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How to turn ‘Animal Farm’ into a Video Game of Politics and Fairy-tales

Overall, adapting Orwell is no easy task, but it seems that the team at Animal Farm game are starting down the right lines for a faithful modernization and it’ll be exciting to see how the process develops.

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AnimalFarmGame

Given the current political climate, it shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise to hear that George Orwell’s Animal Farm is being adapted into a video game. Imre Jele, founder of Bossa Studios, announced last month that he would be adapting the political fable into an adventure-tycoon game, working alongside an award-winning team who have worked on games from Alien: Isolation to Dear Esther.  

Creating a modern political allegory is clearly at the heart of what the team hopes to achieve, as well as authenticity towards the George Orwell estate who have granted permission for the game to be produced. There is no doubt as to whether we’ll be seeing allusions to the current state of the world: the team describes Animal Farm as ‘more relevant than ever before’ and it’s clear that they want the opportunity to challenge the player with a modern crisis.

‘Orwell posed the reader many questions about power and the corrosive misuse of language. This is a chance to plant the players at the heart of these questions, luring them towards utopia or dictatorship.’

Animal Farm will be a call to arms for its players, but how the team tackles the task of adapting Orwell’s classic into a video game, and whether the transition will be successful, is going to be extremely interesting to follow over the coming months. Animal Farm is currently without a release date and is thus far only confirmed for PC, so in the mean time, I’d love to take a look at what we can expect to see from the game, and what’s involved in the process of adapting a literary masterpiece into an interactive fable.

AnimalFarmGameA Narrative of Politics:

Animal Farm is a difficult story to adapt because, as others have already pointed out, it’s hardly an action-heavy plot. In fact, Orwell’s story has far more to do with inaction and perilous passivity than it does with glossy combat sequences, even with the glorified battles of Cowshed and Windmill to look forward to. With an important focus on politics, philosophy, and ethical quandaries, we might see narrative choices in the style of Telltale games, perhaps being forced to choose between witnessing a fellow animal be executed for crimes against the state, or speaking up at the risk of being declared a traitor ourselves.

The dev team have said in an interview with Polygon that “it’s particularly important for the readers and players to be able to identify with both oppressors and the oppressed”,  so hopefully we can look forward to having our morals tested by complex characters, and perhaps even be drawn into the inner-workings of factions like Snowball and Napoleon, or even supporters of Moses and the Sugarcandy Mountain. We know that we’ll be playing as one of the animals’ on Manor Farm, so I’m curious to know if we’ll be given a choice between different classes of animals: ducks, sheep, pigs, horses, and whether we’ll see different story paths depending on it. Most importantly it’s going to be fascinating to see how far our actions can change the future of Animal Farm. Will we be able to create a farmyard utopia, or will the necessities of living draw us into the shadow of dictatorship? This, no doubt, is where the resource management comes into play.

Gameplay that Manages Ideals and Reality:

The Animal Farm Game has so far been described as an ‘adventure-tycoon’ game, as well as ‘a narrative-led management game’, so we’re expecting to see allocating resources being an important factor. Orwell’s book gives us lots of examples of the struggles that set in after the animals have seized control: how can animals hope to carry out the usual business of the farm? How will they be able to trade with the outside world once important goods like building tools and seeds are scarce? How do you manage work hours, food rations, and retirement ages, when your workers are made up of ducks, sheep, and horses?

Investing your resources, and choosing certain policies, are bound to be tied up in questionable political motivations, so the game could fall somewhere in the vein of This War of Mine, where resource-management and harrowing necessity made for a grim challenge to its players. With a dash of the kind of political issues and branching paths seen in games such as Democracy 3, resource-management and a tycoon-esque approach, in fact, appear to be perfect matches for Orwell’s struggles with Communist systems, and it will be interesting to see which approach comes out best for the animals. It’s always testing to deal with hypothetical political models, especially when it comes to communism vs fascism, where emotions and conflicting rationale easily bubble to the surface. How the game punishes and rewards players with different political consequences will, therefore, be a difficult line to tread, but hopefully also one which forces us to question ourselves along the way.

Art Direction for a Farmyard Fable:

Lastly, I’m genuinely excited to see what kind of art-style we’ll be getting for Animal Farm. Animating barnyard animals to full effect is pretty tricky, not least as the story features pigs milking cows with their trotters, walking upright, shooting guns, and wearing various clothing from bowler hats to Sunday dresses.

