By Quentin H. / March 1st, 2018
Mulaka is the second game developed by Team Lienzo, an indie studio based out of Chihuahua, Mexico. At E3 2017, I had the opportunity to try out an early build for Mulaka and I was quite pleased with what I found. With Mulaka‘s impending release, I was able to catch up with Edgar Serrano, the director for Mulaka. In Part 2 of our two-part interview, Mr. Serrano talks about Mulaka‘s plotline, about some of Mulaka‘s game mechanics and behind-the-scenes game design/programming, Team Lienzo’s commitment to charity work for the Tarahumara people, and what lies in the future for the studio.
You can find Part One of my interview with Edgar Serrano of Team Lienzo here. Please also keep an eye out for our upcoming review for Mulaka.
This interview has been lightly edited for content and clarity.
OR: What is the basic plotline to Mulaka?
ES: So Mulaka has this vision, given to him by one of the demigods, and he gets this vision of the world coming to an end. They believe in the destruction of the earth. So they believe that every ‘x’ amount of time, the gods get disappointed in humanity, and they wipe [it all] clean so they can start again and make it better. And Mulaka gets this vision about the world coming to the end. And so he has to go through all of the Tarahumara Sierra convincing the demigods to help him to talk to the gods. So you have to convince them of your strength and your peoples’ strength so they can give you their blessing in the form of transformations and guide you through the rest of the Seirra so you can eventually go up to the Gods and tell them ‘You know, we’re still worth it’ and try to not get the Earth destroyed.
OR: You’re talking about the Repa Gatigame and the Tere Gatigame?
ES: Exactly. The Repa Gatigame are the gods above and the Tere Gatiame are the ones below. So you have to talk with them so they won’t destroy the earth.
“I believe that the hardest part of [developing] the whole game was…For me, it was the levels. It was really important for me that the levels actually resemble the physical locations of the Sierra.”
OR: Mulaka faces myths such as Ganoko, Rusiwari, Uribi, and Sipabuara in the game. What are the boss fights like in the game? Are they giant on scale ala colossi [from Shadow of the Colossus], or smaller QTE-type battles? Or what are they like when you play the game?
ES: So they’re a little bit of everything. We had the need to present this mythical creature -like for example Ganoko – [where] we asked ourselves ‘What type of battles would best serve this mythical creature?’ So, for example, for Ganoko, it’s like fighting a colossi almost. But for example, the Seeló, which is this humanoid enemy, it’s more like one-on-one battle. So it’s a little bit of both, but I personally prefer the bigger, badass enemies that you have to do other things [more] than just go up to them and hit them to bring them down.
OR: Do they come at the end of every level?
ES: Exactly. And every single level has the same layout – there’s a hub and there’s this door which we call the ‘Sukurúame door’, which has three slots, and each slots corresponds to a stone that you have to find throughout the level. So once you get the three stones or orbs, the door opens, and you can go through and fight the corrupted mythical creature.
OR: I demoed this game at E3 2017, and I remember Mulaka transforming. How many transformations does he have with the game going ‘gold’?
ES: [As] you [finish] the game, you have the first one – which is the bird transformation. You can hover and cover great distances, and it also has a double jump. You get the bear transformation, with which you can destroy big obstacles that helps you clear paths and hurts enemies. We have a snake transformation, which lets you cross bodies of water and also freeze things – which you can later use [as part of] later mechanics. We also have the mountain cat or ocelot transformation, which allows you to go up hills and enables another kind of attack.
OR: Do you have a favorite?
ES: I personally favor the bird [OR Note: It is called E’Lawi’s Blessing in the game.] because the animation – we really got it good there. And following that, the snake one is also one of my favorites because a little thing that players may notice [is that] when you do the snake transformation, you actually leave behind a Mulaka decoy made out of ice, and the enemies actually target that decoy instead of you.
OR: As a Sukurúame, Mulaka can also see into the spiritual realm. How does this affect gameplay, and does it serve a purpose –if any- on educating people about the Tarahumara lore?
ES: Yeah, totally. In our eyes, since the Sukurúames see the actual nature of things – and by that I mean the actual souls of things- you can use his vision to spot not only the enemies health, which in combat [is] really useful because you can actually see how much damage you’re inflicting on the enemies- but some enemies can actually camouflage and disappear from sight. And so you have to use your ‘vision’ to see them. And so you use that a lot in combat. But also throughout the exploration or platforming part of the game, you can see invisible platforms or you can see hints of where to go next. You can see plants that you can pick up. And the most useful, I think, is that you have this [arrow] type thing that points you to where you can go to pick up different things. So we wanted to put this in the game because it solves a lot of problems in the design aspect, but also because it holds true to the legend of the Sukurúame: That he can see the true souls of things. Of course, it it’s a game- you can turn it on and off, but you have to make a game of it somehow.
