By Nathan Grayson on May 6th, 2013 at 1:00 pm.
Papo & Yo‘s tale of parental abuse, coping, and giant rhino dogs that appear to be made of chewing gum might not have been perfect, but on the whole, it was a marvelously powerful, important experience. Honestly, if you haven’t already, I really recommend giving it a try. Plenty of games tell great stories, but rarely do they teach us to understand and empathize with other human beings. Real ones. In the wake of Papo’s strong reception, Vander Caballero and the team at Minority have decided that’s their goal: to craft inherently human games that explain, heal, and tear us away from each others’ throats. That brings us to Silent Enemy. Rooted in Cree Indian culture, it digs deep into the battered hearts of two Minority team members whose childhoods were defined by bullying. I spoke with Caballero about what exactly that will entail and also received confirmation that – contrary to previous reports of mobile and OUYA exclusivity – Silent Enemy is definitely coming to PC.
“Yes. It will come to PC. It will,” Caballero immediately replied when I asked the PC question. So that’s settled, then.
But what is Silent Enemy? Where did it come from, and how can a medium that usually sees us playing the bullies – inflicting the harshest punishment possible on our foes for the sake of sheer, visceral pleasure – turn that dynamic around? Caballero explained to RPS:
“It started as a survival type of game, and then we changed it. We got funding while we were in the middle of Papo to make a game about Cree [Indian culture from Northern Quebec]. So we had design director Ruben Farrus thinking of the game, and then Papo came out, and he said, ‘Vander, we cannot do a game about survival hunting. That’s not a Minority game. Look at what’s happening with Papo.’”
“We had to make an emotional game. So we were like, ‘OK, Ruben, you’re right. Let’s do it.’ But the challenge is that you have to bring someone to a place of healing. You have to help someone with your game. So he started working with Ernie, our Cree partner, and they both came back to me and said, ‘OK, we have the angle: bullying.’ And I was like, ‘Wow. Why?’ Turns out, Ruben was bullied in Spain – in a small town, where he always had to feel nervous about being bullied – and creative director Ernest Webb was bullied in the Cree Indian reserve.”
So, right then: no bully hunting in the Wedgie Fields. Obviously, Silent Enemy won’t be some Tarantino-esque anti-bully revenge fantasy. But where do you take such a delicate concept? “Bullies bad, everyone else good,” after all, doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of everything underpinning this issue. Unsurprisingly, Papo & Yo’s drawn up a lot of the basic blueprint, but this is a very, very different sort of story.
“This is a fairytale story, so we’re going to have a lot of magical realism,” Caballero said. “It’s going to be a lot of fun. You’re going to be able to use your powers to collect experience and freeze rivers, possess animals, and things like that. So there’s going to be a lot of that joyful part of the world. Something that we had in Papo too – it was fun to explore the favela. There was all this fun and beauty. So there’s going to be all of that, with lots of animals and powers over nature, and then we’re going to bring in the bullies. The guys who are going to ruin your fun. You will have to defeat them, but not by fighting back. Because they’re really big.”
“We didn’t end our Papo with a fight. We didn’t have a curve of power to convey a meaningful story. Instead, you kept getting weaker and weaker. So we have gotten support from the people to break the rules of game design that are hurting many now. We can do something about it. You’re not going to defeat your bullies by getting better armor and a bazooka. So it’s a Minority challenge for us to do the game.”
And make no mistake: this is a Minority production. It’s a group effort, a collage of visions plucked from multiple countries, cultures, and walks of life. Caballero himself, then, isn’t exactly the star of this particular show, and he’s well aware of that. This time around, it’s about helping other people tell their own stories – though maybe not quite with Papo’s flare for, er, emotional devastation.
“I was bullied too, but not to that point. It’s a personal topic, but I’m not a creative director. I’m more a producer on the game. My goal right now is to help Ruben and Ernie to transform their feelings into mechanics. Now, it’s not going to be as personal as Papo. I put a lot of my own story and background into that one. Silent Enemy is going to be a lot more universal – but all based on really powerful stories they have lived.”
Which is not to say Caballero’s all tapped out. He definitely has another intensely personal tale in him. He’s just waiting for the right time to tell it.
“I’m working on it,” he admitted, a heavy sigh revealing the weight of it all. “I have one. I’m making a really personal game. It’s just that it takes time to do them. For Papo, it took me a really long time to feel it out. So if I finished Papo – this crazy journey – and then jumped right into my next one, it would be too hard for me. I couldn’t have done it. So right now I’m helping others, and I’m also going back to my other journey that’ll be the foundation for my next game.”