The Calm Before the Swarm

Frost models nature to create a chill gaming experience.


A Dream Odyssey


When Denis and Davor Mikan released their first game, Blek, in 2013, they were literally swarmed. The game drew millions of players who clearly loved popping colored dots with dancing black lines.

“My brother would look at these crazy numbers,” says Denis, the producer in the duo. “He was trying to make order out of the chaos. That was the beginning of Frost.”

In Frost, their latest puzzle game, your goal is to manage swarms, ushering streams of tiny shimmering particles to their home planets. Its meditative feel is no accident: While Davor was experimenting with swarming algorithms, a friend gave him a book on meditation. “It seemed that at the first stage, it is about the close of observation of things,” he said. That ended up being a guiding idea for Frost.

Denis, who moved with his brother from Bosnia to Vienna more than 20 years ago, explains how the project was nearly derailed and what happened when they gave Frost to their mom.

A complex algorithm calculates the behavior of each particle in a swarm individually.

What problem were you trying to solve with Frost?
It wasn’t about solving a problem in a gamelike sense but making something innovative, something different and relaxing. It was also an aesthetic problem: making sense of a chaotic world seems to be what our perception is about.

What were your biggest challenges or setbacks in creating it—and how did you overcome them?
We had challenges on the technical side and on the financial side, and they were kind of connected.

Each particle in the app is an individual agent. They’re not animated; it’s more like a simulation of swarming behavior. Just like birds, each agent is looking for its nearest neighbors and trying to align its behaviors with them. You need to calculate the position for every one of them 60 times a second. We had this on the CPU, which could only handle calculations for a couple hundred agents—not enough visually, and not enough to have the swarming behavior. So we decided to give the GPU [graphics processing unit] this algorithm to calculate, but that was very advanced programming.

After one year, we had invested a lot of time and money into the app and the end was not in sight. So we applied for a grant from the Vienna Business Agency, which supports creative endeavors in the city. It allowed us to invest what was needed to finish the project.

Our mother, who had never played games before, was playing it on a daily basis. We said, ‘OK, this really works!’

—Denis Mikan


    A Dream Odyssey


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