That said, it’s hard to separate Animal Farm from the animation of the 1954 propaganda film by John Halas and Joy Batchelor. If the game retains some of that 2D cartoon style it could join the ranks of brilliantly executed works such as Art Spiegelman’s Maus: an award-winning graphic novel that follows the story of Holocaust survivors depicted as mice, cats, and pigs. Retaining a cartoon style would be a bold choice, but also one which speaks to Animal Farm’s complexity as both a fairy tale, fable, and serious political commentary.

Overall, adapting Orwell is no easy task, but it seems that the team at Animal Farm game are starting down the right lines for a faithful modernization and it’ll be exciting to see how the process develops. You can follow the dev team @AnimalFarmGame on twitter, and keep tabs on their official site for game updates. It’s been a turbulent year for politics around the world, so perhaps it’s time for players to ask the question: is it not now the duty of video games, as an art-form, to confront it?

Helen Jones

Helen Jones is a Ravenclaw graduate who likes to apparate between her homes in England and Denmark. She spends her time reading fantasy novels, climbing mountains, and loves to play story-focused and experimental indie games like The Stanley Parable or Night in the Woods. She also covers tabletop and board games over at Zatu Games, and you can follow her twitter @BarnacleDrive for updates, blogs, and pictures of mushrooms.

4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Patrick

    September 10, 2017 at 4:39 pm

    This is quite a property for the developers to tackle, and I hope that the medium actually adds something to the political discourse of the book, not just capitalizes or trivializes it. Fantastic article.

    • Helen Jones

      September 11, 2017 at 5:05 am

      Thanks! If you check out the team’s twitter accounts and interviews on the game they do sound very dedicated to doing justice to the book, and have a lot of respect for Orwell, so I’m hoping for the best as well.

      I think the game has potential to add a lot purely by putting you in charge of the decision-making – it’s not so easy to build a new political system, but forcing you to manage it is exactly the kind of audience activation I think Orwell wanted.

  2. Ricky D

    September 10, 2017 at 5:43 pm

    This is surely interesting but I do hope that future generations will at least read the book before playing the game. It seems very few people actually read these days.

    • Helen Jones

      September 11, 2017 at 5:02 am

      It’s still mandatory in a lot of English schools, so the chances are everyone you bump into on the street over here either had to read Animal Farm or 1984 – although I agree it’d be better if that was voluntary!

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Games

PAX Online: ‘Unpacking’ and ‘Infernax’

Our PAX Online coverage continues with a game the calm and relaxing Unpacking and the not-so calm and relaxing Infernax.

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Unpacking and Infernax

Our PAX Online coverage continues with a game that takes a hated activity and somehow makes it relaxing and another game that will leave you clenching your buttocks.

Unpacking

Unpacking game

Platforms: PC
Release: 2021

As someone who is coming fresh off of moving just a little over a month ago, you couldn’t have blamed me for being a little skeptical going into what was dubbed a “zen puzzle” game based on the final stretch of the process. Unpacking is just that, though. It’s a calming, almost therapeutic exercise that happened to serve as a wonderful way for me to unwind at the end of a day.

Unpacking is exactly what it says on the tin. There are no scores, no timers, no leaderboards, just you, and a few boxes with various items in them that need to be placed somewhere. The demo starts with a single bedroom in 1997. There’s nothing in the game that tells you where something should go, only your own taste and intuition; a locked diary would probably go in a desk-drawer while a soccer trophy would probably be displayed on a shelf.

As I slowly unearthed items one-by-one, I gradually got a feel for what the room’s new inhabitant was most likely like. The endless supply of stuffed animals implied someone of younger age while the numerous art supplies indicated someone inclined to right brain thinking. It’s rather engaging to learn about this person’s life purely by their belongings.

Every item taken out was like a delightful surprise and would sometimes even make me feel a little sentimental such as when I took out a small device that was clearly a Tamagotchi. More importantly, Unpacking nails that sinking feeling of when you feel like you’ve used all your available space but still have boxes left. Reaching the point of just throwing stuff wherever it fits is such an immediately relatable feeling that I was almost offended. And that was only for a single bedroom!

Unpacking game

The demo’s second stage was a little more involved with a bedroom, bathroom, and kitchen in the year of 2004. The hilarious moments of finding a boot in your kitchenware box or a bra with your toiletries also felt like a call-out to my own hodge-podge packing methods. It’s something I can’t help but let out an exasperated chuckle at.

