Sweden is definitely an outstanding region to develop video games. It is home of masterpieces such as the Battlefield series, Just Cause, Wolfenstein: The New Order (btw one of my favourite games developed in one of my favourite cities: “Uppsala” – featuring several in-game easter eggs pointing to home), Minecraft, Mirror’s Edge, Need for Speed, and even the Goat Simulator. Looking at this giant list (and list of giants), I was pretty surprised how many games in my own shelf were actually developed by Swedish studios. While Sweden has a lot of different games to offer, one recommendation definitely took me into the Swedish mood: Year Walk. It was the snow scenery looking at the screenshots and the interesting name, which made me start the game, but it was the fascinating story, which kept me playing until I’ve heard and seen it all. It is the story about Daniel Svensson, who wants to know if his lover Stina will still love him in the future.
What would one suffer through to be able to see the future? What would we do to see if we would be wealthy, happy, and loved, or even if we would live? This game definitely is one which made me think and which taught me a lot. A Year Walk is a handcrafted and artistic game with wonderful music and atmospheric graphics telling a very special story: the story about Sweden’s ancient pagan ritual “Year Walk”, which was widespread in the beginning of the 19th century. This ritual should enable the walkers foreseeing the future and is described as a dangerous, challenging – even deadly – quest. Year walkers would lock themselves alone without food and drink into dark rooms on days such Midsummer’s Eve with one final spiritual destination: the church as place to see the future. On their way to the church they would encounter different supernatural mythical creatures and ghosts threatening the walker physically and spiritually. At the end the walker has the possibility to vision the future, but also finds the feared Church Grim. A very dark background comes with the Church Grim: when churches were built in medieval times often animals (sometimes even criminals) were buried alive under the church as guardians. But this is only one part of the Swedish folklores the game tells us about.The game takes the player onto the journey of such a Year Walk while encountering different creatures and elements from Swedish folklore. Another story told in the game is the story of the “Mylingen” (The Mylings). This in-game encounter was a especially dark one. According to the game Encyclopedia a common crime during the 19th century or earlier was infanticide: mothers murdering their babies by leaving them in the woods or drowning them, because there was no room for more mouths to feed. The game takes us to different encounters of such crimes. Blood stains. Dark mood. Gloomy music. Tiny dead bodies. We need to take them to the other side of the bridge.The mechanics of the adventure/puzzle game are simple. It is working with just a limited movement along the scenes, when arrows are visible (left, right, forward, backward) and eventually interacting with some game elements with the mouse as part of small puzzles. It is one of those games where you are better off with a small notebook (real one) next to the PC to solve the puzzles: remembering patterns, numbers, drawings. On-demand hints help the player. An in-game Encyclopedia tells the player everything about the Year Walk, and the different encountered creatures. All folklore elements are well researched and incorporated smartly into the game design. But this game is definitely not about the in-game interactions and the puzzles: it is the atmosphere and the stories that make this game to an unique and mystical experience.In general, the game feels more like a mixture of reading an old book about the Swedish folklores and watching an artistic dark movie than playing a video game. No wonder: the original script was written as a film script and later adapted to fit an interactive dark experience.
In 2016 Brazil hosted 48(!) Global Game Jam locations. So I thought it will be incredibly easy finding tons of games from Brazil. However, choosing a game was not an easy task. While people from Brazil play a lot, and always lead the game consumer lists on the Steam sales page, the number of studios only grows slowly. Well-known games such as Agar.io or Outlive were developed in Brazil. However, compared to the enormous number of interested developers and jammers, I found only a small list of games published in Brazil. Also it is interesting to read that this country seems to have quite strict censorships. Bully, for instance was banned, sales of Counter-Strike were prohibited in 2008 [R]. Nevertheless, at the moment Counter-Strike: Global Offensive is the favourite game in Brazil according to Steam statistics.
Asking mighty Twitter for recommendations for games, especially titles from the studios Aquiris Game Studio (Horizon Chase), Behold Studios (Knights of Pen and Paper +1 [definitely on my Steam wishlist now!]), or Joy Masher were named. It was not easy, but the game I finally chose for my project was “Toren”, one of the youngest of these games, developed by the Brazilian Indie Studio Swordtales. Toren was the first game supported by the Brazilian’s government and got financial support from the Brazilian Ministry of Culture.
The saying “Life is short” gets definitely a new meaning when playing this game. You play this strong female character called “Moonchild”. Your goal is to beat the dragon on top of this mysterious tower (Toren). While you are climbing this tower you are also growing up. So it’s quite interesting when you to start as a toddler, crawling through your first quest. On your way you would constantly fall into dream sequences. You are never entirely sure if you are currently dreaming or awake. After such sequences the character often comes back to the tower grown older. The environment, all animations, and in particular the cutscenes were artistically crafted with so much love for detail. The puzzles and fights were not particularly hard but the main element of this game is definitely this process of growing with the character, surrounded by inspiring poems, metaphors, and mysterious music.Playing this game was not challenging and its focus is not on sophisticated game mechanics. Playing this game was a pleasing and somehow healing (?) experience. It was a very intense and simply wonderful, beautiful – sometimes dark – experience. AND it was definitely hard to pick just a few screenshots out of this giant list of beautiful pictures I took while playing (experiencing) this game. (I felt like an artist while taking screenshots, which immediately turned out to be super-fancy and meaningful pieces of art.)
Asking for a game from Czech Republic I was overwhelmed by the number of games people recommended. Games like DayZ, Samorost, or Mafia were named a couple of times. Since Mafia is one of my favourite games (a game with an *incredibly* amazing soundtrack) I was EXTREMELY tempted to just play it again. However, there was one game, which was named more often than others: Machinarium. Since it was already a long time on my Steam wishlist, and the game was part of the Steam sale this was a great opportunity to finally play this game as my game from Czech Republic.
Starting the game I was shortly irritated by the headline “Flash Game”. Is this a new nostalgic studio or publisher? I definitely was more surprised to play a game developed in Adobe Flash than I was when playing a game in a DOS virtual machine during this year project. Back to the story: you would start the game as a broken robot on a junkyard. First tasks: find your missing pieces (body, arms, legs) and get an idea what’s going on. How to find your parts makes the game’s purpose already pretty clear – this game is a tricky puzzle game, with an interesting point-and-click adventure design, and an extremely cute story. The robot’s name is Josef. Compared to robots like Daleks, Mr. Handy, the Terminator, or Bender, Josef is pretty much skill-free. Josef’s only skills are to walk, to resize himself, and to eat items (or small robo-dogs) to collect them in an inventory.The first thing one would notice is the interesting art style. The graphics are hand-drawn and remind of steampunk worlds. The focus is definitely more on the puzzle elements (finding correct combinations) than on the point-and-click elements. All elements of the game – the story, the art, the puzzles, and the characters – are created in a detailed and inspiring way. The story is told without any words, but with small comics/dialogues drawn in speaking bubbles.For me, playing this game was a nostalgic experience (most probably because of this mixture of point-and-click adventure, the art style, and .. Flash as technology). Sometimes it felt like I am reading a wonderfully drawn children’s book. Small Josef trying to find out what has happened to him, fighting his arch-enemies – the villains, a trying to save the world. A very relaxing, but due to the puzzle elements, still challenging experience. This was probably the best game to relax and calm down after playing This War of Mine.