La-Mulana 2 Still Has More Stories to Tell

When last I wrote about La-Mulana 2, its Kickstarter Campaign met nearly half of its stated $200,000 minimum goal. Well, not only has it reached it’s goal, it has started to meet its stretch goals.

It has been an interesting experience watching this particular Kickstarter development, while also being involved in at least some of that growth. I got to watch as NIGORO and Playism Games added their own unique animated sprites and adjusted their stretch goal tiers accordingly with input from their fans. Even as they took the time to give their page its own unique pixilated aesthetics, I’ve seen them re-organize their campaign page’s information and the order of their Updates. But I think what really struck me is the tremendous sense of community that I gleaned from, and to some extent even experienced, from being involved in this particular Kickstarter.

I mean, just look at both of these Fan Art Updates. This is one other very unique element of the La-Mulana 2 Kickstarter: the fact that the creators and their supporters actually encourage and utilize a Fan Art Update to promote their world and the game that they want to create. NIGORO and Playism have also encouraged fans to make their own memes and advertisements for the game. And when there were some concerns expressed by fans in the comments section of with regards to the appropriateness of  some of Lumisa Kosugi’s unlockable and otherwise stunning costumes on the grounds of potential gender and cultural stereotyping, the creators responded and seemed more than willing to look into the matter. Basically, it seems to be the fans that get to determine many of the directions in which La-Mulana 2 will go: as is, and should be the case with crowdfunded projects. It also shouldn’t be too surprising.

After all, NIGORO itself began as GR3 Project which, in turn was and still is, an indie or independent video game development team. The very first La-Mulana, before its remake on Windows, WiiWare and Steam, was an 8-bit freeware game dedicated to the spirit of hard but rewarding vintage era games: especially those made for the MSX. The team has always wanted to see how far they can push the boundaries of the 2D game-scrolling medium. As such, it has always relied on a strong fan-base of even stronger-minded and enthusiastic fans to bring it to the point where it is now. In fact, one point that the Kickstarter itself has made in one of its updates is that while they could easily get sponsorship from other companies to meet their Kickstarter goals, gaining money directly from their fans will allow for NIGORO to maintain the degree of creative control over its work that it so desires.

One thing that has always struck me about La-Mulana is how rich its world truly is and how many stories can be told in it. So the good news is that they have met their baseline goal in what has proven to be their experiment and learning experience with Kickstarter and getting us fans involved. The bad news is that, with Kickstarter, they only have three days to fund the rest of their stretch goals. And what are some of these stretch goals?

If they receive $230,000, they will include a game mode called “Father’s Diary” in which further story is added to the game: to a point where the events between La-Mulana 1 and 2 are filled.  And if they receive $350,000 they will add “Character Stories”: in which every time you complete the game you will get to start over again with a new character, interact with a whole new story and even switch between characters. And while these are definitely my favourite stretch goals, there are many more if you check out the Kickstarter.

Yet while the bad news is that it seems very unlikely that they will meet all of their stretch goals with Kickstarter, especially in three days, the good news is that they are already opening up a Pledge Through PayPal option in order to keep reaching for those heights of game development.  So please, if you haven’t already, please check out this Kickstarter and follow the adventures of Lumisa Kosugi as she treks her own path through the ancient, terrifying and wondrous world of La-Mulana.

In fact, you can do more that simply look through a Kickstarter or even pass it along to others. As the following new Big Update has revealed, you can watch a video of the La-Mulana 2 game demo above and even download and play it for free. How cool is that?

La-Mulana 2 is an Answer to the Question

“What if games had continued to evolve – but stayed in 2D?”

This is both a question asked by the Japanese developer NIGORO and the impetus behind their intricate masterpiece: the video game La-Mulana. They and their director, Takumi Naramura, consider La-Mulana a “Ruins Exploration Archaeological action game” though that may also be a euphemism for a “puzzle, trap and treasure with epic battles and quirky characters game.” Actually, La-Mulana is often classified under “Metroidvania”: a genre of 2D platformer game that puts a great emphasis on exploration, complex mysteries, hidden secrets, and challenges that sometimes require excellent hand-eye coordination or the cultivation of such. La-Mulana itself is a game that was created by Naramura, lead programmer Takayuki Ebihara and programmer/sound designer Houryuu Samejima’s love for vintage games on the old MSX that challenged players:  placing them into the middle of the chaos with almost no hand-holding, but making them earn their progress and gain a sense of accomplishment–or exhaustion–through doing so.

