We’re working on a review for indie game Nubla 2, so I got in touch with Daniel Sanchez from Gamera Nest to talk a bit about its development. Come check it out!
PS4Blog: Good morning! Thank you for joining us at PS4Blog.net. Could you please help us get started by telling our readers a bit about yourself and your work?
First of all, thank you for this interview and your interest in our video game – it´s very important for us. Gammera Nest is a company that was born in 2013, practically at the same time as Nubla because, although we had started working on some experimental projects, that year the Thyssen-Bornemisza National Museum asked to create a videogame for them to talk about their work and the art, all without being an educational game or by showing their paintings in a direct way. It was a challenge that has brought us to where we are today, a process in which we have worked on and taken our philosophy of game development and design to other museums, working on projects with artistic groups from around the world – this summer we created a performative experience as a video game with a Colombian collective called Bestial Radio that helped us win the Best Cultural Video Game Award in Madrid.
As a video game developer, I have been in the industry since 2004. That year I stopped working in film distribution to move to the world of video games for mobile phones which were just getting started back then. I founded my first company, Mayhem Studio, in 2006, with licenses such as Cyberpunk 2020 and The Call of Cthulhu RPG. For more than six years we focused mostly on products for mobile phones. For the last two years with our spin-off, Digital Jokers, we started working on PlayStation.
In 2012 we disappeared as a company, since I wanted to dedicate myself completely to teaching, but a year later PlayStation and the Thyssen- Bornemisza National Museum asked me to embark on this adventure that brought me back to the world of video games, although with a very different focus from what I had worked on before. We nowadays work practically exclusively on PlayStation, and our projects are mainly focused on the world of culture and art.
PS4B: Nubla 2 is now out on PlayStation 4. How would you describe the game to someone who’s never heard about it?
If you have not played Nubla 1 (or the World of Nubla, which includes the first game as well as a preview for Nubla 2), you will not feel lost, and you will not need to understand the story, although both are intimately linked. Nubla was an experiment, a challenge that the Museum asked us to do and that we did with students and amateurs mainly to see how far we could go, and we created a world that has lost Creativity (we do not know why) and in which the only hope is to advance through a museum, helping an ism that lives within the cadres and has powers, to solve puzzles.
The goal is to return Nubla’s memory – a long-legged elephant. Doing this helps you to enter its world and save it. It’s a small game that is only an hour long, but as we worked on it, we realized the potential it could have if we had known from the beginning everything we knew when we had finished and published the game on PlayStation 4. The team’s decision was pretty much unanimous: we had to work on a second part in which we would apply everything learned in our journey, and we would make it bigger and more ambitious – the game that Nubla could have been.
We talked about it in the summer of 2015 since all that was left to do was to publish the first game, so a large part of the original team began to plan what would become Nubla 2, maintaining the spirit of collective work but expanding on it to the entire artistic and educational community. This is why, for the second part, through workshops and calls to action we have been developing the different levels for the game over the last three years, with more than 70 people working on the game or participating in different ways, from Spain, and from foreign countries – we’ve even had participants from South America. All of this was done with a core team at the helm which had already experienced the previous process, serving as a guide for those new to the experience.
The result is a game that has over 6 hours of gameplay, in an experience that starts begin by explaining the loss of creativity in the world in a prologue that takes place in the city where the isms lived, set in the classic Venice of Canaletto. You then get to continue with the history of the character – you can pick between a boy or a girl, and the ism that accompanies the character on this journey to M, the city in the center of the world, where they believe they can save the world with the help of Nubla. Of course, playing Nubla before Nubla 2 will give you some insight and clues for the sequel, and you will get to meet some of the same characters. But, as I mentioned before, both games were worked on independently.
PS4B: How are things different between Nubla and Nubla 2? Has there been a change in the themes presented for this sequel?
Along with the change to the overall development process which we’ve discussed, in the first game, we worked with the paintings and art in a more literal way. It is true that in our sessions with the museum it was essential that we interpret while being especially careful: not to copy, not to appropriate the content, but to interpret. Remember that, after all, this is not a project of Gammera Nest, it is a project of the Thyssen-Bornemisza National Museum in which we have collaborated, not as providers of a service but as part of the process, contributing our knowledge about video games. We helped them, but we did not have the profound understanding of the work that they did, which limited us creatively. Close to the end of the development of Nubla, we had mastered the language – you can see a difference between scenes such as the cups in the Blue City combined with others full of imagination as is the case of The Forest of Faces.
