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.