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This interview is part of our Road to the IGF series. You can find the rest by clicking here.
Lily - Colors of Santa Luz is a game about a civilian trying to sneak away from soldiers that have overtaken his city. Except, that's not the most important part. There is a little girl, Lily, who wanders alongside the main character. Keeping her safe is not the most important part, either. Rather, it's about protecting her from seeing the horrors of war.
Over the course of the game, as Lily witnesses terrible things and experiences awful events, she will lose her color. The main focus of the game is in helping the girl maintain her innocence and color, shielding her from the bleak world around her while still keeping both characters out of danger.
A student team at Isart Digital came together to create this tale of the psychological cost of war, and the harm it does to the children who witness it. Their work has earned them a nomination for Best Student Game at this year's Independent Games Festival, and Gamasutra spoke to them about creating a stealth game where the most important thing to protect is not your life, but the innocence of a child.
We all studied at the same school, Isart Digital. Most of the team members had already worked on several video game projects. We didn’t have the same specialties but everyone worked well together and we were all passionate about the concept. It’s safe to say that Lily - Colors of Santa Luz was our first collaboration and we are proud of it.
There are too many war games where you play as a soldier. We wanted to show another reality of war, as a civilian. We wanted to create an experience where you play as a father who needs to protect his daughter. The main pitch of the game was "A father and his daughter escape a city at war".
While brainstorming to find a main feature, we talked about various movies (E bella la vita, The Road) and games (Ico, Brothers). We quickly decided that the game would be about protecting another character, not only in a physical way, but also in a psychological and mental way, which we thought was very rarely done in games.
Very quickly we noticed that when an enemy or danger appears, the player's first reflex is to look for Lily or pick her up. That means that for this reason the player is more invested in another character than in the one he controls.
This is why the majority of the player's interactions with the world revolve around Lily. If we had the chance, we would make a larger range of interactions with Lily, and a more lively and dynamic behavior for Lily.
The game had to be a short experience, because we had a relatively short development time. So the first scene had to make the player love and care for the characters right away. This is the main reason why the player controls Lily in the apartment scene: He sees the world through her eyes before the action switches to the father's point of view.
Without this scene, the player wouldn't be so affected by Lily's character. A second technique we use to create this bonding is through Lily's childish behavior when, for example, she runs away in the library, or goes to pet a sleeping dog. This creates a sort of coherence that emerges and makes the player care more about Lily, instead of being annoyed by her, which we didn't want to happen.
Originally we wanted to symbolize the contrast between the characters metaphorically. We didn’t want to assimilate this contrast with something common like ethnicity or religion. That’s how we ended up with the idea of differentiating the characters by using saturation and colors, in order to symbolize innocence, joy and moral values.
That's why, in the universe of Lily - Colors of Santa Luz, children are colorful. Losing your colors means that you are afflicted by the horrors and hardship of war and also that you are actually losing your innocence.
There are several reasons that explain why we chose this kind of style. One of them is the fact that we wanted to create an experience for a large audience. Dealing with subjects like war or racism will inevitably give a more mature tone. In order to compensate this, we used a cute art style that allowed us to address those subjects without creating an experience so realistic that it could have bothered the younger audience.
Furthermore we were keen to relate a story that the player could get absorbed in. Naturally we opted for movies, animation movies in particular. We tried to reproduce the standards of Disney/Pixar animation that are efficient in the eyes of a diverse audience.
At the beginning of the story we understand that it is Lily who relates her story, years after the conflict. A colorful city with bad guys all in black conveys a world that is similar to a cartoon rather than a war movie.
We used Unity 5. To produce the graphic assets, we used several 3D softwares: namely Maya for 3D modeling and Substance Designer/Painter for texturing. Maya helped us for everything linked to animation.
It took us six months and many sleepless nights to produce the game. Even if we can consider the game done, we are still working on it. We fix bugs from the feedback we get from players. We keep on promoting the game through social media. We are also searching for investors so that we can develop our student project into a full-blowngame.
In the student competition, we only had the chance to play Code 7, in the honorable mentions. We had the chance to meet its developers in France. It’s a very clever narrative game, and one of the best “hacker game” experiences we played.
We had our mind blown of course by Inside, which has an experience close to Lily, all things considered. Especially the way the context is unexplained, and only appears in slight touches in the background.
Funding your video game project as an indie dev is tricky. Developing video games costs a lot, and sources of funding are even harder to obtain when your video game studio is unknown. There are ways to help gather funds like crowdfunding or government grants.
Also marketing isn’t acknowledged enough as an important part of the production. That’s why game conventions & events like IGF are a great opportunity for indie developers to show their game.