La-Mulana was originally a freeware game published independently by GR3 Project (before it became NIGORO) in Japan on Microsoft Windows based on these principles, and on the nostalgia of difficult 8-bit games, and was then remade as a 16-bit game with a few more additions for WiiWare, the PlayStation Vita, and Windows in 2011 and finally released on Steam in 2013. It has an arguably small fan-base, but I suspect it is only continuing to grow based on its wide acclaim. The premise of La-Mulana is that you play as an archaeologist named Lemeza Kosugi who regularly competes with his older archaeologist father Shawn for fame and is lured to the ruined temple of La-Mulana to supposedly find the origin of all life, and its treasure. And then it ends and it all seems to be over: even in the remake. But it still leaves you with questions.

Then NIGORO announced that they were working on a sequel: La-Mulana 2.

For a while, there was only the information that the main character would be Lemeza’s daughter and that the setting seemed to take place in a Nordic-themed dungeon. There was even a brief trailer for La-Mulana 2 and a few interviews with Naramura, but nothing more.

However, more information has been revealed since: not the least of which being the fact that La-Mulana 2 is being promoted and funded on Kickstarter. The game is being promoted as a Kickstarter Project by Playism Games, a company that is helping to translate La-Mulana 2 for its English fan-base, and also publishing both Japanese and English versions of the game. So far, from the time this article is being written, La-Mulana 2 has met a little over half of its $200,000 goal. NIGORO itself has a lot of plans with regards to where they will take this game should they meet, or even exceed, their goals. If you check out their Kickstarter, you will see all of their plans and the potential treasures that you yourself might get on should you be interested. I will say, however, that while La-Mulana 2 could be played and appreciated on its own, knowledge of the first game might keep you from discovering too many spoilers at this time. So if you are a gamer with a love of 8 to 16-bit sprites and synthesized music, with good hand-eye reflexes and a masochistic streak that likes to see a story gradually unfurl the more you suffer, or progress, you might want to consider backing this game.

That said however, if nostalgia is pain for the loss of one’s sense of home or the past and the aching hope of finding it again, NIGORO and La-Mulana is attempt to find that place again and create new memories and possibilities. For while the world of La-Mulana, with its dangerous secrets and ever-present mysteries, might have been based on MSX games such as The Maze of Galious, it seems as though the developer wants to take its own question to heart: continuing to take 2D from a medium, to a genre and back again to a medium with more complexity, depth and potential.

I myself am eager to see just how far their explorations will take us.

WordPlay in Toronto

So last week  Jim Munroe, the comics writer of Therefore Repent!, novelist, and the co-producer of the controversial Pipe Trouble game, invited me to the first-ever Toronto WordPlay Festival of Writerly Games on November the 16th. The WordPlay Festival is an event that the video game arts Hand Eye Society, of which Jim Munroe is also the executive director, in cooperation with the Toronto Public Library and with support from the Toronto Arts Council, celebrates and examines “the use of words and writing in contemporary games.”

This is not the first time that the Toronto Public Library has cooperated with either Hand Eye or the Torontonian video game scene. Not only did Jim Munroe create an interactive alternate reality game in the Library back in March of this year (in which you are part of the Literary Resistance attempting to prevent the book-burning culture from Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 from ever happening) but last year the North York Central Library hosted both a Gaming Journalism Workshop for Gamercamp and a Writing for Videogames Workshop by Kan Gao: the creator of the beautiful independent Adventure RPG game To the Moon.

In fact the introduction to the Festival in the Atrium was made by Ab Velasco, a Communications Officer for the Toronto Public Library who, among things, helps facilitate special events at the Library including the Toronto Comics Arts Festival, and workshops such as Kan Gao’s and Gamercamp’s (where I first saw him). In fact, he mentioned that there is even an initiative in the Toronto Public Library system to make game-making technology free and available to library patrons as well providing eventual access to a 3D printer. This is pretty amazing news and you can tell that Ab Veslasco is having a major hand in these developments.

