around – allowing you to break the logic that
dictates the level at hand, and create entirely new gameplay by rewriting the rules. Remove the word “Stop” from “Wall Is
Stop”, for example, and now you can waltz straight past walls. Change “Flag Is Win” to “Rock Is Win”,
and now the rock becomes your goal. Or push “Rock: into this sentence, and you switch
the main character of the game into a tiny brown boulder. Cheeky. And thus begins a few hundred levels where
the solution is never to simply reach the goal – but to rewrite the rules of the universe
until you’re in a world where the goal is now reachable. It is infinitely intelligent and endlessly
surprising. It’s tough, but far from impossible, and
practically every level is a revalatory experience with a satisfying aha! moment. And if you haven’t played it yet, now’s
your time to pause the video, head to Steam or the Switch eShop, and get the game. I hope that you love it. When you’re done, remember to come back,
and we’ll chat more about how the game builds its brain-busting puzzles Baba Is You is the brain-child of Finnish
indie developer Arvi Teikari. He told me over email back in April that he
was inspired to make the game as part of the 2017 Nordic Game Jam. The jam’s theme was “Not There”, and
the word “Not” made him think of logic operators in programming languages. Combine that with a block-pushing puzzle game
like Snakebird or Stephen’s Sausage Roll, and this “resulted in a mental image of
a block of ice not melting in hot lava due to the statement “Ice Is Not Melt”. The scrappy, prototypical Baba Is You ended
up winning that Game Jam, and the reaction was so positive that Teikari decided to take
his underbaked jam game and turn it into a full fat release. Two years later, and the designer had about
219 ultra clever levels for players to work through. So how, exactly, is one of these Baba Is You
levels made? To start, Teikari tries to think of an interesting
interaction, or set-up that could come out of the game’s encyclopaedia of words and
rules. “Pull”, for example, could lead to a level
where Keke needs to drag a key across a lake. A teleporter doesn’t have to just move objects,
but could also be used to move around the rules themselves. And the word “Has”, could lend itself
to a level where you drop a box every-time Keke dies, but that box immediately turns
back into Keke. Bonkers. Speaking at the Gamelab conference in Barcelona
this summer, Teikari said, “when I’ve got this idea of ‘hey, that would be cool
to see in a level’, I try to figure out what kind of level do I have to build so that
when the player is playing the level they have to use that interaction”. And that’s where we get to the fascinating
contradiction at the heart of Baba Is You. Because while this is a game that offers a
seemingly infinite world of possibilities – its puzzles are largely defined by what
you can’t do. Because while making an open ended puzzle
game sounds great, it’s open to easy answers – like Scribblenauts, where half of the levels
can be finished by writing in the word jetpack. So the designer’s job is actually to lock
you in and force restrictions on you. And in Baba Is You that’s achieved by the
words that are and aren’t on screen, the way some sentences are pushed against walls
or locked behind fences, and the claustrophobic grid that constricts your movements. With these restrictions in place, the designer
can lock off easy answers – and force you to find the clever trick at the heart of the
puzzle. Teikari calls this process reverse engineering
– of essentially starting with the solution and then working backwards to throw up restrictions
and make a puzzle that supports it. As an example, take the level Baba Doesn’t
Respond. In this level we play as Keke, and the solution
is to use two belts to redirect a moving Baba. So how does the designer force this interaction? Let’s start by putting a wall and a locked
door between Keke and the Flag. If we put a rule here like “Door Is Shut
And Open”, we can just push the word “Shut” over and then go to the flag. But if we put a reed here, and make it so
creating that first sentence simultaneously makes the rule “Reed Is Defeat”, we suddenly
put Keke in a pickle – opening the door also denies access to that door. Hm! Quite the catch! So, the player will hopefully realise that
they need to have Keke be stood in this exact spot when the rule is triggered – and they just
need to figure out how to move the sentence from afar. Answer: “Baba Is Move”. Now the level would be way too easy if we