It was also neat to see how this person has grown since their earlier abode. Much fewer stuffed animals but more art supplies and a brand new computer imply this character is maybe entering the working adult world. I’ve never actually seen this character, but I can’t help but feel a connection to them already, and that was only after two moves. The full game will have eight total moves to follow them through and I am genuinely curious to see how our nameless and faceless protagonist grows throughout them.

Now if only unpacking in real life could be this soothing.

Infernax

Infernax

Platforms: PC
Release: TBA

Some players may recognize Berzerk Studio for their excellent 2018 bullet-hell, rhythm game Just Shapes & Beats. Coming hot of the heels of that hit they immediately pivoted in the new direction with Infernax, a delightfully edgy 8-bit adventure platformer that takes cues from old-school Castlevania titles.

Our hero returns to his land after a successful crusade only to find it overrun by horrible monstrosities in every which direction. With nothing but mace in hand, he sets out on a quest anew to rid the land of the undead filth. Immediately apparent upon starting is just how tightly the game controls; anyone fond of earlier NES titles will feel right at home with Infernax. I quickly got a handle on my exact attack reach down to the pixel and began mowing down the zombies in front of me. It emphasized how much joy a game is possible of eliciting from simply a jump and attack button.

Getting to that proficiency is important too because the game doesn’t waste any time in taking off the training wheels! Even the base enemies shaved off half my HP if I got careless and that difficulty ramped up at a rapid rate as new enemy types were introduced at a decent clip such as flying evil eyes and jumping rodents. Not only do these foes burst into tasty experience points and gold to be spent on upgrades, but also into extremely satisfying fountains of blood.

Infernax isn’t particularly shy about turning up the gore factor, but it’s still impressive by just how creative they get with it using simple pixel art. Nowhere is this more apparent than when you are killed. Every single enemy type has a unique kill animation when they deal the final blow to our hero. From the chump ass pillbugs to the big bad bosses, all of them mutilate you in a different way and it’s honestly morbidly mesmerizing to witness. It made me want to suicide against every enemy I came across just so I could see what creative way they took my life.

Infernax

Depending on your playstyle you might not want to do this, though, as Infernax features two different ways to respawn when you die. Hardcore respawn sends you all the way back to your last save point, just like in those classic NES titles. Casual respawn lets you restart right where you left off with no loss in progress, but choosing to do so locks you out from Hardcore the rest of the game. It’s a sort of mark of shame that I was glad to wear during the demo after I came up against the final boss and promptly got my ass handed to me. It sounds a little cheeky on paper but is actually very consistent with the game’s overtly edgy tone.

Infernax feels like a game that was lost to time during the NES era and is just now being rediscovered. Those looking for for a game that harkens back to the simplicity of the olden days need not look any further.

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Indie Games Spotlight – Going Full Circle

We’re featuring five exciting indie games in our latest spotlight, including the internship roguelike Going Under and the cozy puzzles of Lonesome Village.

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Journey of the Broken Circle

Indie Games Spotlight is Goomba Stomp’s biweekly column where we highlight some of the most exciting new and upcoming independent games. Summer may have come to a close, but that hasn’t stopped big announcements from rolling in. With events like PAX Online and the recent PlayStation 5 Showcase flooding the web with announcements, trailers, and gameplay footage, there’s been a constant deluge of news to keep up with. With so much coming on the horizon, we’re spotlighting five exciting indies that you’ll be able to play sooner rather than later. Whether you’re in the mood for a brutally addictive action game or a cozy adventure and social sim, there’s bound to be a game that speaks to you in this spotlight.

Moving Up Professionally in Going Under

Work is its own payment in Going Under. In this action game from developer Aggro Crab, you’re put in the shoes of an unpaid intern who must explore the endless ruins of failed tech startups while fighting off the monsters that spawn within them. It’s hard work to do without a single paycheck—but hey, at least you’re gaining valuable experience!

As a former unpaid intern myself, the writing in Going Under certainly resonates with me and it’s sure to strike a chord with anyone who’s ever felt underappreciated or overworked. Its vibrant and colorful 3D graphics, as well as its satirical story, only make it all the more enticing. It really should offer a great working experience when it hits all consoles and PC via Steam on September 24.

Animated GIF

Fill in the Gaps in Journey of the Broken Circle

Something’s missing in Journey of the Broken Circle. Like its name would suggest, this puzzle platformer follows a Pacman-like circle with a hole to fill. It wanders through a world that is whimsical and existential at once, searching for a companion to fill its gaps. As the circle rolls through ethereal environments, it encounters different shapes to use that allow for new gameplay mechanics.

