Wed 15 Apr 2009
Set in 2099 Shanghai Butterfly is an independent cyberpunk adventure game to be released as freeware Winter 2009. It’s an ambitious project with striking graphics and many of the cyberpunk genre’s more hardcore staples. The author of the game Jarosław Kuczek – passionate about android-related projects and the constantly evolving technology, with experiences of such vastly different cultures like Polish, Japanese and Chinese – promises to deliver much more than a traditional adventure game with a few sci-fi gimmicks. Below is everything he told us about his project – from its origins to major attractions – coupled with general thoughts about sci-fi and adventure gaming.
Igor Hardy: Could you describe in short what Butterfly’s story is about and who are its protagonists?
Jarosław Kuczek: The story revolves around a stolen New Dawn, a prototype of AI microchip developed at a huge cost by ZEN Technologies, a powerful corporation from Shanghai. John Kenner, the main protagonist, was one of ZEN’s best agents, a field work specialist and interrogation expert. A few months prior to the beginning of the game, his wife has been murdered as he witnessed helplessly. Since then, John has addicted himself from psychotropic drugs and was eventually thrown on the scrap heap. Unexpectedly, he is visited by his superior and is given the New Dawn case. He also has to commit to a treatment by taking a dose of a special medicine every few hours. John manages to trace back the stolen chip but as the mission evolves, new surprising facts surface and everything begins to resemble a nightmare where actual reality mixes with a virtual one.
The second character is Hirari, a gynoid (female android) of a second generation (in game universe: off the shelf product). Hirari “works” in one of the night clubs in Purgatory – the underground part of the city. One night, purely by accident, her existence changes and a new, colorful world unfolds in front of her. However, she soon finds herself in the middle of a complex and dangerous play.
IH: What does the title of the game refer to? Is it some secret, symbolic, explaining everything key-phrase?
JK: The image of butterfly will appear in different forms a few times during the course of the game. True, it has a symbolic meaning but it’s also an important element of the whole story. However, different interpretations will be possible, as gamers will surely notice.
IH: The story’s premise seems very ambitious and possibly even emotionally disturbing for the player with this kind of drug-addicted and tormented by past main character. Will his mental health and personal demons be of great focus throughout the game?
JK: It will still be a sci-fi story but I wanted to make the character somewhat different than a usual “hero”. It will be someone on the edge, where just a little push is enough to trigger an uncontrollable avalanche of events. At the beginning of the game, everything looks ordinary, but as the history evolves, we’ll go deeper and deeper, more things will be shown and ultimately, everything will lead to the final showdown, to a personal catharsis. Changes will be visible not only in descriptions or dialogues. Graphics, music, sound effects – everything will be a part of it.
IH: What exactly draws you into sci-fi? What region of it are you taking Butterfly to?
JK: I think sci-fi is more appealing than any fantasy setting out there simply because we’re much more familiar with most of its concepts. After all, we already use the latest iPods, touch screens and mp4 players. It’s possible to replace human limbs with working synthetic and mechanical equivalents, the first androids have already been created as well. Typical “sci-fi” reality is not as distant as many people may think. However, it’s much more difficult to create, for example, a convincing cyberpunk setting than a fairy-tale about dragons and wizards. I think readers/gamers tend to be more critical and demanding but it’s also a kind of a challenge
As far as “my” sci-fi is concerned, I’m mainly interested in androids/cyborgs and the way they are portrayed in popular literature and movies. I’m also into virtual and simulated reality, which true applications I hope to witness some day. Both elements will of course appear in Butterfly.
IH: Speaking of androids and cyborgs, I’ve heard you’re a huge fan of Mamoru Oshii’s movie Innocence (Ghost in the Shell 2). What did you think about the controversial theories present in that movie that androids have a sort of a soul of their own, even if on the outside they behave more like mechanical dolls and not highly intelligent beings. And also the concept that parenthood and playing with dolls are not just natural animal instincts, but also an aspect of fulfilling one’s ambitions of creating another humanoid being.
JK: Every comic/game/film creator tries to surprise the audience with some original ideas. In GITS2, the souls were transferred into dolls to make them more “human”, to make them more sophisticated, to give them that extra something that would distinguish them from typical robots. Perhaps some people find it difficult to accept but for me it’s intriguing. It’s also true that people have always been trying to create a machine, which resembles them as closely as possible. Although an idea of rebellious androids is a popular topic of films and games, projects like DER2 (Japan) and EvE-R2 (Korea) prove that we are getting closer to actually materialize that dream.
In Butterfly, I will also focus on how the machines can evolve. Hirari will have a chance to develop her awareness, simple feelings and ultimately, free will. She’ll have a chance to become a true representative of a new “race”. However, it’s up to the player how the actual development may look like. During the game, the android will ask many questions, often problematic and confusing, and player’s answers will shape her “personality”. We will be held responsible. One will often see her way of thinking and analyzing human behaviour from a machine point of view. For example, Hirari will see “falling in love” as a kind of a virus – it infects the main processing unit (brain) and interferes with victims’ actions. It quickly spreads throughout the whole system, so it becomes less stable and vulnerable. Numerous symptoms appear: uncontrollable physical responses, problems with concentration, thoughts dominated with a single subject. In other words, just like a machine that security systems have been breached.
IH: You seem to treat the creation of concept art for the game very seriously. Or maybe you just love drawing? What is your actual experience with graphic art and what styles are you fond of the most?
JK: Yes, I think concept art is an important part of any game creation process if you want to make something that will be noticed and (maybe) praised for its visual content. You can’t just sit in front of the computer and quickly set up a scene, hoping that it will look cool. It won’t. You have to spend some time and think about it.
I have been drawing since I was a child. Recently, I found a few pieces I drew when I was about 6 or 7, filled with knights, battles and spaceships. I guess liked fantasy/sci-fi themes from the very beginning, though I didn’t even know these terms back then I also enjoyed drawing buildings and different types of constructions. Much later, because of that, I have spent a year at architecture faculty. In recent years, when I discovered software like Photoshop and Painter, I decided that the time has come to refresh my skills and learn something new.
I try different things and approaches almost every time I sit in front of the screen. It has both, good and bad sides. The obvious good side is I learn many techniques and methods. The bad one – I can never decide which are the best for me, so my projects, like Butterfly, often keep changing many times during the process of their creation I enjoy digital painting done entirely on the computer and mixing 2D with 3D. However, I still use pencil sketches as a base, because I feel I have much more control over the whole piece if I draw it on a paper first.