could just put Baba here, make “Baba Is Move”, and then walk to the right spot and
wait for Baba to walk into the words. So, some restrictions are added. This single hedge block means Baba only has
a tiny run-up. And having “Move” be in the corner makes
it impossible to, well, move, so the sentence “Baba Is Move” has to be made on the furthest
left edge of the screen. These two things combine to make it impossible
to make “Baba Is Move” and then walk to that all-important spot, because Baba will
have already made the reed deadly by the time you get there. And thus, you must use these belts to create
a much longer path for Baba to take, Chu Chu Rocket style, which will give you enough time
to walk across the level before he triggers the sentence change. Then it’s just a case of sprinkling on some
pretty decoration, and putting in some other bits to restrict your movement or stop unintended
solutions. Though, many of those are left in by the designer – provided they don’t make the real solution trivial. So as you can see, the solution to the puzzle
is actually pretty simple. But by obfuscating the answer behind a sequence
of problems, it creates this interesting phenomenon where Teikari is working backwards from the
solution, locking up doors behind him as he gets to the starting conditions for the puzzle. And then the player then moves in the opposite
direction, opening each door in turn until they get to the solution. And by setting the stage up in this way, the
player is actually somewhat lured towards the solution. Each level contains a number of tiny problems
that render something impossible – forcing the player to find a different, more creative
way to overcome the problem. These stumbling blocks then stack together,
creating a pathway to the level’s solution. Here’s how that looks in a favourite stage
of mine: Tiny Pond. In this level, the word “Win” needs to
be released from a pond. The water is tagged as “Shut”, and Baba
is tagged as “Open”, which means you can walk into the water to unlock it and gain access
– but this also destroys Baba. So, we’re going to need to try something
else. We’ve got two other words: “Key” and
“Flag”, and so we could make “Key Is Open”, but there’s no “Push” verb,
meaning the key just sits there. The only way to make it move is to write “Key
Is You”, but we run into the same problem: you’re destroyed as soon as you touch the
water. By now you should hopefully be thinking, “okay,
maybe I can be both key and Baba at the same time, because when one dies, I can still control
the other one”. But, sadly, there aren’t enough words to
make that sentence work. However, the sequence of logical leaps have
got you this far and there’s only one possible way forward now: if you make flag is key,
you’ve got two keys. And now if you have “Key Is You”, you
can control both, sacrifice one to open a hole in the water, and use the remaining key
to finish the stage. It’s really clever. The set-up for the stage walked us right into
the central problem of the level: we need to be “Open”, but we also don’t want
to disappear when we use ourselves. And so we’re in the perfect spot to try
and figure out the actual solution – and go “aha!” when we get there. If this was the first level that you played
in this game, you would be – I think – completely stumped. But luckily, playing Baba Is You means constantly
adding to an ever expanding knowledge base that grows with every stage you play. So Tiny Pond builds on the level Jelly Throne,
where you control two characters at once. And Tiny Pond’s solution reappears in the
stage Unreachable Shores, where you sacrifice one Keke, so the survivor can move forward. But this sort of learning starts from the
very beginning of the game. Baba Is You is a pretty complicated puzzler,
after all, and there’s not a single tutorial in sight. Instead, the game’s first crop of puzzles
all subtly and silently tell you how the game works through their solutions. So in Level 1, we’re stuck inside a tiny
box. There’s only one way to get out and that’s
to break the sentence “Wall Is Stop”, and make the wall no longer a solid object. Then, we can make a sentence – “Flag Is
Win” – to finish the level. That’s breaking and making sentences: the
two most fundamental concepts of the game. Level 2 is the exact same stage as before
but now everything is wrong. You play as a wall, the walls are made of
flags, and Baba is nowhere to be found. This teaches players that nothing in the game
has an intrinsic value: it’s only given purpose when part of a rule. The game keeps this up throughout its first
