This is Part 2 of e2f’s GDC2017 coverage. Make sure to also check out Part 1!
GDC is not just a show about games. It is also a show about global business and cultures. In the last blog, we had already addressed that obliquely by talking about England’s Code and Draw and Canada-based BKOM Games, and expressly with the Norwegian publisher Snow Cannon. These were just exemplars of whole contingents from these nations. They also had country pavilions from Sweden, Belgium, Italy, Chile, Korea, Malaysia, Scotland and Wales.
Curiously, while Japan did not have its own pavilion per se, its linguistic and cultural evidence are everywhere in the gaming industry. You could spot it as far away from Tokyo as the Italian company Neko8Games (“Neko” meaning cat in Japanese), to Ninja Kiwi based out of Dundee, Scotland.
One game that stood out for its unabashed, unadulterated Japanese influence is by Nisei Canadian-Japanese game designer, Meowza (also known as Brent Kobayashi). As an indie game developer, his Mineko’s Night Market was showcased broadly across GDC.
Mineko is a Japanese name which can have differing etymology if rendered in kanji as 峰子 (“Child of the Mountain Peak”), or as 美猫 (“Beautiful Cat”). In English, it makes a clever pun (“My neko”). As Brent later shared, the obvious presence of “Neko” in the name matched the theme of the game, and “the ‘My neko’ pun just makes me even happier we went with it.”
As I watched the game play, Mineko tilled her garden, watered the soil… and out sprang live cats! I commented, “Huhn. It looks like a combination of Neko Atsume and Stardew Valley.” “Basically,” came the response of the engrossed players.
Mineko’s Night Market
But this is just the beginning of her adventures with her best friend Abe (who, not coincidentally, is also a giant cat). You see, Mineko’s true love is food! And cats. Well, both, really. There’s plenty of food and cats throughout the game. You can read a preview on Rock, Paper, Shotgun. You can even watch the game reveal trailer in the YouTube video below. Yet for the full release, you’ll have to wait, like the rest of us, until “late 2018.”
Bonus hint: to understand what’s she’s crafting at 0:36 in this video, you might need to know about a Teru Teru Bozu (てるてる坊主).
Other cultures had just as much passion and love for their subject. Lienzo’s Mulaka (above) is a tale of a shamanistic warrior, set amidst the Native American Tarahumara (Rarámuri) tribe of Northern Mexico. Adolfo Aguirre (pictured below, at right, alongside Jose Silva, left) expressed how important it is to ensure that a game dealing with an indigenous people, their culture and language gets its details right. Thus, Lienzo partnered with anthropologists and worked with the approval of the tribal community. The game’s narration is in the Tarahumara language.
The game is about a Sukurúame (shaman) who must face off against a series of real-world threats like snakes as well as supernatural, mythical ones such as “the gigantic Ganoko, the soul-eating Rusíwari or the fire-spitting Sipabuara.” The game was greenlit on Steam Greenlight, after faltering reaching its goals on Kickstarter. Showing that even great projects need help, great word-of-mouth, and persistence to reach mainstream audiences.
The game in its current incarnation is more of a more stylized low poly (simpler geometric model) look than first envisioned. This design had the side benefit of fast rendering and also helps make the journey, based on the actual terrain in the Sierra Tarahumara, seem truly otherworldly.
You can read more about the game, and the Tarahumara people it is based upon, in this article on Remezcla.
btw: That’s a snappy Legend of Zelda Wingcrest scarf Adolfo is sporting there.
Not all the cultural influences were specifically represented in the games themselves. Culture and national pride was also reflected in the country pavilions scattered in both halls of the show.
At the Italian pavilion, e2f’s Nectaria Koinis got to chat with the folks from Unreal Vision s.r.l. in their native Italian. They shared stories and views of Milan, where Nectaria had studied at SDA Bocconi.
Founders Umberto Vollono (CEO) and Giorgia Lezzi (Lead Artist) are pictured below next to their creation Toygeddon. It is a battling race game: a mashup of Toy Story meets Mario Kart. Though don’t be fooled. Much of Unreal Vision’s work, based on the Unreal engine, is hardcore auto and motorcycle racing games, on-and-off the track, such as work on Ducati – 90th Anniversary, MXGP 2, Sebastian Loeb Rally Evo, and MotoGP 15. Check out their portfolio.
Also in the Italy pavilion was Proxy42, known for launching father.io. This massively-multiplayer mobile-based laser tag company, founded in 2012, has offices in both Torino and San Francisco. In 2015 they obtained a $300,000 angel investment, on a valuation of $3,000,000. Their Indiegogo campaign in 2016 crowdsourced another $430,000 dollars. In early 2017 they announced a deal to distribute their device, known as the Inceptor, through Brookstone. Brookstone will now be involved with manufacturing through sales and customer support. Their coordinated announcement touts a closed beta of 430,000 gamers, with a wait list of over 330,000. Also, just after the show, on 14 March 2017, news broke that Proxy42 inked a deal with Lenovo Capital and Chinese game publisher iDreamSky, who have invested another $2 million in the AR venture. John Emmons, pictured below, has to be pretty happy with business development.