The Festival took place at the Toronto Reference Library and it was divided into two segments. There was a panel and a discussion that took place in the Atrium, while the WordPlay Showcase opened up its terminals with over-twenty text and story-based games to the public in Learning Centre I.

robothorse

The panel was called “Where Prose Meets Play.” It was moderated by Jim Munroe, and its other panelists were composed of freelancing conceptual artist and illustrator Rachel Kahn, game designer and animator Matt Hammill, Canadian writer, computer programmer and creator of Dinosaur Comics Ryan North, and Canadian science-fiction writer Peter Watts. Essentially, the entire first Panel looked at a wide-range of topics including the differences between storytelling for prose, comics, and writing for video games. It was some really interesting stuff: from Peter Watts stating that he had to write some very obvious descriptive passages for games that wouldn’t have worked in prose, to Rachel Kahn talking about how architecture and environment can tell a story. What I really found interesting was the discussion that examined the line between allowing a player too much freedom or giving the player too much structure and how it would be utterly fascinating to make a game, be it electronic or in book form, that allowed a player to choose the ending to their story.

WordPlay Panel

After a half-an-hour intermission there was a discussion with the Chicago-based group Cardboard Computer who created the magical realist point-and-click game Kentucky Route Zero. It was basically an interview facilitated by Miguel Sternberg, the founder of Spooky Squid Games and the creator of They Bleed Pixels, with Jake Elliott, Tamas Kemenczy, and Ben Babbitt.

WordPlay Discussion

Unfortunately, I was not able to fully get into the discussion due to two factors. First of all, I had never heard of, nor played the game though there were some interesting thoughts that the creators were spinning around such as making a game about a character whose choices are limited by debt (a fact of life that many of us are all too familiar with nowadays), and a game level that takes place in a museum or archive filled with old video games. Unfortunately, it is entirely possible that I am combining two different ideas mentioned in this discussion into one.

The other reason I had difficulty getting into the Kentucky Route Zero Discussion is due to the fact that the acoustics in the Atrium, even with microphones, were not that effective and announcements from the Library would drown out the speakers at key points. This also affected my following of the panel before it, and it is my only complaint about the Festival’s arrangement.

But since then I have done a little bit of research on Kentucky Route Zero. It is a game in five acts that, according to the WordPlay Festival bookmark, has literary influences from a writer named Flannery O’Connor. Once I looked up who this writer actually was, I saw that she utilized what is called the Southern Gothic Style: writing that relies a lot on heavy regional influences and grotesque characters. The game itself is apparently about a mysterious highway underneath the caves of Kentucky and the strange people that travel it.

I want to make a point of mentioning that not only did WordPlay occur one day after the release of the PlayStation 4, but it also featured a premier of its own. Off to the side of the audience were two desks with half-empty glasses and brick sandwiches (yes, you read and saw that right, they were actually brick sandwiches) and two Oculus Rift headsets lent to the event by the Toronto independent game designer and community work space Bento Miso.

WordPlay Brick Sandwich

Now, I’d heard of this next stage in virtual reality gaming but I didn’t really think much of it. I mean, I’d heard that these systems can cause dizziness and nausea, and I still have memories of Nintendo’s Virtual Boy and so many other virtual reality promises and hopes throughout the years that eventually rendered me to the point of apathy.  But I knew that since I was covering this event, I felt compelled to try it out. I didn’t actually get to checking out the Oculus Rift until much later. In fact, I only came to them as the Festival ended and the Reference Library was closing for the night. I thought I was too late.

However, a very helpful volunteer or Cardboard Computer staff member got me an Oculus Rift and I got to play, for a while, a Kentucky Route Zero intermission level or chapter entitled “The Entertainment.” It was strange because by the time I got to it the table and items on it, including the brick sandwich, were being packed up and I had nothing to touch, but I was … impressed. Unlike the rest of Kentucky Route Zero with its pixilated 2D graphics and third-person perspective, this was first-person and it was pretty cool. Cardboard Computer made  a three-dimensional room which, like its original game looked like it was made from angles of paper or “cardboard,” but it also attempted to play with light and shadow and the distance of sound when you move your head. But I think what I found the most intriguing is the fact that there are dialogue boxes containing narration that give you physical cues as to when you should look up and listen in on a conversation. It is like being able to explore but there is also a story that subtly acts like a script when “your part” comes up. That line between free choice and structure is a theme that comes up again as it gets explored and played on in this game. I just want to add that playing an Oculus Rift for the first time with a Wii remote was an interesting experience for me as well.

But I am getting ahead of myself. I got to check out the WordPlay Showcase with that whole collection of story-based games featured on each terminal in Learning Centre I. During the Discussion with Cardboard Computer I ran into Ian Daffern again, a fellow writer and creator whom I actually collaborated with in  the 2013 Toronto Global Game Jam–my first–and he told me that he created a Twine game called TRUNKED.