few stages, with solutions that clue us in to some fundamental concept we’ll definitely
need to know later. Here, “Lava Is Push overrides” the rule
“Lava Is Hot”. In this puzzle, we learn that we can create
two sentences from the same “Is” block, by creating them in a cross. And the game will continue to teach new concepts
and ideas throughout the adventure. Every time a new concept is introduced – like
the operator “And” or the words “Open” and “Shut”, we’re treated to introductory
puzzles that make these new mechanics crystal clear. I asked Teikari how he went about making these
introductory stages, and he said “If I exhaustively go through all the meaningful interactions
between elements, eventually I get levels where the ‘trick’ is mostly just the basic
functionality of a specific element in itself”. that can then be put at the beginning of the
world, to act as a tutorial for the stages to come. While Baba Is You is full of puzzles that
will make you feel stumped when you first play them, and make you feel smart when you
solve them, Teikari’s real goal is to create moments of surprise and laughter. YOUTUBER: [Laughter]. YOUTUBER: “There’s no rule saying ‘Wall
Is Stop’. [Laughter] I was confining myself to this stupid little
area and I didn’t need to.” That’s certainly one way it’s done – by playing
with your expectations for how things work. In this level, for example, most players will
assume they need to unlock the door. But actually they need to unlock the wall. There are also just bonkers rules that go
way beyond the basic set-up. “Empty” allows you to control or fill
the empty space in each stage. “Make” lets you create a trail of objects
when you move. “More” lets you duplicate keys until they
fill every spot in the space. And just like the original idea for the game,
“Not” allows you to flip rules on their head. Plus, in an attempt to make sure every single
interaction is explored – a similar design philosophy as one used by Braid developer
Jonathan Blow – Teikari has “Text” be a word, allowing you to manipulate the rules
with other rules. And by the time “Level” is introduced,
you’re not only moving the entire screen around – but breaking out the stage and bouncing
around the map screen in a mind-melting meta exploration of the game’s fundamental logic. There were more ideas that didn’t make the
cut, of course. Teikari told me that “Stick”, which would
make objects clump together, was removed because it created nightmare programming problems. And “Safe”, which would render an object
invulnerable, was left on the cutting room floor because it was hazy, and uninteresting. Not everything that made it into the game is a
complete winner, if you ask me: a stage where you trap Keke under words and then push them away from the
corner is awkward and confusing, and the word “Swap” is like “Tele” but not as cool. With 200-odd stages, though, there’s always
going to be a few that don’t click for everyone. But Teikari points to an army of playtesters
who gave feedback on stages, and discovered alternative solutions.. “I’m extremely thankful for how much testers
have done for the game”, he says. That group of testers, it turns out, is a
who’s-who of puzzle game wizards, and includes the designers behind Ending, A Good Snowman
is Hard to Build, Pipe Push Paradise, Starseed Pilgrim, Minit, and The Witness. Baba Is You is a surprising, silly, and mind-bogglingly
complex game. And it had every chance of becoming too difficult
to grasp, too esoteric to understand, or too freeform to actually produce good puzzles. But Arvi Teikari has proven himself as a master
of puzzle design. He introduces the loopy logic of Baba Is You
slowly and subtly, so everyone can understand it. With his reverse-engineering process, he buries
a clever trick under layers of problems. But they’re never red herrings or pointless
busy work – they’re about leading the player to the catch at the centre of the puzzle. And he’s more interested in surprises and
silliness than rock-hard challenge, making for a game that will make you laugh more than
it will make you frustrated. It’s simply a really great puzzle game,
built on a fresh concept that was executed perfectly. A no-brainer for this year’s final video. Hey, thank you so much for watching! I just wanted to take a moment to say thanks for
all of your support in 2019. I’m really proud of the stuff I made and
your support has meant the world. I’ve already got so many video ideas lined
up for 2020 but it’s time for a quick break. So I hope you’ll have an amazing Christmas, and
I’ll see you in the new year.

