Minority attempted to make its next game a departure from the emotional, draining experience of its first project, Papo & Yo
, by crafting a hunting-survival, documentary-style game set in the harsh tundra of Northern Quebec. Somewhere along the development process, that turned into a game about bullying.Silent Enemy
still takes place in the frozen wasteland of Northern Canada, but its message, mechanics and impact have shifted dramatically. Papo & Yo
creator Vander Caballero and Minority Design Director Ruben Farrus are collaborating to weave a subtle story about the hopelessness, weakness and determination that victims of bullying regularly face. That message, however, is covered in piles of snow and steeped in legend.
It's an exploration and puzzle game in mind for PC, tablets, Ouya, PS4 and possibly other platforms by the end of the year, but with no concrete plans so far. The prototype uses an Ouya controller, since its touch pad makes sense for the gameplay, but that doesn't guarantee it will launch on Ouya, Caballero said.Silent Enemy
takes place in a world of permanent winter, where springtime is a legend, the bedtime story grandma tells the children to help them fall asleep. Once, animals and humans flourished in the spring, but one species hated such a fruitful time: the crows. They chased springtime away, leaving behind only glowing gold fragments of the season, now hidden throughout the landscape. Players find these orbs and trail them around, using a mix of magic and logic to navigate the whitewashed world.
Yes, it's still a game about bullying.
"The most beautiful thing is when someone arrives at the game and they don't know anything about it," Caballero said. "That happened many times in Papo
." Many players who approached the game without any preconceptions about its story ended up confronting their own issues with family and alcoholism, the true inspiration for the narrative, Caballero said. They got it, and people will get Silent Enemy
, he proposed.
Farrus agreed: "Think of media: You can watch beautiful movies, beautiful TV shows that are about the mafia, or about a chemistry teacher that goes nuts, and you may think they are about the mafia, but no – they are about human drama, they are about miscommunication, they are about family problems, and that's what you get. But you're drawn in by this set-up that is attractive."
One key demonstration of Silent Enemy
's bullying narrative lies within a power-up mechanic. Traditionally, power-ups mean players can take on more enemies, defeat them quickly and easily. In Silent Enemy
, players will get the power-up and the bullies – the crows – "will still beat the shit out of you," Caballero said.
"Character development in games today sucks. It's broken, because you start really weak and you end up with a big shield and a lot of guns, and nothing of that applies to real life. Zero. If I go to my wife and say, 'If I had a bazooka, you would understand what I mean!' she would go – " he slaps the air at face-level. "That's what Call of Duty and all of these other games are doing."
When he was a child, Caballero remembers playing Mario, seeing his power-ups, and thinking that if he were just stronger, he could deal with his father's alcoholism. That wasn't the case, he said. Besides, modern bullying, the online and digital methods of torment, can't be fought with weights and muscle.
"If we're doing a game about bullying, we cannot deliver a gameplay that gives you a fake solution," Caballero said. "Then we won't be helping anyone ... We have to break some design rules established in today's games. We want to confront these difficult feelings, but we're not giving you weapons or guns, because that's not how you can overcome these difficult things."
Farrus dealt with bullying as a child as well, and through his travels with Minority, he heard simliar stories from co-workers and friends, highlighting bullying's impact across nations, cultures and societies.
"I'm 30 years old," Farrus said. "I was bullied in high school, that was 15 years ago. I'm a happy grown-up, I think, but how is it that all this time, I still have those nightmares of me facing those bullies and not being able to fight back? After 15 years, how is it that I can be a happy person with beautiful relationships, but I still have that wound?" So, in Silent Enemy
, "There has to be some pain. But then, the goal of this is that at the end, we can give players hope and closure."