OR: Moving on: As of publication of this interview, [Mulaka] will be out on Steam, [PlayStation 4, and Switch]. So what was the hardest part of the game to develop and why?
ES: I believe that the hardest part of the whole game was the – wow, that’s a really good question, and I believe that every single member of the studio can answer that differently. For me, it was the levels. It was really important for me that the levels actually resemble the physical locations of the Sierra. But it was really difficult game-wise, because if it’s a real location that serves a real purpose that grows naturally, it’s really difficult to add game mechanics to it or gaming aspects to it without it becoming too forced. So we struggled a lot with that. We made a bunch of different maps and a bunch of different terrains and we did a bunch of different layouts to get the best out of them. But for me, that was the most hair-pulling aspect of the development – having it actually resemble a real place and actually being fun. For example, the Cusárare Waterfall – its ratio in the game is actually real to the one in real life. So Mulaka is about two meters tall, I guess, and its ratio to the waterfall is real.
OR: Did you keep that ratio for a lot of the terrain in the game?
ES: Yeah, there’s a lot of things that have the actual ratio to them, but they’re less surprising than the waterfall. For example, in Arareco, there’s an actual lake – its not the same size, but next to it there’s statues or rock formations, like the mushrooms, and they’re actual ratios to real life. And also in in Paquimé, which is the main city, we found some ancient blueprints and we repurposed the city following the blueprints.
“Being an indie developer, it’s really difficult to have a physical release unless you can get with a publisher.”
OR: This is not Team Lienzo’s first project. Your prior project was Hunter’s Legacy, which was released on Steam on July 19, 2016, and is [out now for] Xbox One and PlayStation 4. What lessons did the team learn about making a video game from that title that was implemented into the development for Mulaka? [OR Note: You can check out oprainfall’s review of Hunter’s Legacy for PlayStation 4 here.]
ES: A bunch of them, mostly Q&A stuff like debugging and optimizing for different platforms. That was by far the most useful ones. But also a strengthening with press and with the partners – Microsoft and Sony. Which was the actual purpose of Hunter’s Legacy. So Hunter’s Legacy came to be because we were busy looking for funding to get Mulaka on the right way, and while we were doing that, Adolfo Rico, one of the studio’s co-founders and this concept artist, were like ‘Hey, we’re really coming here all evenings, why don’t we do a small thing just ourselves?’ So most of Hunter’s Legacy was done by two members of [Team] Lienzo. That also is why you see this huge jump in the technical aspects between Hunter’s Legacy and Mulaka, because Hunter’s Legacy was majorly done by two people. And it was conceived to be a mobile game, and then it grew to be a PC game.
Once it was there, we were like ‘Hey, why not, let’s try it out with the consoles?’ and it stuck. And it also helped because we started the partner relationship with Microsoft and Sony. We already had the licenses and the development kits and stuff like that. It was easier to pitch and get approval for Mulaka. And also, we already had an idea of the time that it takes for a game to go through certification and the time we have to put the keys out and all of that.
OR: Jumping back to Mulaka: Will this game be coming out for the PlayStation 4 Pro and the Xbox One X?
ES: Yes, it will be available on every single console under the sun of those three companies. And it will have slight bumps in quality- and I’m talking resolution and FPS- on the Pro.
OR: Are there any plans to bring it to the Nintendo Switch?
ES: Well, Mulaka will available on the Nintendo Switch starting March 2nd. And as you can suspect, there’s a certain difference on the Nintendo Switch than on the other consoles. We took advantage of the gyroscope, for example, so you can actually pilot or fly the bird in the Switch controls. When you throw your spear, you can aim it, stuff like that. It will be out on Nintendo Switch, and that was kind of an achievement because we’re the first Mexican studio to have it on the Switch and on the other consoles simultaneously.
Actually, we are the first studio to have a product on every single console for the major consoles with one product in Mexico.
OR: Going back to the [Mulaka] Kickstarter for a moment. You mentioned that the Apaches and the Conchos tribes were ‘stretch goals’. The Kickstarter wasn’t successful, but you subsequently obtained private funding. Are those two tribes in the final game at launch?