In the sequel, although there are some pictures used in a more literal way (for example, San Antonio Falls, the Thomas Cole painting or The Grand Canal), what we can see is a reinterpretation and, at the same time, a deepening in the theme of the works, which has led us to bring their concerns into our current times. This is why we come across topics such as refugees, women artists who are made invisible or memory loss and its importance to building the true story, a story not imposed by the powerful. All of them appear or emanate from the works of the Thyssen Museum, and we have reflected on that, and this led us to give a voice to the artists themselves, and that is the reason why many of the painters who have their work on display at the museum appear in walking by in the different levels of the video game.
PS4B: How long did it take to develop Nubla 2? Was the process different for the sequel when compared to Nubla’s development cycle?
As I mentioned before, Nubla 2 has been in development for three and a half years, and by the time the game has its international launch it will be will be four years, since it will be out in North America closer to the Summer, and more than 70 people have worked on it in different roles.
The new process has allowed us to maintain the spirit of collaborative play that can be experienced in the game, especially in chapter 2 (Through the World of Dreams), which was developed in the context of a program called “Open Tuesdays” during which anyone could visit the museum and participate in the development. These sessions are presented in the EducaThyssen blog, the Museum’s Education Department.
The process in Nubla 2 differs from the one for the first in that once the sessions were over, the team took what came out from them and worked on that based on the decisions that were made. This system leads us to work with aspects that, on paper, seem to click but that, at other levels, can give us some problems. We must make sense of all the ideas, leave some space for everyone to contribute, and see their ideas reflected in the game. This has maintained the educational and collaborative nature, and it has allowed us to learn a lot. It’s also given a voice to people who never in their lives imagined that they would be able to make a video game and that, thanks to their relationship with the museum, have now entered into this world.
PS4B: With Nubla 2 already released on PS4, are you currently working on a new project?
Well, our work on Nubla 2 is not over yet! We are listening to the press, media, critics and, of course, to the players to improve any issues with the gameplay or what we detect that can harm the perception of the game and prevent people from enjoying it. We are also preparing a video layer that explains the process and, above all, the relationship between the art and its authors and what we see in the videogame. Next month Nubla 2 will be published in German, Portuguese, Italian, and French, opening the game to all of Europe. We will then start with America and, at the end of the year, we hope that we can launch it in Asia, which is a much more complicated process. Nubla, the first one, will also be released on PC this month. It will have some improvements here and there, but nothing that would change the original experience and vision.
We aren’t only focusing on this universe since we are preparing another release for PlayStation (and other platforms) – a game that will take players less time to complete, but that has an equally expensive production work. The game is called The Many Pieces of Mr. Coo, Nacho Rodríguez, its author, has been working on it for years. He’s an animation mater. We think that the best way to use what we learned by working on Nubla was to support new authors and when Gilberto Sánchez presented it to us in 3D Wire two years ago, we realized he would be the first artist we help, but not the last one!
PS4B: And that’s all the time we have for today. Is there something else you’d like to say before we go?
We’d once again want to thank everyone who is talking to us about our launch, people from Spain and from the rest of the world. We want to, of course, thank the players who are enjoying the game and giving us some valuable feedback. We want you to know that we do not ignore your comments!
Nubla 2 exists thanks to a collaborative process between dozens of people, and that number can now reach into the hundreds. Many of you enrich our process with your insight and advice, and this makes Nubla 2 a living project that still has a long way to go. Just wait until you see the new updates we’re preparing for the game that will make it a more complete and, above all, a richer experience thanks to the fact that it is already being played in Spain and, very soon, in the rest of Europe.
This videogame is one of the most ambitious titles produced in Spanish, as it has been proven by the awards it has received so far. Although we do have to say we are surprised that something like this arises from a museum and not from the industry itself. We believe that if we all collaborate together to work on more ambitious projects, we can contribute to help Spain gain a spot in the video game world. I hope that this small step that we are taking, along with the very good games that have appeared in recent years from fellow indie studios, we can see this dream come true. We will do everything we can to drive this forward.