By Quentin H. / September 13th, 2021
Green Lava Studios is one of those small indie studios that appears, on the surface to make just random and crazy games. When you look beyond the surface of what you first see, however, you instead find a wealth of unexpected titles that ask questions about who we are as people, how and why we love the way we do, how do we achieve our dreams, and more.
After playing a variety of Green Lava Studios’ titles, I sat down with Eduardo Ramírez, the owner and game designer for the company, for an interview. In Part One of our two-part interview, we talk about both the foundation of Green Lava Studios and the game development scene in Costa Rica, why they chose to go with the clicker genre for My Name is Mayo and My Name is Mayo 2, how they developed the love interests and messages for Mr. Massagy, and more.
Part Two of my interview will be published Wednesday, September 15.
This interview has been edited for content and clarity.
Operation Rainfall: My name is Quentin H. with Operation Rainfall, and you are?
Eduardo Ramírez: My name is Eduardo Ramírez from Green Lava Studios from Costa Rica, and I am the game designer and owner of the studio.
OR: You just mentioned were the owner of Green Lava Studios- How did you get into the gaming industry and found Green Lava Studios?
ER: Well, that was back in 2010. That year before, I was making this game for an amusement park- it was an inner city project. It actually was my final [school] project and I decided that it was fun, so I should make that more often. And then I made this company.
OR: One of your first games for Green Lava Studios was Dream Tale: The Golden Keys.
ER: Oh, yes yes. That was our first approach.
OR: Can you tell us about this game and why you decided to create a platforming title?
ER: So, I was studying in 2010 in the Netherlands at Utrecht University, and I made this prototype- this really fast prototype- of a little girl jumping with different powers. And when I was back in Costa Rica I decided to make a bigger thing and try to make it in less than three months. And to make it profitable right?
That was the motivation, because at that time, the game industry in Costa Rica was like ‘no’. People and companies thought that by paying $500, you could get a big game. So yeah that was the problem, so let’s make smaller games to practice with, like Dream Tales: The Golden Keys. We approached and talked with Big Fish Games in Seattle to publish the game and that’s it.
“Looking for a dream- Mayo is always looking for a dream, and not everybody has great luck. So yeah, if we make a joke out of it, maybe people will not take life as seriously.”
OR: Dream Tales: The Golden Keys was not the only game that Green Lava Studios created in 2012. Can you tell me a little bit about your experience with the SQUARE ENIX Latin America contest?
ER: So yeah, so SQUARE ENIX came to Latin America- they made this contest. This was the first time some big company was looking at Latin America, and we were like ‘Yeah, we should do something.’ And we made this game called Bonfire Trail. It was for tablets, but at that time tablets were a thing. So we got third place, which was nice. That was our first experience working with a bigger project and a bigger company. That was a very positive experience.
OR: You touched briefly on what it was like developing video games in Costa Rica. Can you talk about what the [development] scene was like overall when you first started in 2012, and how that compares to now in 2021?
ER: Back in 2010, nobody was working in games. Companies were not investing in that. It was like, something [around] 2016 that big companies were like ‘Yeah, we should invest in making video games for ads or whatever.’ And a big telephone company in Costa Rica decided to make a game with a studio, and now if you try hard, you can get a good deal for outsourcing in Costa Rica. We are just five-million people, so we are just a small country. And we have to think on ways to profit with that amount of people, right?
OR: Now, let’s talk about My Name is Mayo. Both My Name is Mayo and My Name is Mayo 2– they are clicker games. Why did you choose to make these titles in that particular genre and did you ever consider any other genre to make these games in?
ER: The whole idea of My Name is Mayo started in 2014 for Global Game Jam. So you have to make a game in 48 hours, [and] you drink a lot of coffee. It’s crazy. And I remember that the theme for that Global Game Jam was ‘what could we do next?’. So by that idea, we just make this ‘what happens after you open something really small and stupid, like a jar of mayo, after making it hard to open? So what’s next? Well, you finish the game- what’s the message? I don’t know.’
So, that was the concept. And the way to make this ridiculous was- the whole joke started with ‘we should put a minigame to the mayo jar.’ And after that we made stories about him having problems with his dad, and all the ridiculous stuff.
OR: The mayo jars themselves say that they were packaged in Layla Inc. in 1954 in San Jose and by Woby Inc, 1949 in San Jose. Is there any meaning behind those dates and locations?
ER: Yes, there is. It was a really inside joke between us. The game we made for SQUARE ENIX Latin America Game contest, the game was Bonfire Trail and the main characters were Woby and Layla. So yeah, that came up out of nowhere. It’s there.
OR: You mentioned that there was a story that goes into each My Name is Mayo game. The sequel, My Name is Mayo 2, features multiple stories. You’re following a dream to be a mime, you’re getting stood up on a date, you’re being lonely, and you’re getting a job for money. How did you decide on each vignette to tell, and decide what background or costume to go with each story choice?
ER: The brainstorming is that the data that we looked into the internet and what is trending, and what are struggles that people are having and ‘yeah, let’s make fun of it.’ Not make fun of people, let’s make fun of the situations so that maybe, maybe, people can think ‘it’s not a big deal.’ Not having a job is hard. Looking for a dream- Mayo is always looking for a dream, and not everybody has great luck. So yeah, if we make a joke out of it, maybe people will not take life as seriously.
OR: Donald M. Murray once wrote “All my writing -and yours- is autobiographical.” I know we’re talking about video games about mayonnaise, but what of yourself do you see in these two Mayo games?
ER: It’s pure humor, so that. Nothing personal about the Mayo stories related with me but yeah.
“But [Green Lava Studios] is based on this business strategy called Blue Ocean Strategy. So the whole idea is to make a market that doesn’t exist. For example, games for people who like mayonnaise or people who like dating simulators.”
