At a glance, video games are like the movies. There are constantly-rebooted classics like Sonic the Hedgehog and Street Fighter, as well as blockbuster franchises such as Call of Duty and Grand Theft Auto. Then there are the independent games: thoughtful, unconventionally made experiences usually created by teams of a few people that seek to redefine video games as art. You may have heard of Braid, Journey or Firewatch. Now comes Savior, the first independent video game made entirely in Cuba.
Created by the two-man team of designer Josuhe Pagliery and programmer Johann Armenteros, Savior is a 2D platformer with a mythic, postmodern tale. The player character is the Little God, who wakes to find a decaying home world and strikes out on a quest to find the Great God, the only entity with the power to restore the realm. As the Little God leaps from level to level, however, they become aware that they’re a character in the game’s story, and that their dissolving reality is nothing but fiction.
This isn’t your average arcade game, in other words. Pagliery thinks a video game is an interesting space for exploring the ideas about heroism, existentialism and simulacra.
“The context of a video game is ideal for experimenting with all sort of alternative realities and edgy subjects,” he says. “I’m also very interested in the concept of what a hero or savior is: a person romantically attached to the fate of the others, or more of a kind of egocentric figure that just uses that peoples ‘needs’ as a pretext for catapulting himself as a personality?”
Pagliery is now in his mid-30s, but he hasn’t lost the passion he gained for video games as a child. He cites 90s 16-bit classics like Earthworm Jim,Final Fantasy VI and The Legend of the Mystical Ninjaas influences. But unlike others his age, his playtime came in the midst of the Special Period, an era of economic strife in Cuba caused by the collapse of the Soviet Union.
In school, Pagliery continued to explore video games in conceptual art. He attended the Higher Institute of Art in Havana, and has presented interactive art pieces abroad as well as in festivals at home. For him, video games and art are innately linked.
“I think the way you structure a piece of art, at least conceptually speaking, is not too different [from] the way you structure a video game,” he says “The biggest difference from my perspective is that a piece of art could be totally hated by the audience and still be a great work, but in a video game all the time you have to think first, even before in your own tastes, of that final audience who will interact with your product.”
Pagliery recently presented a demo of the game at Maker Faire Miami, an event for artists, engineers and other creators to show off their projects. He’s hoping to gain more support for the project after a successful crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo.
“I am very interested, from the developer point of view, see how people react to it,” he said before the event. “Judging from that direct feedback I’ll make the adjustments needed for the final launch of the demo.”
He’s also interested in seeing how people at home will react to the final product. Despite normalization of relations with the U.S., Cuba still contends with a widespread lack of internet that, in Pagliery’s words, makes creating a game like Savior “like trying to swim in the middle of the desert.” Although international publishing for Savior is still up in the air, upon its scheduled 2018 release, the designer hopes the game may end up in the Paquete Semanal, a weekly issue of foreign movies, TV and publications used as a substitute for internet.
But no matter how Pagliery intends on releasing the game abroad, in Cuba it will be free for all.
“Hey,” he says, “we live in a socialist country, after all.”