"Of course the human body is so interesting, there are so many systems in our body, all of these are working and it's fascinating," Bahrami says. "But I don't see all these systems when I see a statue. No, I just see the surface. You don't see what is happening in the head or what is happening in the body, it's all on the surface. On the other hand, when you see something based on mathematical or geometrical ideas, it's more generous. They show you the system of how this was made. That was something interesting for me."
Bahrami is 24, and he's been fascinated with mathematics and drawing since high school, at least. That's where the idea for Engare took root. He was 17, sitting in geometry class, when his teacher proposed a thought experiment: Imagine there's a ball on the ground. Pick one spot on that ball and keep your mind on it as the sphere starts rolling across the floor. "What is the shape that one of the points on this ball would draw while it's moving?" Bahrami asks, remembering his teacher's proposal.
"That question was amazing, and I thought I wanted to make more complicated situations based on this idea," he says.
Engare was born. The game brings Bahrami's mathematical question into the digital world, asking players to envision the designs that would be created by following a single point on a series of rolling, twisting and sliding objects. There's a target image and players attempt to match it by picking a point on a moving object, and seeing what patterns spill forth.
Bahrami built a prototype of his idea that same year and submitted it to the Experimental Gameplay Workshop at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco. Organizers loved it. Bahrami was in.
The Experimental Gameplay Workshop is an annual space that aims to showcase novel ideas in the gaming industry -- past participants include Katamari Damacy, Portal, Braid, flOw, Mushroom 11 and Thumper. This was 2010, the workshop's ninth appearance at GDC. It was also the only year the Experimental Gameplay Workshop has ever been canceled. There simply weren't enough high-quality submissions, so organizers shut it down and took the year off.
"Later, they told me my project was the only thing that they could show and that was the reason they canceled, they didn't want to show just one game," Bahrami says.
Bahrami kept programming and sending his prototype to the wider gaming world. A few months after GDC fell through, he submitted Engare to Sense of Wonder Night, Tokyo Game Show's version of the Experimental Gameplay Workshop. Curators liked it and invited him out, and Bahrami found himself demonstrating a game in Tokyo before his 18th birthday.
Engare and Bahrami's subsequent projects picked up accolades over the years, including at the Independent Games Festival, IndieCade and even GDC, eventually. It was after one of these conventions that Bahrami read an article about Engare that completely changed the way he thought about his own game.
The story noted Engare's art was distinctly Islamic. Bahrami hadn't actually considered this aspect of his game before, instead focusing on the mathematical allure of its designs.
"And I thought, 'Oh, actually, he's right. It is kind of related to all this art that I have in my city,'" Bahrami says. "And when I was in the Netherlands, I felt more like I really missed those geometrical shapes."
Bahrami embraced the Islamic art style. It's now a central theme in Engare, tying together the worlds of art and mathematics, Middle East and West. It's remarkable that Engare doesn't shy away from its cultural inspiration -- as Bahrami notes, most developers in Iran and across the Middle East attempt to emulate Western games, rather than infusing them with Persian script, towering mosques and other local reference points. The games coming out of these regions are generally white-washed.
The first image on the Engare Steam page is a blue-lined mosque-like building, complete with a pointed dome, a series of archways and delicate details. Engare even includes Persian numbers.
"Everyone's afraid of putting Persian text -- I know developers in Iran who, they make the game in Iran, but they never say it anywhere," Bahrami says. "Nothing. You don't see anything about Iran in the game. Because they are afraid. But, for me, I put Persian text in because the style of the game is kind of like, if I put the numbers in English numbers, it doesn't fit with the game."
Engare wasn't created as a vessel to introduce Islamic art to the Western gaming market, but the thought has absolutely crossed Bahrami's mind. Maybe his game can help translate the beauty of his world to players who generally receive one message about life in the Middle East.