Criticism · Making of · Post · Videogames

Remembering Uzume: the making of “Forgotten Kodama”

I try to periodically review the stuff I write, even if it’s just to learn from past mistakes or to kick myself over the head with them. I kick more than I learn, but I keep at it.

So it’s strange that I still hadn’t written a single line here about what was my first videogame as a writer, Forgotten Kodama.

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Switch on the time machine, dial 2011. I had just finished my first novel, which seemed like such a big deal back then, and was planning on taking a break from writing. Then the awesome guys at Hugging Cactus Studios came up with the idea of beefing up their indie game with some story, so could I take care of that while they burned the midnight oil on programming and art?

Forgotten Kodama was a solid 3D platformer, with nimble control and an enchanting atmosphere – subtle and moody, acentuated by the stylish cell-shading-like textures and enhanced by the elegantly minimalistic sound design. For the first game of an indie team it was peculiarly ambitious within its clearly defined boundaries. It provided such a memorable playing experience. Forgotten Kodama went on to win Best Student Game of the Spanish Videogame Industry at GAMELAB 2012.

None of this was thanks to me, of course.

So my first task was making sure I got the feel of Kodama’s world right, that I contributed to it rather than torture it into my own vision. Which was a surprisingly easy thing to do, considering I had zero experience writing for games. Of course, that has nothing to do with any prodigious skills of mine, but with the rich subtext that informed the art direction.

As the protagonist, Uzume, last of the kodama, your quest is to retrieve the spirit of Nature and thus restore life to the world. Though steeped in Japanese mythology (not to mention a healthy dose of Studio Ghibli), this is the classic cycle of birth, ordeal, sacrifice and rebirth at its purest. So I went along with it, soaking in the moodiness and delicate, atmospheric sadness of the game, present even in the midst of its few frantic combat scenes. Make no mistake – as triumphant as you might feel after solving the memorable 3D maze or escaping from the fearsome flood of purple lava via a hectic floral rollercoaster (just play it), the underlying narrative was a tragedy in the classical sense.

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Back then, even while I was having a blast working on it (fuck yeah, I made a game, babe!), I sighed for the opportunity of writing a game from scratch, since the first idea. Which shows what a naive beginner I was.

Looking back, I am grateful not only that I was given the chance, but also that the aesthetics and mood of Forgotten Kodama were so mature at the time I put fingers to the keyboard that I could relax my world-building impulses and immerse myself into a universe created by others – and enjoy the thrill of teamwork that I so often miss when writing something of my very own. This is a lesson I try to keep in mind for the future.

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Oh, and also, be briefer. Keep it more to the point, maybe tune down a bit the Tolkienesque wordiness. I’m afraid I was way too verbose with the intro.

Just check it out.

But hey, I’m working on improving that, I swear.

Like, in this blog.

(You’re kidding, 600 words already…?).

PS: If you’re interested in the game, I’d highly recommend you watch Hugging Cactus’ postmortem of Forgotten Kodama, at the GAMELAB conference. Here’s your chance to see the young geniuses behind its development (i.e. I don’t appear in the video) sharing lots of insights on its design, programming, art and pitfalls – all conveniently subtitled in English.

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