Savior – Cuba’s First Indie Game
For the socialist island known as Cuba, recent years have seen a dramatic uptick in the country’s worldwide presence. It’s been a little over half a century since the infamous 1960 American embargo against Cuba, a fact of life that has soured the country’s ability to import desired–and necessary–goods, leaving the country’s citizens in a sort of economic limbo. Only recently have relations begun to normalize between the United States and Cuba, with the meeting between President Obama and President Castro in 2015. In the meantime, as would be expected, Cuba’s video game industry has been a little less than productive; computers have been hard to come by until only a decade or two ago, and collecting the necessary start-up capital alone can turn many would-be developers away, leaving Cuba’s video game industry sparse.
All this is about to change. From the shadows of obscurity emerges Savior, which has been making waves recently with a pretty successful Indiegogo campaign. Self-described as “Cuba’s First Indie Game,” Savior is the brainchild of graphic artist and Cuban native Josuhe Pagliery. He collaborates with his colleague, Johann H. Armenteros, and together they are working hard to ensure that Savior makes a splash heard around the world. Featuring 2D platforming mechanics with a twist, as well as a characteristic hand-drawn art style, Savior is poised to do just that. The game’s website describes the central premise thus:
“The story begins when your protagonist, a “Little God,” awakes a strange dream to discover that his world is disappearing. From here begins a frantic search through eight levels, where you try at any cost to find the Creator of the Universe, “The Great God,” with the sole purpose of saving your home. But on your way, you very soon discover that you are but an character in an unfinished story, and all the reality around you is only a segment of a colossal game is beginning to collapse.”
Based on games from the 16-bit era, Savior primarily features 2D platforming mechanics with a mix of timing-based responses. But it goes a lot further than that; Savior’s ultimate goal is to attempt to give the player an intellectual experience rather than focusing on solving puzzles or accomplishing tasks. Creator Josuhe Pagliery told me about his vision with Savior, saying that he’s interested in the idea of a game that begins as conventionally as possible, only to break down along the way in a Kafka-esque exploration of creating video games in reverse. Woah! Josuhe was eager to share with me his insights about game design, developing a game on a budget, as well as the state of indie games in Cuba.
NB: How did Savior get started? How did you and Johann meet?
Pagliery: We started with Savior one-and-a-half years ago. I wanted to make a true video game, because as a visual artist I was experimenting before with non-games and many video arts related to video games but more art gallery-oriented. At some point the necessity for a programmer was obvious to make this dream happen, so I started looking for one and luckily I found Johann, who is a computer scientist. Coincidentally, he studied with my younger brother in high school, so that was a plus! After some meetings to introduce my idea about what I wanted with Savior, we started working together and right now we are more than simple partners; we’re really good friends.
NB: What was the initial vision for Savior? What are you trying to accomplish?
Pagliery: I wanted to create a game that explores the idea of a game inside a game. As an artist I am always very interested in the deconstructive process of conceptual structures, so I want Savior to be a game that deconstructs in reverse the actual process of creating a video game, only in a more metaphorical way. We’re trying to accomplish something similar […] to what Kafka did with literature, a game that could be exciting and apparently simple but intrinsically deep at the same time.
NB: Does Savior draw from any cultural or personal influences? What inspires you?
Pagliery: In Savior we divided the work into: creative process (art, gameplay mechanics, game design and concept) that’s all on me, and the programming is on Johann. In the beginning of the conceptualization of Savior I thought a lot of games like Earthworm Jim and The Legend of the Mystical Ninja. Demon’s Crest, MDK, and Final Fantasy 6 are always present in some way. I highly respect the work of Fumito Ueda, and from the artistic perspective I feel very influenced by symbolist painters such as Brocklin or Millet, as well as the work of writers like Capeck, Carlyle, and Kafka.
NB: Savior sounds like a very thought-provoking experience. Are you afraid at all that some gamers won’t understand it?
Pagliery: That’s really important to clarify. Savior is NOT an art game, non-game, or experimental media art. I used many of these elements in the total conception of the game, but at the end of the day the player will be in front of a 2D platformer! I will again use the example of Kafka: you could read the novel “The Castle” and just enjoy the story of a man trying to get inside a castle, but it’s obvious that Kafka was not really interested in talking about some guy who wanted to go to a castle; he used that as a symbol, a metaphor for speaking about something else, and that’s exactly what I want to do with Savior, creating as many conceptual layers as we can.
NB: On what platforms do you plan on releasing Savior?
Pagliery: PC at the start. We received a tweet from the guys of ID@Xbox in the middle of the campaign, so maybe that’s a possibility for us in the future. Who knows! But, to be honest, that’s a personal issue, because Johann is more of an Xbox guy. I would really, really love to work with Sony some day.
NB: Will Savior be available to American audiences? Where else do you plan on releasing it?
Pagliery: We hope to put this game all around the world! But right now we’re in the middle of the production process, so I don’t want to look too forward from where we’re standing just right now. I think that’s the healthy thing to do! First we have to finish a good game, and then we will see what happens in the future.
NB: You describe Savior as “Cuba’s First Indie Game.” Why is that? Why haven’t indie games been made in Cuba before now?
Pagliery: Honestly, I don’t doubt that other people in Cuba have tried to make an indie video game before us, but you cannot play with a “try,” you need a finished product, and you also need to have some presence in publications, media, and festivals, in general. Here in Cuba, it’s really difficult to achieve any of that. The majority of people want an instant result with the minimum amount of effort and they choose to make clones of little games for mobiles. That’s all I know. The other video games produced on the island are financed entirely by the government, so obviously they are not independent at all!
NB: It is no secret that United States citizens don’t know much about Cuba. What is it like working on video games in Cuba? Are there any obstacles that make it harder? Does anything make it easier?
Pagliery: Lack of internet. We are still in the modem era, so if you want to get a strong connection you need to go to a wifi hotspot and pay for the hour of connection surrounded by a bunch of people under the sun. There’s old equipment in general, zero access to festivals, licenses, events…and even if those opportunities arise you still need money, which is not exactly easy to get here. Honestly, I could not think of one single thing that made it easier to make a video game here in Cuba.
And there you have it. Financed and developed entirely in Cuba, the incredibly stylized and forward-thinking Savior is already on its way toward making history, spearheaded by developers Josuhe Pagliery and Johann H. Armenteros. A game about a “Little God” struggling to hold the world together, Savior strives toward an intellectual Kafka-esque experience with classical 2D platforming roots, which seems to make for a pretty promising marriage. I, for one, am already excited to try it out. What do you think? Will it do itself justice as Cuba’s first video game ambassador? Leave a comment below!
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