This week we had the opportunity to chat with Jorge Veloso from CoCo: Collective Consciousness. Jorge is the producer and environment designer of Systole, an Acrobatic 2.5D platformer with a demo version available for PC & MAC. Their story is not like many other indie dev teams, they are creating a game in a country where you could possibly get 3-5 years if you aren’t careful.
CoCo: Collective Consciousness is an independent videogame studio from Venezuela who are on a mission to not only create a game, but to help establish a video game industry within the Venezuela community. For those who are unaware Venezuela has some very strict laws in regards to video games.
The law basically states those who “import, manufacture, sell, rent, or distribute violent toys or video games”—games with “information or images that promote or incite violence and the use of weapons”—can land them in prison for up to five years. Those guilty of promoting such games carry a fine “between 2,000 and 4,000 tax units.”
Well CoCo: Collective Consciousness shouldn’t have to worry, they stay clear of this, so let’s hear more about their journey, Systole, and what it’s like to create a game in this environment.
While watching their Kickstarter Video they mentioned the game has a new way of story telling, we asked them more about this without them revealing the full concept. Here is what Jorge Veloso said on the topic.
During the course of the game, Systole reads many hidden cues from the player, for example, how many checkpoints you activate, or the order in which you decide to play levels. Later in the storyline, every one of these aspects has a meaning that drastically affects gameplay in later areas. This is our take on Megaman X’s level system, where in some cases stages were affected if you had defeated a particular boss (If you beat the ocean level, the forest would become flooded, or if you beat the ice level, the magma in the factory level would become frozen, and so on). We’re trying to evolve that concept and incorporate it into the storyline.
Creating a game is already a difficult process no matter who or where you are. It takes time, a lot of patience, and of course funding. But creating a game in Venezuela definitely has some added hurdles many devs might not have to jump over. Could you give us some insight to the struggles you have faced while trying to create Systole?
Well, the greatest struggle has been trying to keep up with Venezuela. We are currently going through an economic crisis, and that means most prices keep going up faster than our wages, thus making people migrate, especially talented people. So we’ve had to deal with team members leaving the project for reasons we can’t do anything about, then training new members for a while to get things running at a steady pace again. The problem is that this process takes time, and time drains budgets, which is quite dangerous for the stability of a team.
Another struggle has been trying to sell the idea of the game. The most important selling points of Systole include gameplay elements that are intertwined with the storytelling system, so we can’t reveal them yet. To us, this feels like we’re saying “Hey! Please help us fund this secret! It’s a secret, so we can’t tell you, but we promise it’s really, REALLY awesome!”. It has been really hard trying to explain the game to backers. Yet those who know the big picture have loved it! And that makes us want to see this project come to life even harder!
With these added struggles, these developers have to keep in mind the laws within their country. Does this change the creative process or thinking within the community? What if the game you make is perceived in the wrong way, a violent way?
That’s another major issue here. Although this law has shifted developer’s minds from competitive to cooperative game design, it is a bit too much to risk going to jail because the law is not explicit in what makes a videogame violent. Is Call of Duty as violent as Mario jumping on a turtle and kicking its shell? The law does not specify these issues, it leaves them to interpretation.
Luckily for us, there’s been a group of people in the community that have dedicated themselves for many years to shape this law into a coherent set of rules, even going far enough to establish a national rating system to guide developers and consumers alike, so no one has to go to jail over a videogame.
Those of you who have played the Free Demo, and if you haven’t you need to go do it now, might have noticed the almost ironic theme of the game. You are a Robot in a twisted mechanical world, but everything around you seems so human, what gives?
We wanted the players to feel the uncanny nature of their environment. We wanted to give the feeling that everything around them is apparently familiar, but not quite so. We defined the Mother World as an intelligent being without consciousness: It is a massive mechanical world that tries to emulate humanity without really understanding what humanity means. During the game, it will usually blend abstract concepts with literal information in weird ways… for example, the Heart Temple, the Demo’s setting, is a place the Mother World knows is one of the most valuable parts of a human being, and it also knows that humans often build temples as places of reverence for the things they value. So it tries to blend the literal concept of the heart with abstract concept of value. This kind of environmental personality will be consistent throughout the game, from level design to gameplay elements, such as the uterus-shaped machines that serves as checkpoints.
Systole recently went on Kickstarter and they are only trying to raise $55,000 to help bring this game to life. Currently they are only at 1,000 with 16 days left to go so they need some help. First, go donate, we are backing them $100 but even $5 will help and if you can’t afford that, at least spread the word. Secondly, what happens if the Kickstarter fails, will Systole be abandoned?
No way! This is a project we’re really passionate about! Initially we wanted to give Kickstarter a try as it would enable us to finish the game while maintaining complete creative and production freedom, especially with the flexible calendar we require to work from Venezuela. Regrettably, we started on the wrong foot. We’ll try to make up to it from this week on, but if the campaign fails, we’ll try it again at a later time. We’ll also look for other sources of funding. As I was saying before, this is a hard project to sell without spoiling much of the experience, but this becomes easier when dealing with investors rather than people who will actually play it.
At the end of the day when it’s all said and done, when someone has finished playing Systole, what is the takeaway?
Most storylines tend to convey a message. This is the traditional function of a fable or story. But this fundamental function requires certain one-way type of communication inherent to non-interactive media such as films or books. With Systole, we want to take the interactive nature of videogames, and instead of telling a story, we want players to explore a concept. In Systole, players will have the opportunity to look at the concepts of consciousness, duality and individuation from many angles, and they’ll be able to experiment with them through gameplay. This gives the players the chance to play with these concepts, instead of being told our particular views about them. In this matter, Systole is as much a game as it is a tool with which people, especially the younger ones, can explore and even discover new things about themselves.
Thanks for reading guys, and another special thank you to Jorge Veloso for taking time to speak with us about Systole and the gaming industry within Venezuela. Both of their stories, Systole and CoCo: Collective Consciousness, are unique ones and we want nothing more than for them to be succesful.
Again, check them out on Kickstarter and help back them up and let’s make this Robot come to life. Below is a full walk through of the demo and other goodies as well.