When people talk about graphics and video games, they usually refer to a sense a realism, or how closely a game can get to looking like live action. When people talk about the graphics for A Song for Viggo, realism takes on a whole new meaning.
The game, which was successfully funded recently on Kickstarter, is about loss — specifically, about the grief surrounding losing a child. It’s a “classical adventure game without adventure,” according to developer Simon Karlsson, and it’s made entirely out of paper.
He came up with the idea for A Song for Viggo after playing Dream Machine, a point-and-click adventure made entirely out of clay and cardboard. Karlsson says he asked the creator to be his mentor because of how inspired he was, leading into his current project, which has been in the works for three years.
It’s a painstaking process for Karlsson, who until recently was a one-man band: writing the story, doing the photography, and writing the music. As we talk, Karlsson sits folding paper in his closet in Sweden, which doubles as his studio. He doesn’t describe it as fun in the “laughing my ass off” sense, since it’s a long process, and he has a tendency to get glue everywhere. Nonetheless, he explains that building the stages, setting up the lighting, and photographing everything before dismantling it gives him his own sense of pleasure. Plus, there’s the idea that he’s doing something different.
“I think what inspired me was just the pure… rage against what games are now, that it’s not like games try to evolve as much, it’s still the same story in different costumes. That’s why I’m kind of motivated to step out of the box and try something new,” he says.
It’s definitely new, so much so that most of the production has been about experimentation, including trying out different materials before landing on paper. Karlsson says that he tried doing wood carvings first before landing on paper that he folds. Now, it’s a matter of setting up every scene, shooting it at every possible angle, and making sure that everything looks just right before discarding it. Due to lack of space in his home, he can’t keep every scene. It’s worth the extra effort because, for one thing, he doesn’t know how to create 3D models and secondly, he hopes to create a connection for the player by bridging the gap between the virtual world and the real to tell his story about depression.
“I guess the paper side of it all is a bit more closer to reality than other games, at least the graphical point of view, because you see that it’s a game about everyday life and it’s made in life. It’s real, it’s real paper and it’s a story about real issues,” he said.
Looking through the photos on the Kickstarter page, it becomes obvious that the scenes that will be included in the final project are low budget. Each little room looks like it was taken out of a dollhouse and appears to be seconds away from collapse. The off-kilter, monochrome scenery could help with interpreting the grief mentioned as a huge driving force in the story, but the game seems quiet and subdued. This works in contrast to more visible games on the market; A Song for Viggo is not being made with the same software or with the same manpower. It looks closer in scope to older FMV games of the 1990s than something that would be released in 2014. Could it work?
Successfully hitting a $20,000 fundraising goal may be one definition of success, but will it pay off in the long term? Karlsson hopes that he can continue to make games that utilize realistic materials; for example, he wants to experiment with implementing galvanic stimulation (providing small, harmless electric currents to player’s brains to influence certain sensations). But whether or not A Song for Viggo can find a large audience remains to be seen, given its small scope, unusual art style and serious subject matter.
Karlsson has high hopes, however. “Just a week ago, a fan wrote to me and his older mother walked by the game and saw it and said ‘I want to play it. I don’t know what it is, but it’s made of paper so I want to play it.’”
Carli Velocci is a freelance journalist in Boston, Massachusetts. She has written for DigBoston and Gameranx and isn’t afraid of anything. You can find her on Twitter @revierypone;.