OR: In 2017, Green Lava Studios released a game called Mr. Massagy. Could you please tell us what this game is about, and where in the world that the concept for it came from?
ER: *laughs* So, this is a dating simulator, where if you have a good date with your partner, [then] you will get a message from your controller. That was the pitch. In 2016, I went to the Netherlands again to study, and I came up with this concept. I was thinking, in the middle of class, of something else- I made this prototype called Project Waifu. It was the same concept: you get a message, not as deep as the ones in Mr. Massagy, but that was the joke. I came back to Costa Rica, and I told Diego [Vásquez] [OR Note: He was the Graphics Artist for this title] this idea, and was like ‘Yeah, what could go wrong with this?’
Basically some ideas come- most of the ideas come- when I was studying or under pressure, like in Global Game Jams. If we have too much time to think, we come up with things like Birdcakes, which is an approach. It’s not a very known game, but I don’t know, this is something I already- I am already considering that we should always work on a concept under pressure.
OR: In Mr. Massagy, there are a wide variety of women to romance: you’ve got Rial, who enjoys looking at people through the window and dancing the samba, to Dorothy the cow, who is new to the city, and even Papu-Aiye, who is a body pillow. How did you design all of these various characters and decide what attributes to give them?
ER: The personalities were based on motivations, and there is a psychological theory called Strength Deployment Inventory. At that time, I was starting with the theory and I was learning about it, so I tried to put some motivations [into the game.] It is a theory that bases people- you, me- and your motivations. Based upon your motivations, you will have actions. So some of those characters were made like that.
The defining characteristics of the girls or guys were like- let’s start with Rial: ‘What is the most common character in a dating simulator? It’s the college girl. That’s very basic, so let’s start with that.’ And it changed on the next character- let’s make her a college girl, but she’s a wolf. And then we started making iterations of really random stuff like that. You have a cow, then you have this alien girl who we don’t know how she actually looks in reality. It’s a mix of the common things in the specter of dating simulators, but with a ‘tweak’.
OR: Were there any potential Linger matches that you rejected or just couldn’t make work?
ER: No, no. We thought about that- but yeah. It’s a game and you should always get a match with all the characters.
OR: I meant, like, were there any girls that you came up with that you couldn’t just make work in the game itself?
ER: Oh, oh! No, no. Because if we invested in making a character, then why should we close that investment of time? Like, maybe, there were hard characters like the ghost girl surfer. That, the concept came up with talking with Diego- we are always get our ideas by talking: ‘It will be funny by blah, blah, blah.’ For me, that girl was a little bit hard to make interesting.
Project Waifu, that I made in the university, it was about pillows. The whole idea was to talk with this company in the Netherlands that makes pillows and to have them make us a controller. So yeah, ‘let’s make a match’ never happened and it didn’t work. But the idea of a pillow- and then I realized that there are some people that sleep with huge anime girls on a pillow- that’s kind of weird and yet fun as well. Actually, that date with the pillow is Johnny talking with himself and discovering himself just by talking [as if] by some sort of meditation with a pillow. So I find it very funny.
OR: Do you play a lot of dating simulator games yourself?
ER: No, not at all. I mean, I had to to understand the whole concept of dating simulators, like playing other games like HuniePop. I bought it just to do research.
But the company is based on this business strategy called Blue Ocean Strategy. So the whole idea is to make a market that doesn’t exist. For example, games for people who like mayonnaise or people who like dating simulators. There’s a market for those dating simulators, but with a twist. We don’t like to make only one genre or one type of game. We just find something funny, research, apply the strategy and then come up with something different. And that’s the whole mission for our games.
OR: Now, I would be remiss if I didn’t ask this about the messages themselves in Mr. Massagy: how did Green Lava Studios go about creating those while keeping them distinct to each love interest?
ER: That was my fault. I was trying to make the messages very different. First, I had to research how to make the different types of vibrations in the controller. I remember one time that I went to Seattle and I asked the guy from Valve ‘How can I make the Steam Controller vibrate so you can get pleasure?’ And he was like ‘What?’. That [was] kind of [an] awkward question. Also, with the rumble feature with any controller- even PlayStation 4 and Xbox controller, I had to ask what frequency should I make it rotate, what speed [for each controller].
Each character in Mr. Massagy has, obviously, a different personality. One such girl, Janein- one joke about her is ‘Ja nein’ means ‘yes’ and ‘no’ in German and she is bipolar- so it was a joke that some people might not notice. But she is very passive and then she wants action. So the massage is like really, really gentle then it is RAAAAUGH, the most powerful setup of the rumble feature. So that is an example.
OR: Before we move on from this trio of games: you have a lot of facts that you put into the game and you have a lot of trophies that pop up every time you turn around. How did you come up with all of these various facts or find them, and why did you decide to make so many trophies across all three of these games for people to unlock?
ER: One idea back in 2014- so I had this idea ‘what is the most ridiculous way to unlock a trophy?’ So, after that sentence, ‘Yeah, let’s make something.’ If we’re going to do this stupid way to make a trophy, then let’s make a bunch. It’s fifty, right?
OR: Fifty-one, I think, in My Name is Mayo.
ER: Yeah, that’s the reason of why there are so many trophies- because the joke is to make a ridiculous way to unlock. And the facts: some of them I just remembered and somewhere I saw it and I learned it. And although useless information, it gets stuck in your head and it’s there.
You can read Part Two of our interview here.
What do you think of getting life advice from a game about mayonnaise? Have you picked up any of Green Lava Studios’ titles?
Let us know in the comments below!
BirdcakesclickerDating SimulatorDream KeyFenixFenix BoxFenix FireFenix FuriaGreen Lava StudiosmayomayonnaiseMr. MassagyMy Name is MayoMy Name is Mayo 2PCPlaystation