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Only Speaking Professionally | When You Say Nothing At All

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Nintendo has long rooted its company in its family friendly image. It’s happy! For the family! For fun! For everyone! Yay! Let’s all play a lovey dovey technicolour rainbow happiness game!

But that image got dealt a blow last week when details about Tomodachi Life’s English localisation came out.

Tomodachi Life is a life simulation game, where players’ Mii avatars can meet up, get along, and become families. Well, you can become a family if you’re a boy and a girl – if you’re guy guy or girl girl? No dice.

That’s right – Tomodachi Life has no same sex relationships.

Just like in real life, right?

There are a few things at play here. Firstly, there is the way same sex relationships can and do happen in games, and the way it’s inextricably linked to genre. For most games, sexuality is largely irrelevant. Think about Tetris – do the bricks have preference? Or Call of Duty, for that matter – does it matter if Soap or Price like boys or girls? Obviously, in these instances, sexuality is pretty much an extraneous issue.

Let’s move on to something more character and player choice driven. RPGs, like Dragon Age: Origins or Mass Effect, have characters that are completely created by players. In these games, the character is moulded by choices the player makes, and sexual relationships can be guided by the player. And, with the availability of relationships in an environment where players can create their own character, same sex relationships become viable as an option.

Now let’s move on even further. Life simulation games. Tomodachi Life is a game that aims to recreate the world around it, at least in some ways. The entire focus of the game is to let your avatar live the way you choose for them. The character carries out daily activities and socialises in a virtual space, similar to the way life happens. A core part of life is building relationships. And a core part of Tomodachi Life is building relationships.

In a game where player choice is paramount, and reality is the template, what does it say when you leave out something like same sex relationships?

Not having same sex relationships in a life simulation game is effectively saying that same sex relationships don’t and shouldn’t exist in real life.

Sure, the intent behind not letting Miis of the same gender to be in romantic relationships probably isn’t malicious. I doubt Nintendo set out to alienate the (very) roughly 10% of the world’s population who identify as same sex attracted. In this case, I think it’s just an oversight by a development team who are probably not used to thinking about same sex relationships. But the end result is that there are same sex attracted people who will not be able to have a romantic relationship that they can recognise as authentic within Tomodachi Life.

And, to many same sex attracted people who have suffered discrimination and alienation for most of their lives, that’s not really very nice.

Not having same sex relationships within Tomodachi Life is exactly the same as saying gay people don’t exist. And that’s terribly cruel.

In contrast, the Sims 4 will have same sex relationships. That’s right, the Sims. By EA. Electronic “Worst Company In America” Arts. Family friendly Nintendo hates the gays, while evil nasty greedy EA is spreading love and joy for everyone. Think about that for a minute.

(Side note, EA has a long history of supporting same sex attracted individuals and portraying their relationships positively within their games. EA’s company policies are very supportive of LGBT employees. EA officially supported a legal challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act in 2012. They also put together the LGBT Full Spectrum Event in 2013. In fact, by way of big game publishers, EA is probably the most outspokenly progressive when it comes to LGBT issues)

(Side side note, Origin is still complete and utter rubbish)

I am aware that there are specific cultural nuances around homosexuality within Japan. Historically, same sex attraction in Japan has been largely hidden, although things are slowly changing. And Nintendo, as a Japanese company, reflects those wider societal values. But Tomodachi Life is a global product for a global audience, and Nintendo needs to take that into account. And while many countries are still coming to grips with same sex marriage legislation – Australia’s federal government, for example, last year overturned a state’s (territory’s, actually) legislation for same sex marriage – Nintendo could be using this situation to make a positive, inclusive stance.

All by not preventing Miis of the same gender from being in a relationship.

Should Nintendo put same sex relationships in a life simulator? In my (blatantly pro-equality) opinion, yes. Should they HAVE to? No. Should they be judged on their choice whether to do so or not? Definitely.

I think that Nintendo’s statement that future Tomodachi games will be “more inclusive” is a step in the right direction. I don’t believe the rubbish about not being able to change the game in a post-release patch for a second, though. But hey, I don’t make games, I just complain about them on the internet, so what would I know – it might actually not be possible to patch in. I really doubt it, though.

At any rate, Nintendo has heard that there is dissatisfaction regarding the omission of same sex relationships from Tomodachi Life, and has at the very least acknowledged that dissatisfaction. It’s completely up to Nintendo whether they act on that knowledge in the future.

People will be watching.

Former Editor in Chief of OnlySP. A guy who writes things about stuff, apparently. Recovering linguist, blue pencil surgeon, and professional bishie sparkler. In between finding the latest news, reviewing PC games, and generally being a grumpy bossyboots, he likes to watch way too much Judge Judy. He perhaps has too much spare time on his hands. Based in Sydney, Australia. Follow him on twitter @lawksland.

Features

“The Perfect Canvas To Build a Game World On”: Talking Hand-Drawn Horror in the Hills of Mundaun

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Mundaun

The Swiss Alps are best known as a holiday destination. Snow and skiing dominate the public imagining of the region, but horror lies in all hills. The folkloric horror game Mundaun promises to subvert the usual perception of the area.

The horrific twist on an idyllic locale is accompanied by an eye-catching art style like no other in gaming.

With Mundaun being such an intriguing prospect, OnlySP reached out to the game’s director Michel Ziegler to find out more.

OnlySP: Could you please begin by providing a brief description of Mundaun for any of our readers who may not be familiar with the game?