100 Replies to “How Baba Is You Works | GMTK Most Innovative 2019”

  1. Thanks very much for watching GMTK this year! Time for a much-needed break and then I’ll be back in the new year. Just a note that the title and thumbnail for this video will be changed in a couple days for consistency with the others in this annual series – just wanted to keep the surprise for the video’s launch!

  2. I don't agree with the statement that it brings more laughs than frustration, I quit about a third or halfway through or so (i don't remember) because the puzzles were just getting so long and convoluted that it stopped being fun to work out the solutions for me. Though having watched this I'm tempted to jump back in…

  3. Nice video! This game is so clever and quirky, I really like it…although I'll be the first one to admit that I am terrible at it.

  4. I LITERALLY STARTED CLAPPING WHEN YOU SAID BABA IS YOU!!!! YES!!!! OK TO WATCH THE VIDEO NOW BUT KEEP IT UP MR. MARK BROWN!!!!!

  5. I think "reverse engineering" must be a fairly common approach to puzzle design. I've made a few Portal levels and my approach was exactly the same.

  6. 4:46 I don't get this comparison with Scribblenauts–it's very different from Baba is You and many other puzzle games. The whole point of Scribblenauts is that you're free to summon pretty much anything you wish–even if it's a jetpack for half of the levels. However if you do want more challenge there is a free play mode unlocked after beating each level that forces you to not reuse items to complete the level three times in a row to get a gold star. Again, not a great comparison imo.

  7. That game is so good, and I agree on the rules you said were kind of annoying. Later in the game, there's even overlapping rules, and it's a mess to figure those puzzles out.
    Also you could have talked about the harder version of levels, which sometimes just add a tile or remove a rule, and you need to find another solution to the level. Notably, you talked about Scenic Pond, and its harder version is really hard.

  8. The concept of “Baba is You” hurt my brain, but I really like logic puzzles so I’m going to check this out. Gamejam games can be hit or miss in my experience, so when I heard that’s what it started as earlier this year I added it to my list but it wasn’t really a high priority. I think I might have to move it up the list now.

  9. Gotta be honest. I dont have the intelligence for games like this one. Same with the game "Opus Magnum". After the tutorial levels i was lost. Deinstalled. Cried. Moved on.

  10. Although it is irrelevant in this topic, I would like to know what is your view on Death Stranding, such a polarising game hmmmmm

  11. Baba Is You is genius and inspiring! After playing it, I envisioned a mobile game that forces you to think "outside the game" and where you need to change the rules to win (Japan was also a source of inspiration). You can download the game for free on Google Play, here's the link: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.youare.uto. It's currently a MVP with only three challenges. Please let us know what you think, if the game generates enough interest we will create new challenges. Currently only 1 person out of 4 manages to solve the third challenge…

  12. I was playing this game yesterday, and this video gave me a few solutions on puzzle I was stuck. Thank you, if there's one complaint I have about this game, it's the lack of a hint system. I know I can look for solutions online, but it kind of breaks the game

  13. For me, Outer Wilds was a gasp of fresh air. It's a perfect blend of mystery and exploration, such a great game. Baba Is You is going to be next on my to-play list

  14. Nice to see this game still getting praise! It was appreciated at the time of its release but now you don't really hear about it. I'm only like 20 levels in because it's almost exhausting to play. I think I'm not that great at it because every level I get stuck on for quite a while lol. But I love just playing it in the dark with the nice music playing, and I actually usually play it with someone else and we both brainstorm solutions.

  15. I'm going to disagree with you here and say it should have been Outer Wilds. Never played a game like it. Baba Is You is a close second though. Disco Elysium would have been an okay pick, but rather than innovative it felt like a reinvention of the CRPG.

  16. Baba is You is such a spectacular game, and a surprisingly engaging party game. Every time I have a game night with friends I show them the game before we do anything else in hopes they'll fall for it as hard as I did.

