I’ve been playing lots of first-person games lately, mainly those which focus on exploration. I like the immersion, and how I legitimately feel that I am an active part of the world instead of just a stranger giving orders to a local. From the simplest walking simulators to elaborate 3D puzzle games, exploration-centered games tend to enhance my awareness of the virtual world around me in-game, as well as affect me both mentally and emotionally in real life. Playing Upsolom, a game by the Brazilian duo André Jota and Glauco Nobre under the name of GranaDa Studio, was an experience that made me feel both lonely and curious.
In a seemingly endless world, I was inside a mech exploring what looked like the rooftops of buildings in an abandoned city. These rooftops’ blue and purple tones contrasted with the mech’s red details; aside from that, the world was a pale, grayish tone that constantly reminded me that I was the only thing alive, and that the city had been dead for some time. There is no one else exploring the city or looking for the symbols you’re seeking; there is literally no one else, anywhere. Even the ship, where the game starts, has an interface that talks to you and explains what should be done, but there are no other people to help. It’s all up to you, lonely human.
“We love cryptic aesthetics and vast landscapes. Upsolom is a little experiment with those things in mind, like the Brutalist Architecture and a world that doesn’t care about you. In Upsolom, you are not important and maybe the city is not what it seems, just like the dense atmosphere the player is inserted,” says the duo. “We don’t like to explain it because we want a positive interference from players on what’s going on. Upsolom was produced in only 20 days and as such it did not play all the ‘notes’ we would like and seek in our vision yet. Hopefully, the next games will put on the table more aesthetical and gameplay choices and with those little games we want to present ourselves and attract people who like those things that we love.”
This aesthetic was inspired by a variety of other cultural products. The duo explained that Brutalist Architecture heavily inspired the team; they were also influenced by post-cyberpunk mangas that focus on the setting over the characters, like Tsutomu Nihei’s Blame! and Biomega. “The mind labyrinths of Jose Luis Borges’ books and those Invisible Cities from Italo Calvino come first to mind, whereas in movies it is difficult to find any direct influence since it’s a mostly visual game, but we love Andrei Tarkovsky visual poetry and anything from David Lynch. From a visual perspective, the Starkness of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis and German expressionism, in general, are other influences.”
As expected, other first-person games were also an influence to Upsolom, but not any particular one. “We like to think that some very recent walking simulators like Condor, from Connor Sherlock, Dear Esther or Naissancee from Limasee Five and even much older games like Kairo or the vastly unknown Cosmology of Kyoto gave us the impression that we should finally take our role making those weird atmospheric little games that we wanted to do almost 10 years ago, in a very different world where producing and selling games like this would be impossible.”
Despite the lack of explanation of the goals in the game, Upsolom became more instinctive as I played it. The main goal is to collect spheres and symbols spread across the city. Using a jetpack attached to the mech that you control, the core gameplay consists of reaching new areas and paying attention to the landscape to look for any clues of where to find these artifacts. Although that’s the core of the game, it was an intense experience to just explore and accidentally bump into those items. “Our intent with Upsolom was to offer a relaxing exploration game, focusing on ambiance and a mostly silent, cold and vast location. The jetpack gameplay was something we ever wanted to put immediately in a 3D exploration game, and we found it satisfactory enough to this first release and fitting the game slow pacing,” explained the duo.
While it’s hard to see atmospheric games becoming hits, André and Glauco are not worried about it. “We prefer an honest and interested small bunch of supporters over thousands of players who just dive into the game expecting things that not even they know what are they and demanding those things from us.” They also confirmed that Upsolom is just one game of an upcoming series. “Upsolom is the first step of a series of biweekly (sort of) experimental games that are simple and honest experiences made by us to learn and to guide our vision into the next bigger and even older projects. Only now we can see a gaming world diversified enough to accept and absorb those minimalist adventures.”
This is their first release since they left the iOS mobile market, where they created about 33 games with 2D graphics. They explained that being a duo makes it easier to change the focus, though they’re not sure how good or bad it is. “Since 2013 we are pitching ideas and working on prototypes that were ditched, either because we cannot sustain interest working on long projects (over 6 months), or because they became way too complex to test and produce or not being attractive enough to motivate us to keep working on them. We don’t want to try fixing bad ideas. We are just starting from scratch, and we are rebooting our activities with smaller and more focused microgames,” concluded.