Ziegler: A [while] ago, I came up with the description: a lovingly hand-pencilled horror tale. I like the word tale, because it emphasizes the type of narrative the game is going for. It’s a first-person adventure game inspired by the dark folklore of the alps. The aesthetic is really unique, since I combine hand-pencilled textures with 3D. It’s kind of hard to be brief about what makes the game unique. I think it’s the combination of all the things in there, some pretty well hidden. Mundaun should be a mystery, an enigma.

OnlySP: Curiously, Mundaun is a real place. How accurate a recreation of the landscape is that found in the
game?

Ziegler: The levels are a condensed interpretation of the real thing. It’s more about how that place feels than accurate topology. The steepness of it, the objects and architecture you encounter that is very specific to that place. It wouldn’t be possible to meaningfully populate a large sample of the real mountain range. I want the give the player the feeling that in every corner there could be some small and unique thing to discover.

OnlySP: Do you have any personal connection to the real place? Why did you settle on it as the setting for the game?

Ziegler: My family has had a small holiday flat there since before I was born. I spent many summers and winters up there and so it became like a second home. Especially for a child, the nature feels huge and full of wonders. I would spend my days finding well-hidden spots and imagining adventures. I chose this setting, because it is dear to me and it is full of buildings that are many centuries old. It always felt like a timeless and mysterious place. The perfect canvas to build a game world on. Four years in, it still inspires too many ideas to ever fit into one game.

OnlySP: I’ve seen the game described as ‘folk horror’—following the likes of The Wicker Man and Children of the Corn. Would you consider that to be an accurate assessment of Mundaun?

Ziegler: I think so, even if my game isn’t inspired by those particular works. But I think there is a certain ambiguity to the scenario that makes people immediately think of fiction that has a similar feel in their cultural circle. Even if I draw much inspiration from things that are specific to where I live, I find that the world and tone of Mundaun resonates with people from all around the globe and from different cultural backgrounds. That said, the haymen that haunt you in Mundaun make the comparison to The Wicker Man an obvious one.

OnlySP: If so, what sort of local legends are you drawing on for the source of the horror?

Ziegler: Not really any specific ones. If I had to name one story that influenced the plot of Mundaun, it would  be Jeremias Gotthelf’s The Black Spider. The oppressive mood it conveys has always fascinated me. Also, I loved collections of small folk tales as a child and I think, I’m remixing elements from those, creating my own folk tale. I’m not restricting myself to only local influences at all though. I take everything that I think is interesting and fits the world and universe of Mundaun.

OnlySP: How does the monochromatic art style contribute to the player’s sense of tension?

Ziegler: For one, it invokes the aesthetic of old movies and photographs. For me personally, those often have a sinister quality, hiding something in the dark shadows. In addition to that, the hand-drawn textures give the game the quality of a darkly illustrated picture book.

OnlySP: Speaking of the art style, it certainly is one of the most intriguing elements of Mundaun. How did you come to settle on it, and what is the process by which you bring these hand-drawn artworks to life in the game? When you began, did you have an idea of how much work would be involved?

Ziegler: I just love drawing on paper. I’ve never gotten into drawing digitally much. For a small game prototype (The Colony) I made before Mundaun, I also applied a hand-made approach. I love the combination of hand-made textures with 3D, it’s a strange thing. Pencils just seemed a perfect match for a more dark aesthetic.

The process is similar to the usual 3D process, but with a small detour. After unwrapping the finished 3D model, I print out the UV maps. I trace the outlines to a new drawing paper and then I fill in the actual drawing with pencils. After scanning them back in, I apply them to the models. I probably didn’t properly anticipate, how many drawings I would end up making, because I underestimated, how much Mundaun would grow.

OnlySP: The puzzles that appear in the trailers seem to draw from an older tradition in games wherein they don’t necessarily feel realistic (although that interpretation is, admittedly, based on brief snippets taken out of context). Nevertheless, do you have any concerns that that approach might turn away some players?

Ziegler: Yeah, it’s a concern. I try to make the puzzles quite logical. Playtesting seems to be the key here. I’m not trying to break the flow of the game, the puzzles are just a great way to add detail and flavour to the world. I try to integrate them into the world and make them feel organic and unique to this place.

OnlySP: Aside from the puzzles, what else will players be doing in Mundaun?

Ziegler: Encountering, avoiding, or fighting off different types of enemies. Finding and talking to some of the eccentric native folk. Making coffee, smoking a pipe, carrying around the head of a goat. Driving a chair lift, a hay loader vehicle and a sleigh. There’s a whole lot of different things to discover. I think, the mix of high-stakes death threatening situations with more mundane activities is one of the most interesting qualities of Mundaun.

OnlySP: Explore” seems to be one of the keywords of the game. Does it feature an open-world design, or is it more of a level-to-level affair with expansive levels? And, in total, about how big is the game world

Ziegler: It features three discrete levels, each with their own flavour. You start in an area with meadows and trees and then make your way up to a more sparse, stony area. Then there’s the snow-covered summit region. The levels are quite sizeable and the player is given freedom to explore them, but it is not an open-world design per se. Each part, activity, and task is unique and lovingly hand-crafted.

OnlySP: How long do you expect the average playthrough to last? Or is it still too early to be able to say?

Ziegler: It is a bit early, but I think it’ll be 4-5 hours.

OnlySP: Speaking of, we first came across Mundaun about a year and a half ago. How long has it been in
development?

Ziegler: It has been in development for 4.5 years now.


Ziegler and his team at Hidden Fields are currently targeting a Q1 2020 launch for Mundaun on Mac, PC, and Xbox One.

If your interest is piqued, let us know either in the comments below or on our community Discord server.

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