Now, I have really wanted to talk about Twine on G33kPr0n for a very long time and I always take time to mention them elsewhere. Twine is software that allows writers that may not necessarily have much programming knowledge, to make interactive text-based games or stories. So I only managed to play his excellent game twice (where I died once and then actually realized that my gut instinct about a certain item could help me) before the next and final part of the Festival began.

I am referring to Christine Love’s Hands-on Workshop: Make Interactive Fiction Workshop.

For me, this was the highlight of the WordPlay Festival. In addition to the fact that Christine Love is the creator of many intensely story-based games such as Digital: A Love Story, Analogue: A Hate Story, and Hate Plus that I truly respect and adore, I was also getting the excuse to use Twine for myself and make something. After Christine Love took about fifteen minutes to run through the basics with us, she then gave us five minutes to come up with an idea, and gave us the rest of the hour before closing time to implement it. I managed to make a template to follow for what will hopefully be a series of future Twine stories to come.

WordPlay Workshop

You can even see me in this photo if you look closely. I’m asking someone for help.

But just as there is a fine line between freedom of choice and plot for a player to navigate there, this article has also been a fine line between coverage of an important event and my own personal experience.

Anna Anthropy in her book Rise of the Videogame Zinesters talks about the importance of developing game-creation software and technology that is available and easy public use. She has often advocated and created many games using Twine software. It is an idea that can go beyond, or change video game industry culture and allow people who ordinarily don’t have voices in video games to express themselves and let people interact from their perspectives. It is something can change games as a medium and also the very nature of what they are. For me personally, I always felt sad because I always felt limited in what I could with games due to a lack of visual artistic ability and programming knowledge.

But what Twine allows me to do is use my own skill with words to make the games I always wanted. And having an interactive teacher, as opposed to some tutorial videos, gave me some of the basic keys to the kingdom of making interactive worlds and that, for me, is golden.

Finally I just want to also ask you, the readers of G33kPr0n, to  please check out all the hyperlinks provided above, look at the rest of Hand Eye’s Fest Pics and Showcase Links and even consider making some Twine stories of your own. If I can do it, so can you. I learned a lot from this event and I can best summarize that feeling in the title of my own very short Twine game.

Level Up

Photo Credits: Stephen Reese

A Ghost Arcade In A Festival of Zines and Underground Culture

On October 20, I attended the 2013 Canzine Festival of Zines and Underground Culture at the Bathurst Culture, Arts, Media and Education Centre: an event presented and covered by Broken Pencil Magazine. And here is where a little more background information is order. A zine is usually a self-published work of original or “borrowed” text with images that are usually printed and arranged from photocopied material (though sometimes they are hand-drawn as well), while “underground culture” can generally be seen as an umbrella term for art, politics, philosophies, Do-It-Yourself crafts and games that focus on topics generally not given the same attention by “mainstream culture” such as many of the above including fanfiction, sexuality, and ephemera.

Remember the word ephemera: because it’s integral to the idea behind the Ghost Arcade.

CanZine 2013

I already feel as though I am doing the Canzine Event–which spans the cities of both Toronto and Vancouver–very little justice in my above description. For me, that word ephemera is what comes into play: transitory material and supplements that do not always survive the light of another day. The truth is that I wanted to cover this Event for G33kpr0n. I wanted to talk about how important it is, and focus on some of the glimmering gems that I found among the newspaper-like quality of zines, the Robert Crumb Underground Comix-like drawings, Game of Thrones colouring books (with presumably wide lines for lots and lots of red), abstract Nuit Blanche-worthy art, erotic Choose Your Own Adventure Books, the presence of the Toronto Comics Art Festival, vendors with small tiny cautionary stories about loving someone who does not love you back, chocolate-chip cookies, and so much–oh so much–irony. It’s like a 21st century Portobello Road of sass, cuteness, and the just plain weird: but at the same time it’s also a community where friends can meet, eat $10 vegetarian meals and even make a profit or so as a vendor in a laid-back atmosphere of general good will. But this is a very generalized description and there isn’t very much that I can add beyond it.

Instead, all I can focus on is the Ghost Arcade and how, in my mind, it ties everything–and all of this–together.

