Saturday, July 20, 2024

Guadalajara video game developers move into the big leagues

In July of 2019, a Mexican video game studio called 1 Simple Game, located in Guadalajara, was invited to participate in Google’s Indie Games Accelerator, which offers special training to a handful of developers selected from all around the world.

That training seems to have paid off as 1 Simple Game now announces that its latest production has been accepted by one of the world’s most exclusive video game platforms: Apple Arcade.

“What’s your new game all about?” I asked director and co-founder of 1 Simple Game, Francisco Lara.

“We call it the Lullaby of Life. It’s an exploratory puzzle game. You are a lovable little character called Bombo, “born from the void of the cosmos,” who has the ability to bring parts of the universe to life, to help the universe evolve. Believe me, it’s a very different game from anything you’ve seen before!”

Lara says Lullaby of Life — which, by the way is in 3D — has received praise for being visually striking, with music so outstanding that the sound track, composed by Oscar Rodríguez of Guadalajara’s Soundscape studio, is already commercially available as a stand-alone item.

“Cute blobs” awaken mysterious creatures floating in the universe.
“Cute blobs” awaken mysterious creatures floating in the universe.

“The idea for this game,” says Lara, “came to us thanks to a yearly event called the Global Game Jam. They present a challenge to all the participants and you have to make a game out of it in 48 hours. Let me point out that there is nothing to win here: it’s just for the fun of it and to help you become better at your skill. So we enter the Global Game Jam every year because we always learn something.

“Now, the challenge they present is just a word, one word on which you will build a whole game. Well, in 2017 the key word was ‘waves.’ Naturally, many of the competitors developed projects related to ocean waves, but we looked at that challenge and we asked ourselves: ‘What about waves of sound which could create life, which could create an entire universe?’ And that became the first draft of what is now The Lullaby of Life.”

From that beginning, it took nine months to bring the project to fruition. Although it began long before the onset of Covid-19, the developers have discovered that this is just the sort of game that would be recommended for people confined to their homes and perhaps depressed by the present state of the world: “The game offers an enjoyable way to take your mind off all the problems you might be having — a good way to disconnect and to enjoy.”

Apple Arcade is a service charging a monthly fee of US $4.99 and offering access to over 100 video games “by many of the world’s most visionary developers,” with no ads. Subscribers can start playing on their iPhone and then jump to a Mac, an iPad or to Apple TV.

“People like this format,” says Lara, “because they can try everything and then play the ones they really like. Apple Arcade is very strict as far as the quality of the games and quality of the visuals and not many games are accepted by them. That’s why we are very proud to have one of our productions on that platform.”

After speaking to Francisco Lara, I had an opportunity to chat with 1 Simple Game’s lead technical artist, Ricardo Ibarra.

1 Simple Game’s team of developers operate out of Guadalajara.
1 Simple Game’s team of developers operate out of Guadalajara.

I asked Ibarra what he liked best about The Lullaby of Life.

“There’s something really unusual about it. Right from the beginning we meant it to be understandable regardless of language. So this game uses very few text prompts. Some games explain everything to you in words, so you have to read or listen to lots of information or instructions. We tried to avoid that at all costs. We actually tried to avoid including any text at all, but at the end of the day it was mandatory in a few cases to clarify what the player’s options were.

“We were able to see how successful we were at the Pixelatl Festival in Cuernavaca in 2017. There we noticed that a lot of children were picking up The Lullaby of Life and playing it with no problem. Well, some of those children looked too young to have learned to read yet!”

“Afterwards, when we we were discussing this game with Apple Arcade, they said, ‘Well you have to do all sorts of adaptations for different countries.’ And we said, ‘Wait a minute, this is something that everyone can pick up. Anybody can play it — so we don’t need much text and it will be very easy to adapt for other countries because the players don’t have to read much at all and it can be enjoyed by all ages.”

Because this game is about creating a whole universe, I asked Ibarra if players might need to know some physics.

“Actually,” he replied, “the Lullaby of Life does have some scientific and also some mystic connotations, but these are not directly expressed to the player; they are just in the subtext of it. Even though we are trying to tell a story, it’s up to the player to pick up the nuances. For example, you are communicating with two beings, but when you zoom out, you discover that they are actually two stars that are getting close to each other … and something very interesting is going to happen when they get entangled.”

The Lullaby of Life - Trailer

Another plus of this game, according to Ibarra, is that “it appeals to the casual players that are intimidated by bigger games. It’s very easy to pick up and play and it’s very casual in that approach, but the way you are guided through the game makes you feel as if you are playing something really big and it gives people that aren’t accustomed to it the feeling that they are now immersed in a very big game.”

Ibarra agrees with Lara that, by pure chance, the Lullaby of Life may be the perfect game for a society oppressed by a pandemic: “The game is relaxing. It doesn’t pressure you into anything. You swim around in a spectacular environment and play notes which produce wonderful effects and all the time it feels really good.”

Finally, here are a few comments from a user: “The game looks and sounds beautiful. I don’t know how a blob is cute, but it is. Honestly, I didn’t think that a word free game would work well. Although it might be confusing in the first five minutes, it is lots of fun. This game is amazing!”

The writer has lived near Guadalajara, Jalisco, for more than 30 years and is the author of A Guide to West Mexico’s Guachimontones and Surrounding Area and co-author of Outdoors in Western Mexico. More of his writing can be found on his website.

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