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March 22, 2017
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How our mythological adventure platformer turned out to be a cultural journey and an educational tool
by Gorka Garcia on 03/16/17 11:19:00 am

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

Let me introduce our studio, Binary Soul, formed by 6 graduates from the european branch of Digipen Institute of Technology. We just celebrated our 3rd anniversary, and so far, we’ve combined videogame development with gamified solutions for other sectors like industry.

Sorgina: A Tale of Witches is our first videogame. A project that evolved and grew in different ways during the last 2 years. Its main game mechanics are 3: explore levels, talk to NPCs to unlock skills and solve puzzles using both your magic (enlarge, shrink, move, freeze or dematerialize objects) and your platforming skills.

Last year, we published a retail version locally, and recently, we launched a greenlight campaign for an updated version of the game with some new content and improvements. Any support would be greatly appreciated!

This is the trailer:

 

The game started out as an idea to develop a classic puzzle and platforming adventure for kids, as during our stay at Digipen, we had toyed around with a similar game concept in one of our prototypes.

In order to have a greater degree of freedom when designing levels, characters or a story to string the whole game together, we thought the best option would be a fantasy background.

However, coming up with a totally new universe and building it from scratch would use up too many of our already limited resources, especially, taking into account that there were no illustrators, 3D modelers or any other kind of artists in our core team.

With all this in mind, we decided to look at different mythologies that could be the pilar around which to build our game. 

At this point, we each looked in a different direction. For those of us who love sushi, samurais and are always trying to find an excuse to get a pass for the next Tokyo Game Show, it was japanese mythology. Japanese folklore is full of interesting and beautiful characters and legends and is internationally beloved. However, we thought taking a really original approach on it wouldn’t be an easy task.

Others, in love with Thor or the Vikings tv show, immediately turned towards norse mythology, also immensely rich, well known and full of great stories and characters. And of course, some immediately thought about Greece when talking mythology. But, although we are big fans of God of War and Kratos, we weren’t too sure if he’d be the ideal role model for a game meant for kids (just kidding, no pun intended). 

However, after a period of consideration, the closest and most tangible option came to us as a revelation. We had the opportunity to work with our own cultural heritage!!. - Allow me to put you in  context – The region we are from, the Basque Country, is a relatively small region in northern Spain, both in size and population, however, it has a millenary culture and its own language: Euskera, with roots going thousands of years back and surprisingly, not even being related to Latin.

Euskadi - World MapEuskadi

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This language is a true cultural gem that we believe should be cared for and nurtured. There are many writers, historians and musicians who do so and even Basque public institutions show constant support towards its preservation through many different programs, including some that encourage the development of software.

 In spite of all these efforts, there is still very little software content in Euskera, especially, focused on entertainment and even less aimed at younger audiences. There is a void, that in our eyes was an opportunity to create something meaningful, with added value, that would allow us to stand out amongst other studios and would make us gain visibility with our first game. Taking all this into consideration, we decided to not only include Euskera as a language option (apart from English and Spanish) but to also make our own culture, history and folklore the setting for the game.

From there on, we started to investigate the different myths and legends of our region and we came up with several ideas about how to connect them around a story and a main character that kids would relate to and have fun with. Someone remembered a traditional children’s song about a witch apprentice... and voilà! We had a protagonist.

One of the first obstacles we found, was fitting different mythological characters into our story and giving them a unified, modern style, while retaining most of their original traits. As a reference, on a different media, we looked at ‘Las brujas de Zugarramurdi’:

Las brujas de Zugarramurdi Movie By Alex de la Iglesia

It´s a comedy by spanish director Alex de la Iglesia (which I really recommend) that brought witch covens, their councils and medieval witch hunting to our times.

However, in our case, it was also essential to adapt them for this audience:

First Lego League - Kids playing at Binary Soul Stand

First Lego League Bilbao 2017 - Kids playing at Binary Soul stand

So working hand in hand with illustrator Paul Caballero, who we knew from other projects and local events, we believe we achieved our objective.

