It will take game developer Josuhe H. Pagliery thirty minutes to load this article in Cuba, where he’s making an indie game. Savior is an artistically ambitious 2D platformer where the protagonist, Little God, realizes it is in a “collapsing video game.” And the challenges Pagliery and his partner Johann Armenteros must face to develop it are not insubstantial.
In Cuba, internet is only available at government-sanctioned Wi-Fi hot spots. Even then, several sites are censored. Modern computer and gaming hardware typically flows through “friends in Miami” and is difficult to purchase at Cuban stores. Also, available game development tools are several years behind international standards. In Kotaku’s offices yesterday, Pagliery told me that there is barely a gaming community in Cuba, much less a way to market Cuban games to an international audience. A small game about Cuba’s revolution and a few government-sponsored education games are much of what the country has offered so far.
It was only last year that President Obama received an embassy from Cuba and re-established American relations with the communist country after over 50 years of estrangement. Newer technology is slowly trickling in, but Cuba’s culture of—and infrastructure for—game development is still lacking.
These are the hurdles Pagliery is deftly clearing. In just six days, Savior’s IndieGoGo campaign reached its $10,000 goal (Last year, Cuba’s average monthly salary was $25). “People in the U.S.A. or in other developed countries may take this for granted,” he said, “but for us, it’s super exceptional.”
If restrictions breed ingenuity, Savior seems to benefit from the limits of available technology. It’s stylish. Stepping on certain platforms will illuminate dialogue, etched out of that platform. Glitchy code fades in and out of the game’s background to show that the protagonist’s world is exists only tenuously. Pagliery’s background is in art, and a furious attention to detail shows through Savior’s hand-drawn animations. Its look and gameplay, Pagliery says, are inspired by his favorite ‘90s titles: Final Fantasy VI, Super Castlevania 4, Super Metroid.
The goal is for “Little God” to find “The Great God”—but in between, it becomes apparent to “Little God” that they are simply a character, “and that all the reality around you is only a segment of a colossal game” on the brink of destruction.
Pagliery said he’s not at all religious. He told me about how reality, for many people in Cuba, is tied to some concept of God. Video games are where it’s most clear that “reality is always a perception,” he says. To him, that’s liberating. Savior is about how there are many lines of reality, and it’s up to the player to forge their own.
“You have the freedom to choose what your reality is,” Pagliery says. For him, making Savior was what he chose.
That said, Pagliery isn’t thinking in terms of over-arching ambitions. He has finished his funding campaign. The game will demo March, 2017. Then he has to perfect what he has with the tools at his disposal. Publishing (in 2018) will be the next challenge, and finally, he must get the word out.
“In Cuba, it’s more healthy to see things not too far ahead in time,” Pagliery says.