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Road to the IGF: Tale of Tales' Luxuria Superbia

Tale of Tales spreads sex and joy with its Nuovo Award nominee Luxuria Superbia, and Gamasutra speaks to the creative duo to find out more about the thinking behind it.

Christian Nutt

March 14, 2014

7 Min Read

Perennial IGF nominee Tale of Tales is back this year with Luxuria Superbia, a sensual, experimental touch game designed to twin the joy of sex to the joy of gameplay. The game is nominated this year for a Nuovo award, the award "dedicated to honoring abstract, short-form, and unconventional game development which 'advances the medium and the way we think about games.'" You could say that is Tale of Tales' mission, but this game has a different tone and a different feel than many of the studio's previous projects. Gamasutra spoke to Auriea Harvey and Michael Samyn (who answered the below questions collectively) as part of our ongoing Road to the IGF series to find out more.

What's your background in making games?

We have used computers to make works of art and design our entire adult lives. First individually -- Auriea in New York, Michael in Belgium -- and since 1999 together. We designed websites and created net.art. But we always made a point of not distinguishing between those two too much: we wanted our designs to be beautiful and meaningful and we wanted our art to be accessible and entertaining, so a lot of our first web-based 3D projects resemble the games we are making now in funny ways. The few video games we had played back then did inspire us, especially in our desire to create immersive spaces and interact with virtual creatures. It was with that sensibility that we started making video games in 2003. We felt they were a wonderful medium for creating worlds and situations to just spend some time in. We still feel the same, really, despite learning a lot about the form and the industry.

What development tools did you use to build Luxuria Superbia?

Blender was used for the 3D models, Pixelmator for most of the 2D graphics. The game was created in Unity -- originally programmed in the visual environment of Antares Universe and then transcribed for performance to JavaScript. The music was put together in Logic Pro, recorded, in part, from a giant computer-driven street organ in the studio of Walter Hus.

How much time have you spent working on the game?

Luxuria Superbia took about a year to make, though the bulk of the game was created in only three months. The rest of the time was spent on fine-tuning and playtesting. But Luxuria Superbia was preceded by a research and prototyping project called Cncntrc that took another 18 months. We will be showing a prototype called The Cosmos and The Cave that came out of that project at the Experimental Gameplay Workshop at the GDC next week.

How did you come up with the concept?

The original spark came to us at a GDC roundtable led by Brenda Romero about sex in video games. While most of the discussion addressed the depiction of sex, and concerns about pornography, we became curious about how a game would feel with mechanics inspired by sex instead. Later we realized that sex was in fact also a sort of game, and the parallels between the two stimulated us even more. With this game we did perhaps more research and playtesting than with any other. At certain points it seemed like we were trying to encompass too much in one game. Aspects of transcendence and cosmology were introduced during our research. The links between sensual and spiritual pleasure fascinated us, and demanded further exploration. We hope to do much more with this in the future. Luxuria Superbia is only a first modest product of that research.

You've used the phrase "sensual pleasure" in discussing Luxuria Superbia. Can you talk about exploring this subject in a game space, and with game design?

Pleasure, or "fun," seems to be the most prominent, if not the sole, purpose of games to many -- so it's amusing to make a game that explores pleasure as its topic. To some extent we only use sex to help people play the game. Assuming that the players have had sex before, we hope they will quickly understand how to play Luxuria Superbia. But there's also a link to aesthetics. We are very much fans of old art. We adore Renaissance and Baroque paintings, sculpture, architecture, and music especially. That kind of art is very sensual, even when it is addressing deep religious themes. We miss this connection between deep beauty and sensuality in modern times. It feels like we've all embraced the Kantian concept of the sublime to divorce aesthetics from simple pleasure. But we feel the two are one. And we should not place a big distinction between our love for a beautiful person and the experience of beauty when listening to music, for instance. Those experiences are connected and even enhance each other.

You've lately been talking a lot more lately about playfulness and joyfulness in games. Can you explain why you're focusing your energies this direction lately?

Luxuria Superbia is obviously one of those reasons. We're filled with the themes of this game and want to share them. The other reason is a realization that came to us after surveying our 10-year existence as a game studio. We make all our games with the purpose of sharing beautiful moments with other humans. Even when the game addresses old age or death, we do it with the purpose of finding beauty and experiencing joy. But when looking at some of the reactions to our work, we noticed that not everybody experiences it like that. Many find our games weird and obscure, or depressing, or difficult to understand. Even if some find this experience enjoyable, we felt that we should put more effort in designing the games so that more players understand better how we feel when we play them. For us, all of our games are playful and joyful, and filled with humor. And we'd like to share that better with people in the future.

You also have said you hoped to capture a bigger audience by launching on a platform with the ubiquity of mobile. Talk about how that went -- not just numbers, but in connecting with people you've never connected with before.

It wasn't just the platform. Making an iPad game was a big gamble, so we developed the game for as many platforms as we could. The choice for mobile was more technically motivated: We wanted to force ourselves to make a simple game that could run on these underpowered devices, if only as a basis for future, more involved projects. It has the added bonus of allowing a direct touch interface to a game mostly centered around reaction to touch. But we definitely put a lot of effort into making Luxuria Superbia as appealing as possible for a diverse audience. We haven't exactly reached a very large audience with it yet, but the responses have been very positive. It makes us happy that we have been able to bring joy to many people, and that responses have been overwhelmingly positive. Sex is a subject that rarely gets talked about in the context of games. And when it is, it's usually about depiction (of sex or sexualized characters, etc). But Luxuria Superbia is inspired by "everyday sex", the sex we all have, as people, with each other. It's nothing special, but it is. And very importantly, it's something we all share, across genders, across cultures, across ages, across ideologies. As such it's extremely important. The world is in desperate need of more connections when many forces are trying to pull us apart.

Have you played any of the other IGF finalists? Any games you've particularly enjoyed?

We're big fans of Drei by Etter! We've also enjoyed Device 6 and what we've seen of Gorogoa. Shelter is lovely too and The Stanley Parable is fun. And in our own category, we're rooting for SoundSelf, which feels a bit like the other side of Luxuria Superbia sometimes.

What do you think of the current state of the indie scene?

As there are many, many indie scenes, or perhaps none at all, it's hard to say.

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