As an example, we could look at Mari, an icon of Basque mythology, goddess, queen of nature and protector of the Basque lands that employed witches as her assistants. This is one of her most common interpretations and next to it, a concept design for our game.

Mari Character from Basque MythologyMari - Sorgina Tale Of Witches Design

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mari Basque Mythology Chararter

Regarding the different levels, we chose to go for something cartoonish with vibrant colours and simple shapes that could be appealing for younger players. Sticking to our core idea of representing different aspects of our culture, we decided to depict real landmarks of the Basque country.

After trying out different options, we stuck to a LowPoly style with which we represented some of the most relevant locations from Basque myths and legends, such as Sorginetxe (a funerary monument from 2500 BC) or mount Aitzgorri (home to many mythological creatures).

Additionally, we picked other locations that are important or well known for other cultural or historical reasons such as the Oma painted forest (work of renowned painter and sculptor Agustín Ibarrola) or the caves of Zugarramurdi (infamous for the Basque Witch Trials the Spanish Inquisition performed in the 17th century; they didn´t expect them, yeah you all know that Monty Python joke) and we gave all of them our own context and style, reinterpretting them in a fitting way for our game.

Whenever we deemed it possible, we also adapted the puzles to the context of the location. For instance, in Oma, we made use of the painted trees and in Santimamiñe, we made the cave paintings from the upper paleolithic a core element to a puzzle

Oma Painted ForestOma Forest - Sorgina Tale of Witches

 

 

 

 

 

Santimamiñe cave paintingsSantimamiñe - Sorgina Tale of Witches

 

 

 

 

 

Oma Painted Forest & Satimamiñe Cave paintings

In this way, we aimed to not only provide fun, but also, turn the game into a tool through which we could make kids discover some of our most iconic locations and we could also stir up their curiosity about our culture and heritage. In addition, we reinforced this idea with a series of cards containing information about characters and locations that players can access from the game menu.

Sorgina - Characters and locations cards

We have since tried to reinforce this mix of culture and videogame, and during the last months, we collaborated with local writer Aritza Bergara, who allowed us to use the poems from his book ‘Euskal Herriko Mitologia: Tras las huellas de los gentiles”.

Euskal Herriko Mitologia: Tras las huellas de los gentiles

Aritza Bergara - Euskal Herriko Mitologia

It was during these last months too that we were further convinced that a game like ours could be a useful educational tool. We presented the game to local press and several educational institutions and found their wholehearted support and praise, which we are really thankful for.

So you can better understand our local context, you should know that both Spanish and Euskera are official languages and in some regions Euskera is used in everyday life. However, in many other places, even if children learn Euskera at school, they only use Spanish in a social environment.

Talking to teachers and other professionals from the education sector, we further realized that despite every effort to promote our culture and language through education, there is a huge gap between the educational environment and the social or entertainment one. In the case of children who have immigrated from other regions or countries, this gap is even harder to bridge and teachers feel a real need for new tools that allow them to encourage the use of Euskera outside the classroom and make learning it a more natural experience.

For a language to stay alive, it must be involved in every aspect of everyday life, and of course, free time is a key part of it. Games like Sorgina, even if their main objective is to entertain, can also become powerful tools, especially for children, to seamlessly integrate a language into that part of their lives.

On the reflexive side, in a post-mortem kind of way, we think our game could improve with some additional content. We would have loved to add a couple of extra levels, a final boss encounter against Gaueko (the villain of the story) as a climax, or some enemies to beat in every level that would add some more variety and a bigger platforming challenge. Most are things that we will probably add some time in the future if we get Greenlit in Steam.

However, considering our scarce resources and short development time, we are pretty happy with the result, especially with the added value that we believe we managed to imprint into the game by including cultural content and integrating our unique language, Euskera, into content aimed at a young audience.

We hope you enjoyed, not only getting to know our game, but learning something about our small and millenary region too. We will be happy to receive your feedback about the project and please, don’t forget to support us on Greenlight if you find it worthwhile! Thank you!


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