The Sacrificial Limb: LISA – The Painful RPG

By Adam Smith on November 26th, 2013 at 8:00 pm.

The tiny pixel man at the top of LISA’s Kickstarter page isn’t like all the others. Both of his arms have been lopped off and he’s threatening to bite his enemies. Just above that image you’ll find the game’s elevator pitch – it’s a “game about survival, sacrifice, and perverts”. Lone developer Austin Jorgensen wants to make an RPG that doesn’t skimp on unpleasant content and he’s chosen to set it in a world “where women are nowhere to be found…a world full of drugs, violence and the decay of human intelligence”. When Jorgensen claims that the biggest risk is that the game will upset people, he might just be right and that could well be a good thing. Reading the page reminded me of playing Beautiful Escape for the first time (please read Kieron on that if you haven’t before).

There’s a small demo to try, created for the campaign, but if you don’t have time for that just now, read on to learn more. Heavily influenced by Earthbound, LISA is a side-scrolling RPG in which survival is hard-won. To save the life of a friend, it might be necessary to lose a part of yourself. Literally. Cash can be earned through prostitution or by selling the location of defenceless folk to sadistic bandits. It’s a grim world and as with Beautiful Escape, the memories caught up in the graphics, of cuter adventures that do not always carry consequences, add new poison to the sting.

I want the world of Lisa to be hard on the player. I hate playing a game knowing that if I make a choice, it has to be the one I know the game wants me to do, or the “safe” option, or the one that leads to the good ending. The choices you make will change the core mechanics of the game, it’s not just superficial. I want the player to really have to make sacrifices and for the game to affect the interior core of your experience.

There’s humour along with the discomfort. In fact, they seem to be wrapped up in one big sodden ball of tissue. The ‘cameo’ appearances from other games and from nineties professional wrestling are odd devices, but I think they tell us something about where Jorgensen sees this manly world eventually collapsing on itself. Posturing, machismo, and an underlying sad desperation and loyalty. After all, for all their failures, some of these chaps are willing to lose a limb to help out a friend in need.

Knowing how LISA will depict its themes, and precisely what they’ll be, would spoil the discovery, so it’s perhaps best that the ‘painful’ part of the game remains at least partly obscured. Here are some final words from Jorgensen though.

I want to really push the player into a corner, force you to do things you aren’t sure of doing, and I don’t just mean morally. I’m sick of playing as the hero. TV and Film are stepping it up narratively, games should be doing the same, plus some.

He’s raised just under $4,000 of a $7,000 total, with 18 days left on the clock.

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19 Comments »

  1. Freud says:

    No women to be maimed? This guy just made the RPS ****list.

  2. wodin says:

    No women would mean lots of bum rape…not pleasant.

    • Phasma Felis says:

      That seems to be the idea. From the Kickstarter page: ” Remember, there are no women in Lisa. Men are “starved,” so it’s easy to turn a quick buck by selling your body as a prostitute! Have fun!”

    • Greggh says:

      One cannot say that Earthbound inspired another game without playing said game to its full extent, or at least diving deep, more than just a few encounters here and there: Earthbound is all about the narrative, bonding with those quirky characters and then watch them taking the harshest decisions, sacrificing THEMSELVES for you, not the other way around. Sure, graphics and music may resemble, but the core of that wondrous experience lies in its heart-crushing story telling.

      Your greatest sacrifice, in an Earthbound-esque world, would be the perseverance that you must have to endure all that pain inflicted by the selflesNess of others.

      Not saying this project doesn’t sound promisingly good already ;)

      EDIT – Pah! wasn’t meant as a reply :

    • SominiTheCommenter says:

      As opposed to the other kind of pleasant rape?
      /Deliberately thought-provoking

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    strangeloup says:

    I just sort of don’t see the appeal in playing something so self-consciously, deliberately horrible. Then again I’m not interested in movies like Saw or Hostel and the like, and it all seems to come under the same umbrella.

    I don’t object to games having dark elements — Spec Ops: The Line made excellent use of some occasionally incredibly graphic imagery — but when it’s the entire thing, it’s a bit too much.

    Edit: I also read the linked thing about Beautiful Escape and felt a bit sick.

    • Greggh says:

      It’s the stark contrast that offsets your mind while you’re playing, it’s (was in Earthbound) a joyous thing – I still wish for it to hit an emotional bone as well, and crack it like a baby panda being stomped by it’s father because he must save humankind by doing so.

    • The Random One says:

      I like horrible things; you need both dark and light to succeed, but you can have either a light world with dark elements, or a dark world with light elements. (Though an idea with only light can succeed, as long as it aknowledges it’ll be vacuous and embraces that. An idea with only dark suffers a lot more to end up with anything more than pointless teenager angst.)

      That said, I don’t think this game will pull it off. I read the pitch and it just feels like it was written by teenagers trying to be funny. A grim world of bum rape! The “pervert” character’s last name is Gaylord! If that makes you uncomfortable you’re just too uptight, man! No, good sirs, I’m not. It doesn’t make me uncomfortable because I don’t want to accept the true harshness of life you’ve put on the table, it makes me uncomfortable at one point I too was silly enough that I’d try to repackage the immature jokes I made when I was twelve as a dark and serious analysis of the world and it was only luck that prevented me from using that setting to kickstart a video game. I’d love to be proven wrong on this one, since their high-level concept is quite alluring, but I’m not holding my breath.

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        strangeloup says:

        IN THE GRIM DARKNESS OF THE FAR FUTURE THERE IS ONLY BUM RAPE

        Edit: In seriousness though, I think the dark-and-edgy-as-conceived-by-adolescents thing is what’s put me off the entirety of Team Meat’s stuff, for example. Also reminded me of some game allegedly based on the creator’s mental troubles, but which came off as wangst coupled with budget knockoff Edward Gorey art.

        Edit edit: Also, the “this is something I could imagine a younger me making” vibe is the only reason I put up with The Cat Lady for more than five minutes.

        • Kitsunin says:

          Huh, I never really though of Team Meat’s stuff like that. I always thought it was more just juvenile overall with adult stuff thrown in just to be more offensive. When I think about it though I could also see it as edgy by an early teen’s standards.

    • Paroxysm says:

      The game isn’t horrible though. The setting and many ideas are very extreme but the general tone is actually pretty fun. There are certainly disturbing moments but theres definitely a balance of joy with misery and the minute by minute gameplay certainly leans far more to the joyous.

  4. DeadboyWrath says:

    Y: The Last Man. Didn’t go so great for anyone with just ladies around either. I hope this game isn’t just a homophobia fest.

  5. Shadow says:

    I wish the trailer had more to show than what amounts to a theme song and a single screenshot.

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    Jackablade says:

    I’m not sure they’re really doing themselves any favours with that demo. Tonally, it seems to be completely at odds with everything written in this article in that it’s all rather affable with a lot of silly humour.

    On a related note, has that JRPG style, picking commands from a menu combat been anything other than a chore in any game ever?

  7. Phasma Felis says:

    “A game of survival, sacrifice…hard choices…”

    The gameplay video has an attack where two dudes rub their butts on a bad guy’s face for 361 damage.

    Hmm.

  8. Meat Circus says:

    a world “where women are nowhere to be found…a world full of drugs, violence and the decay of human intelligence”

    Activision’s marketing department?