“We decided to make references of what is familiar to us.”
Long Hat House and Raw Fury are preparing for the launch of Dandara at this right moment, due to release on February 6th for Steam, Linux, Playstation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch and both iOS and Android mobile devices. Pretty much anywhere.
Dandara introduces itself as an heavy action-ish metroidvania with a lot of style. The main hook is related to how the controls merges with the gameplay: one has only to aim where to move, and by either pressing a button or swiping, the character will fly towards destination in an instant. There are different weapons and items to use in exploring this giant map, and to defend ourselves from the threats that lurk the different game areas.
Into The Spine spoke to João Brant and Lucas Mattos, founders of Long Hat House, to talk about their origins, Dandara’s first prototype, how the character came to be and her role in the modern video games industry.
Dandara is a fearsome character, and it’s easy to tell the importance she had in Brazil’s history. When did you guys decide that you wanted to make a game based on this heroine?
“The game is not based on Dandara dos Palmares, but the main character was inspired by her as well as the narrative base. In the beginning, after making an initial draft of the game mechanics, we created a story about a soldier dude shooting around this world where he could grapple around and move like Dandara does now. We felt that it was very uninspired, and that it had nothing to do with us, or with our culture. It was mostly influenced in the games that we are used to play.
So we decided that we should seek for inspiration in what we see around us in our lives, in our culture, the things we learn when growing up, and use those as basis for our game’s narrative. We didn’t want only to show Brazilian culture and maybe even help shape a face and style for Brazilian games, but we also believe this creative setting helps us to contrast in the constant sea of games we see today.
It also helps creating a more mysterious and curious environment for those who are not familiar to our culture, and that is really important when the mechanic of the game is all about exploration.”
“Then we thought that we could talk about the conflicts and problems that are part of our History, and we came to the Slavery. In our researches Dandara dos Palmares, the Brazilian heroine, really draw our attention: she freed slave who fought for freedom. We started building this abstract world around the mechanics we had, and creating the narrative and this female heroine inspired by Dandara. But at that time it was just two of us, both Computing Science students, and with no money and no experience we wouldn’t have the time for the research nor the maturity to give the deserved respect to a story that was about such a sensible topic, that is slavery.
So we shifted the story to something closer to us personally, and because we’re not experienced writers, we decided to build a game that was more focused on gameplay, with the story told by the environment and the mechanics, which goes really well with the exploration. We created this narrative we liked, and that was still inspired from its origins, the fight for freedom. Dandara was at that moment the project name, as a homage, but the main character design survived that transition, and the name got more and more space into our hearts. Because our heroin still fights for freedom, the name also has a lot of weight in her meaning into the universe we created.”
Have you consulted any history expert or researcher about her story during the game’s development?
“As we said before, the game is not about her. And one of the main reasons we didn’t go for slavery as the main topic is this, we couldn’t invest so much into the proper research the subject requires. And by investing we don’t mean money (we also didn’t have that), but Dandara was our second game to be released, we wanted to test and prove how we would go in development and production, so we set this to be a smaller project. In the beginning the game had a much smaller scope, but as we liked the project and as the doors opened, like the possibility of console ports, the project also grew into scope.
We hope games with the proper research, taking set in environments like Colonial Brazil will come out eventually. And with the industry growing here, I imagine it’s just a matter of time. We surely will love to be part of that, hopefully in the future!”
From what I’ve seen in trailers, there will be an interesting cast of characters to interact with, including the painter Tarsila do Amaral (with a reference to Abaporu) and even Thommaz, who I’m assuming it’s the same composer of the game. How did you come up with those ideas?
“Just like Dandara, these few characters’ references have specific meaning that have an importance in the lore of the game. In order to address that goal I talked about earlier, of using our lives and personal experiences to inspire the narrative of the game, we decided to make references of what is familiar to us, that we are used to see everyday, or study at school. Or even friends themselves that possess that deep meaning.”
Taking characters like the recent Dishonored: Death of the Outsider’s protagonist as an example, what do you think about women’s representation, in video games? We’ve seen more and more women characters leading indies and AAA alike in the recent years, but Dandara is one of the first non-fictional afro brazilian protagonists to represent a game.
“We understand that video games have lacked in representing women, not only in the amount of characters, but also in the quality and respect in their designs. We also believe that this can change and have been changing with the growing representation in the Game Industry itself and with the grown awareness raised to the subject lately. And hopefully it will become stronger, the more we create games that appeal to everyone, and the more it inspires the industry and the new generations of developers.
The Dandara from the game is also a fictional character, but with a mention to the original person and the ideas she represents. And it has been really cool to see how she becomes part of this movement, in inspiring and reaching new players. And we have also been pleased by the good reception, and proud of what we’re achieving. But it’s important to say that it’s unfair to give us the credits like it has been, and we are still far from the real fighters that have been changing the industry.
Instead we are part of the outcomes of these changes, we found in Dandara dos Palmares this awesome inspiration, and this bad-ass heroine design, that we might not have been able to see some years ago, and this is because many people, mostly women, have been fighting to raise awareness, so that the developers realize the problems, and find how much space there is still to explore, and how much we have neglected or failed to notice. And probably many of these protagonists that we have seen recently are coming too, not only as part of this fight, but also as a result of this hard work.”
Since you both started on 2014, you have worked in a vast number of indie titles, but there is no doubt that Dandara is your biggest game to date. How has the development been throughout these past few years?
“We wouldn’t say that we worked on a vast number of indie titles! Dandara is our second game, and the rest of them are small games and experiments. Long Hat House is actually our try to enter the indie games industry that we did right before graduation. At that time, it was either do it or find a job in IT. We first started our first game, Magenta Arcade, to test if we could work together, how would it be the logistics, etc. right on the World Cup when the entire country stops working. It wasn’t a financial success at all, but it got nice reviews and even competed for awesome awards like IMGA (International Mobile Gaming Awards) and BIG.
That made us believe that we should keep making games! After some failed experiments and small jam games, we finally settled with this game about a person manipulating his/her own gravity to reach platforms and shoot enemies. That became Dandara, and with it, we believed it would be just a bigger, better ‘console game made for touchscreens’. Then, Raw Fury happened, and it blew way beyond our imaginations.”
Considering Dandara is being ported to mobile devices and to the Switch with touch controls, which were the challenges that rose up when planning the control scheme for the game?
“Initially we’ve been very skeptical about playing Dandara with controllers. When we were experimenting many solutions, our main challenge was coming with a way of not making repeated ‘aims’ with the thumbstick, because they felt both like they needed more effort and were less accurate than aiming with a swipe and releasing to jump. But when we came up with using a face button to jump and a reflective aim (you will see what I mean when you play it), it all clicked, magically. In the end, we feel that it’s really comfortable and even faster to play in the gamepads!”
As it has been announced by Raw Fury on their site, there will be a free DLC coming up later this year. Could you tell me a little bit more about it? Should we expect a new game mode or is it going to be story-related content?