Pokémon Go proved people are more than willing to get out of their house to explore the world in a new way through gaming. Now, with father.io, expect a more competitive game in the streets of a city near you.
Not every country was represented by a national pavilion. Yet global game developers who were there independently had just as much pride in representing their country and culture.
Panzar: Forged by Chaos, developed Panzar Studios out of Russia, is a CryEngine-based MOBA and MMORPG. First released in 2013, it remains a popular game in Russia, and is now looking to expand to international markets. Already localized for Russian, English, German, French, Polish, Spanish, Chinese and Turkish, Kirill Klimchukov (pictured above) would love you to try your hand at conquering one of dozens of 10v10 battlegrounds (below).
Panzar: Forged by Chaos
Next is a game for the modern zeitgeist: Orwell, by Hamberg, Germany-based Osmotic Studios. In it, you play a person recruited to help spy on citizens of a foreign country looking for terrorists in their midst. At your disposal you have Orwell, a vast network of information systems, data gathering and wiretapping tools. With it you can listen in on phone conversations, read private emails or text messages. You might even gain access to personal desktop computers. Can you use the tools at your disposal to stop the terrorists’ bombs from going off?
It’s not as easy as it looks. First, not everyone you investigate is who they seem to be. Is there a lone wolf, or a full-blown terrorist cell? One-by-one you start collecting information about who each person is, how they are connected to others, and what their motives may be. Second, as your remote handler notes, you have choices as a data collector. Do you put everything in the dossier? Are some clues more relevant than others? Or are some plainly or even dangerously misleading? Third, and possibly most dangerous to consider: what secrets are the politicians and administration behind omnipresent Orwell itself trying to hide?
Orwell is a text-heavy game. With all of the different conversations in the game, programmer Michael Kluge (pictured above) says that Orwell contains somewhere around 70,000 words total, making it the size of a full mystery novel! If you are into deep stories and solving mysteries, Orwell (below) is definitely a rabbit hole worth getting sucked down into.
“Orwell: Thank you for Ensuring the Safety of the Nation’s People”
The Molasses Flood is an indie studio founded by a bunch of AAA veterans. Their studio is apparently named after an actual event in 1919, where a storage tank filled with upwards of two million gallons of syrupy, sugary molasses burst and flooded the streets of Boston, injuring 150 and killing 21 people and several horses.
The Flame and the Flood (pictured above and below) is their first offering. A survival game, where a girl and her dog try to raft, craft, and outwit the threats found along a flooding river. Rafting down a river is as American as Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, but this trip is far from idyllic. Emma Larkins (above) showed me the basics. Be prepared to die a lot until you get the hang of navigating the rapids. Further downstream, you finally get a meal and a good night’s sleep, upgrade your raft, and learn how to avoid ornery critters.
The game released in February 2016 to mostly positive reviews but mere days before last year’s GDC; too close to garner any nominations. This year, at GDC2017 the game was belatedly but well-deservedly nominated for Excellence in Audio, owing in great part to the country music soundtrack by Chuck Ragan.
The Flame and the Flood
Efecto Studios is a Bogotá, Columbia-based studio. Like Italy’s Unreal Studios mentioned above, Efecto often does work for other studios’ games, such as for Ark: Survival Evolved. But game developers and artists always have their own creative energies and aspirations. They each have their own personal project and are looking to make a name for themselves. In the case of Efecto, that project is called Decoherence (pictured below).
It will be a battle arena where you control not only your hero, but can also give orders to your mobbers. Want them to guard a particular location? Plant them there. Want them to follow you? Let’s go, boys! You can support them, so they do all the heavy combat, while you try to stay out of range. Or you can be the heavy striker, hoping to take down your opponent quickly.
Decoherence, a phenomenon of quantum physics, owes much of its graphic arts style, including the character portraits (pictured below) to a futuristic interpretation of Alphonse Mucha and the art nouveau movement. In this case, the name “decoherence” may serve to distract, as art deco was quite a different style historically. (Here’s a handy guide to tell the difference.)
Decoherence character art, from Efecto Studios
There were more studios we spoke with — tons more. And each one has a story, like those presented above. As you can see, GDC isn’t just about “games.” It represents national, cultural, linguistic and artistic influences from around the world.
Though this is the end of Part 2, we’re not done yet! Part 3 will finish our series for this year’s show, focusing on technologies, tools and trends that caught our eye.
How about you? Did we miss anything at the show that you found compelling? Or are you a game developer who wants to localize your game for global markets? We’d love to hear your own story. Contact us at [email protected], and let us know your thoughts, opinions, and your team’s goals and needs.
Disclaimer: Unless otherwise specified, e2f has no commercial relationship with any of the products, services or companies mentioned in this article. Though we’d love to win your business, we’re also just fans of the gaming industry, like you!