I actually heard of it online first and knew that Broken Pencil had specifically gone out of their way to ask Skot Deeming (aka mrghosty) to bring the Ghost Arcade to the Festival: as if it hadn’t already been there … at least outside of its spirit. Skot is an artist, curator, researcher and doctoral student at Concordia University as well as a curator for Team Vector and co-director for its Vector: Game and Art Convergence symposium: which is appropriate given that Skot himself examines how video games influence culture and create various hacker subcultures. This focus determines the Ghost Arcade and, in some ways, draws on the very spirit of the Canzine Festival.

It was the first room I went into as I entered the festival. I didn’t know what to expect and I admit: I was surprised. The room’s blinds were drawn and there were devices with pieces of paper under them. The items ranged from PlayStation Portables, to Gameboys, all the way to miniature laptops. I will also admit that, at first, I was disappointed. Here I was expecting to find game cabinets like the Torontrons painted in white or ethereal colours with strange and unusual pixilated games from a lost time. But I looked at the games themselves and their descriptions within the dim light of the room and the screens that still glowed.

And this is where the power of the Ghost Arcade began to exert itself on my mind. I found a prototype hack of Resident Evil 2–known as Resident Evil 1.5–and a NES or Famicom version of Final Fantasy VII on a hand-held device. There was Somario: which was a game featuring Mario with all of Sonic the Hedgehog’s running and spinning moves. There was also the strange and arcane Polybius game that supposedly drove people insane from a singular black arcade cabinet in the 1980s: in which you as the player must align the environment around you so that your ship–which you can’t move–can shoot the targets properly and not get destroyed in the process. In addition, there was a Marvel Vs. Capcom remix game: a hacked game that plays Michael Jackson’s songs in lieu of the original programmed soundtrack, a Nintendo 64 controller reprogrammed and modified to play games as its own entity–in much the same way H.P. Lovecraft’s Herbert West experimented on dead body parts to make them into singular and independent creatures–and a Pokemon Black game inspired by the creepypasta of the same name: another Internet urban legend made manifest by the will of its hacker-fans.

Ghost Arcade Polybius

Polybius at Ghost Arcade. Do you feel the madness? Photo credit: Skot Deeming.

Did I also mention that at least one Nintendo game was on a PSP and there were just as many hardware modifications as there were software alterations? This is only part of the point that Skot Deeming is trying to illustrate–a perspective that Anna Anthropy in her book Rise of the Videogame Zinesters also shares–in which video games have evolved from being products of an industry to narratives that inspired many childhoods from the late 70s onward the point of being appropriated by hackers acting as programmers, artists, and storytellers. Zines themselves are also historically known as being part of the punk subculture: in which–in addition to punk and grunge music of the late 80s to 90s–zines, remixes, and other counter-culture or DIY artifacts were–and are–crafted. What I’m trying to illustrate is that all of this is tied together: that Skot partially looks at how some of us as players have taken something that was once a consumer product–something considered ephemeral and made for short-term fun–and made it into something beyond the nostalgia factor: made it into something new.

But Skot goes further than that. The Ghost Arcade–in which he curates all these games and customizes their strange bare-bones Frankensteinian hardware–is a one-day event that displays games that not only should have been short-lived and brushed away in the daylight, but also should never have existed at all. And yet they do:  just like ghosts are reported to be. And now, think about what a Ghost Arcade is. An arcade is defined as a succession of arches supported by columns that sometimes enclose a particular space. But what happens when these arches are ideas and the columns are the stuff of daydreams and nightmares made manifest in pixels and old newspaper?

And that, in the end, is what the Ghost Arcade represents to me. It symbolizes the very soul of the Canzine Festival: a one-day market and celebration of media that can easily be modified and thrown away, but whose ideas continue to linger on and find new life in places beyond traditionally established organizations. They exist in unique goings on. They get recycled and modified. They exist in people and every-day individuals.

It’s strange how things come together. A little while ago, I examined the origins of a Slovenian art and music 1980s movement known as FV Disko on my Mythic Bios: and not only did they have punk, DYI, collage, pastiche, and experimental influences but they also used photocopiers and appropriated technology from older authority structures and industrial products to make new art. And after attending the Festival this weekend, I can see where social change and art interlap and it’s just as autumnal, fleeting, modest, and beautiful as an exchange and a celebration of Geeks and ghosts. In fact, and as far as I am concerned, life itself can be defined a Ghost Arcade.

If you are interested in knowing more about Skot Deeming’s Ghost Arcade, please feel free to read his Blog on the subject: in which he describes the importance of saving transitory and ethereal human experiences in pixels far better than I ever could.