    Also, where can I get that shirt Tekari is wearing at 4:17

  17. I haven't played it, but this seems like a great pick for most innovative based on a new game mechanic. However, I don't see how this game mechanic can be expanded much further. Maybe I'm not thinking deeply enough, but this game seems like it's basically reached the pinnacle of this mechanic. So my point is, I would rather honor innovative games that will create new genres or change the course of gaming history. Thoughts? Again, no disrespect for the developer or Mark Brown.

  18. sokoban beats baba is you
    the game starts promising but like after 20th map it's is a by the numbers one solution sokoban
    it's same as portal 2
    it's same as splinter ceel mobile game companion
    it's a by the numbers one to one every otheк sokoban clone on the market just with rules pretending to be something else

    if you play an FPS with a gamepad instead of proper mouse controls the game is still same fps. playing dartksouls with bananas or wheel and pedals or playing doom on microwave oven screen doesn't change the core gameplay

    sokoban is so sokoban

  19. I think it's pretty clear you deeply love puzzle games, so I'm not at all surprised you chose this one over the other contenders 🙂

  20. I don’t know why I started watching this video wondering what the choice would be, Baba Is You is one of the few games I bought this year and I played it to completion. Sure there could have been another game out there I hadn’t heard of but I bought it because I’d been keeping track of the indie market looking for a game as unmissable as this one.

  21. I'm so happy that Baba is You is getting the attention it deserves because it has been my favorite puzzle game that I've played ever since I picked it up this year.

  22. Uhhhh, i actually played it!
    Not finished it, i'm too stupid so I left it (solved a couple levels by looking at the solutions), but I intend to go back at it after uni!
    It's a really cool game!

  23. Baba is You is really great nomination for this and I found the puzzles getting me to think more than I normally got around to in normal puzzle games. But for me personally a game called Unheard was the most innovative, as I personally haven't come across a game that's played basically with only sound.

    I get you might not even have come across that game and I guess there's a possibility a similiar game to Unheard has already been made, but Unheard was the first time I came across such an idea

  24. Last year, I played only Factorio and Obra Dinn. This year, I played only Factorio and Baba Is You.
    I'm proud of my choices.

  25. Maybe this is heretical, but Baba is You stopped being fun for me about halfway through. There were lots of puzzles where I felt the solution was some non-obvious interaction/property that weren't really satisfying to me, frequently having to do with weird corner cases involving words and objects occupying the same grid space. There were enough adjective blocks that I never felt like I could hold in my head all the weird interactions each had. Many puzzles were solved via brute force, and usually solving the second, harder version of an adjective interaction would explain to me how the first one was solved, but that's not particularly enjoyable. Probably the only critically-acclaimed puzzle game I've put down.

  26. I've been stuck on Tiny Pond and just could not figure out the solution until you just showed it to me. It never even occurred to me to make two keys. This game is obviously too smart for me, but I can still recognize its brilliance. Good pick! 🙂

  27. I love this game soo much! This is the one game I get people to play who aren't into games! Most get a good laugh out of the first world.

  28. Oh man, as soon as this game was released it got added to the list of like 500 games in my backlog/wishlist that I still have to check out. Only recently have finally tried, for the first time ever, GTA5, a game from 2013. Someday I will get to you, Baba Is You. SOMEDAY!

  29. 13:52 I disagree. It teaches you something about text that comes in handy at lategame; that it can be overplaed by things, like other texts.

  30. I played this game earlier and I loved what I played even thought I didn't get that far. When I solved a tough puzzle, it made me feel like a genius. Great video, maybe I'll try to jump back in.

  31. The best part about Baba is you is explaining/discussing the rules and solutions. My brother and I would often startle our parents by shouting something like "you can't be Baba because key is you! Make door float and sink! No, Keke is push so we get key is death! And we're dead again! Argh!!"

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