You probably don’t know who Shawn McGrath is unless you’re really into indie games. He’s a self-described “control freak” game designer that lives in Canada. His name doesn’t bear the weight of a Miyamotos, or a Kojima, or even a Bleszinski, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t dedicated to his craft. Everyone has to start somewhere, and for Shawn McGrath, he’s staking his claim with Dyad, his first self-published game for the PlayStation Network that he has spent the last four years of his life working on. Every game designer in the world has a story to tell about how their game came to be, but McGrath’s development cycle is a much more personal and enduring experience since he is essentially doing everything himself. From design to marketing, Shawn McGrath is a one-man game company whose entire focus is on Dyad.
The game’s official site describes Dyad as “a warpspeed abstract racing game,” but that doesn’t really do it justice. In fact, McGrath has trouble summarizing his own game in one sentence as was evident by the series of descriptions on the back of his self-produced promotional postcards that he was handing out at a recent demo event in New York City: “Dyad is a mind-altering substance absorbed through your thumbs, eyes, and ears.” “Dyad is a gamified tie-dye machine.” “Dyad will reveal to you the secret of the universe via bright flashy colours and phat beatz.” “Dyad is a tactical octopus action ballet in a reactive audio-visual tube.”
Oddly, the last one is probably the best description of the game out of the whole bunch. Influenced heavily from games like Tetsuya Mizuguchi’s Rez and Kenta Cho’s Torus Trooper, Dyad uses simple graphics and basic two-button gameplay mixed with gorgeous colors and an adaptive soundtrack to overwhelm the players’ senses while interacting with the game instead of playing it, even though there is a game to be enjoyed.
The gameplay for Dyad is complex to explain, but easy to execute (in other words, you really need to play it to get it). Each level takes place inside a cylindrical tube where the player needs to jump from color to color, chaining together moves to acquire power-ups that allow you to lance enemies. With two button controls, one to jump and one to lance, Dyad’s seemingly hectic gameplay peels away to reveal a game where blinking is your biggest foe. As long as you can focus on what’s coming down the tunnel, everything will be all right.
At first glance it may seem like another arcade style game where rote repetition allows you to memorize the path of each level, but Dyad is different. Each level has a unique goal with specific qualifiers to accomplish it, and, in fact, the levels themselves are never the same, as they are all randomly generated as you play them. Dyad also packs a huge amount of replayability outside of the normal levels, offering players the option to remix the audio and visuals of every level.
Overall, Dyad is a complex beast, but not because of its gameplay. The mix of the techno-psychedelic graphics, and the back-beat audio are really just flashy bells and whistles, layered on top of a simple, and enjoyable game. In the end, the player’s experience ends up feeling a lot more like an interactive art piece than a PSN title.
As the man dedicated to making a truly unique game, and who has sunk hundreds of thousands of dollars of funding and his own money into Dyad, McGrath wants nothing more than to see the game succeed. The game isn’t for everyone, but if you’re open to experimenting with games that are both beautiful and sound amazing, or if you’ve ever gotten lost in a game like Rez, Tempest, or even Lumines, then you should keep an eye out for Dyad when it hits PSN later this summer.