ES: Not the way we wanted. We wanted to them to be much better represented, but the myth that we took – the main legend, the main quest if you will- doesn’t really lend itself to putting them in the game without it feeling too forced. But there are some other cultures represented in the game. [Such] as the Contras or the Hopis or the [mantis men], are in the game. Because in Paquimé, this city was a nexus of different cultures coming together, and we wanted to show that. We are really hoping that we can take this concept to another new game, and maybe add these other cultures to them.
OR: Are you looking at doing other future DLC for Mulaka?
ES: I feel that we did a really good thing and we would like to spend the studio’s time developing a new game rather than adding content to the game we have right now. It may be, for example, I would love to have women represented better in the game – like women being playable in the game, but that’s where we bumped heads with the Tarahumara elders and the anthropologists. Because in their eyes, that’s really stretching the truth a lot, because women were matriarchs and really important in the culture, and thus they couldn’t be warriors because they would be put in harm’s way.
OR: Why did you choose to go with a digital only release for Mulaka, instead of a digital and physical release?
ES: Being an indie developer, it’s really difficult to have a physical release unless you can get with a publisher. We did speak to a couple of probable publishers, but since we already had the funding from a private institution here in Chihuahua, there wasn’t really any need for that. We are considering maybe talking to some publishers to bring in a physical edition, but there’s no real news on that.
“I personally would like to keep making cultural games, and I don’t mean indigenous culture games.”
OR: You’re not just making a game, you’re also [donating to] charity. You’ve recently announced that up to 10% of the game’s earnings would be donated to NGOs that focus on the Sierra Tarahumara, which fulfills your promise dating back to your initial Kickstarter campaign that you would do so. Have you decided on what NGOs to donate to, and if so, why did you choose to go with those particular ones?
ES: Well, we first mentioned the ones that helped us reach the Tarahumaras back then. When we went to the villages and talked to the elders, we didn’t go by ourselves. The NGOs that worked with them brought us there and made the introductions. And so we felt that the most obvious path was to give the money to them. But, then we talked with other Tarahumaras, and they don’t all agree on which NGO is better- if any NGO. And some of them actually told us that the money would be better if we bought classes and stuff, and just offered them free classes on stuff that they could use to be self-sustained. And so there’s a lot of debate with them and between us on how to best use that money. We actually have [discussed] the possibility that if we get a big enough sum of money, we would talk with really big companies – maybe even the partners- to try to have them match the amounts so we could do even better.
OR: That’s awesome. Will there be an option for gamers to contribute as well?
ES: We did have that before, we had a PayPal donation thing. But we really didn’t want people to think we’re trying to ‘cash-grab’ things on the Tarahumara. If we get this thing set up with the companies, then there will be an option for people to contribute more.
OR: What is next for Team Lienzo?
ES: So we are, as you know, a game developer- and the stark difference between us and other developers, here in Mexico at least, we have the funding to make the statement that we are not going to deviate from making video games. Other developers, unfortunately or fortunately, they have to do other stuff to keep food on the table. They have to do like web applications or tailor-made games or stuff like that. We -since the beginning with our investor- we only make games. I don’t know if we’re going to keep to that specifically, but I’d prefer we keep to premium games and not anything to do with mobile games and different monetization schemes and stuff like that.
I personally would like to keep making cultural games, and I don’t mean indigenous culture games. It could be something to do with another culture from Latin America. I feel like that we’ve done something really cool with Mulaka, and we can replicate that model – driving this thing that most people don’t know. It’s fresh for them, something that actually happened, or happens, or is happening, to preserve that as well. But, as always with video games, it depends on the market and how people react and respond to Mulaka.
OR: Last question: You’re an indie studio about to put out a huge game on multiple platforms at once. What advice do you have to give to someone who may just be starting out making their own indie games?
ES: Well, my initial advice is ‘think small, first.’ If we knew about this, I would say that the best thing we could do was make Hunter’s Legacy first, because you really get to learn a lot of the ropes about publishing with major consoles. I would say ‘start small, and be sure to keep your scope small.’ Like, being a game developer – really anyone that creates something is easy for you to slip up and try to make the next GTA [OR Note: Grand Theft Auto]/Red Dead Redeption/Witcher cross-over. That’s the bane of a lot of game developers, and that’s why a lot of games don’t get made. Because you over scope things that you never get shipped. So do something small. Ship something small. And once you’re familiar with that process, then you can realistically apply for a really big game.
OR: Thank you very much.
All images were provided courtesy of Team Lienzo.
As the platform rollout of Mulaka continues, have you picked it up yet? What would you like to see Team Lienzo tackle next?
Let us know in the comments below!
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