Journey of the Broken Circle might be about an abstract shape, but in its quest to become whole, it strives to capture the human experience. It promises to be an intimate experience that clocks in at about five hours to complete. If you’re interested in getting this ball rolling, it’s already available now on Switch and Steam.

Prepare to Get GORSD

There’s a delicate balance between unsettling the player without being outright scary. GORSD treads the line here as a one-hit-kill shooter that stars humans encased in the skins of octopuses, dragons with human faces, and nightmarish environments. Something feels off about GORSD, but that’s exactly what makes it so interesting.

Brought to life with detailed pixel art, GORSD supports up to four players who can face off in chaotic matches in varied arenas. It also features a full-fledged single-player campaign with a vast overworld with dozens of unique stages. Its concept is inspired by its developers’ native Southeast Asian cultures, making for a unique gameplay and aesthetic experience. If you’re ready to dive in and see it for yourself, it’s available now on all consoles and PC via Steam.

Get Ready For a Foregone Conclusion

Saying Foregone is a 2D Dark Souls would be cliché, but accurate nonetheless. It’s a hardcore action game where you’ll fight against insurmountable odds to prevent monsters from overrunning the world. It has a brutally addictive gameplay loop—its difficulty may be excruciating, but because it offers a wide assortment of abilities to leverage, it’s immensely euphoric once you overcome the challenges before you.

This beautiful 3D/pixelated hybrid action game has been available on PC in early access since February, but at long last, it’s seeing its full console release in October. It’s been a promising title ever since its pre-release days, and now that it’s finally seeing its complete iteration, there’s never been a better time to dive in and give it a shot. It’s hitting all platforms on October 5, so there’s not long to wait!

Finding Good Company in a Lonesome Village

Mix Zelda with Animal Crossing and you might get something like Lonesome Village. This newly-revealed puzzle adventure game features Zelda-like adventure in a hand-drawn world populated by animal characters. Players control a wandering coyote who stumbles upon a strange village and decides to investigate its mysterious happenings by interacting with villagers, solving puzzles, and exploring its dungeons.

It’s more than a simple adventure game. In addition to puzzle-solving, you’ll interact with Lonesome Village’s eclectic cast of characters to forge relationships and unravel brooding mysteries. It’s showing plenty of potential with its cozy gameplay loop, and if you want to give it a shot, check out its official demo from its Kickstarter page! It’s already been fully funded in less than 24 hours, but if you want to help the developers out even further, consider contributing to their campaign.

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PAX Online: ‘Inkulinati’ and ‘Pumpkin Jack’

The PAX Online celebrations continue with the strategy game, Inkulinati, and spooky Halloween themed Pumpkin Jack.

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Inkulinati and Pumpkin Jack

The PAX Online celebrations continue with a strategy game whose tales are writ in ink and a game sure to put you in an early Halloween mood.

Inkulinati

Inkulinati

Platforms: Switch and Steam
Release: 2021

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Competitive strategy games stress me out. Chess? Stresses me out. Checkers? Stresses me out. Star Craft? Stresses me out. Managing that stress as a form of stimulation is what makes the best strategy games shine, though, and Inkulinati is so far demonstrating all the facets of such a game.

The titular Inkulinati are masters of a craft that brings their inked creatures to life on parchment, including a caricature of themselves. The two Inkulinati do written battle with each other until only one is left standing. The battles are carried out in a charming medieval art style that looks like it was taken straight out of a manuscript you’d find carefully stored in a library. These aren’t the masterpieces of Da Vinci or Van Gogh, but the kinds of scribbles you’d find the layman making on the edges of pages either out of boredom or mischievousness. The playful art makes for a playful tone and jolly times.

The core thrust of the gameplay is that each Inkulinati utilizes ink points to conjure units, or “creatures”, onto the parchment in a turn-based manner and sends them into the fray. There were a fair amount of creatures available in the demo — ranging from a simple swordsdog with well-rounded stats to a donkey capable of stunning foes with its trusty butt trumpet. Many many more creature types are promised in the full game, but I found even with the limited selection of the demo the gameplay was still able to be showcased well.

Your primary Inkulinati also has some tricks up its depending on the type you’ve chosen to take into battle. Instant damage to or healing a unit were the two shown off in the demo, as well as being able to shove units. Shoving is particularly useful as you can push enemies into the hellfires that encroach the battlefield as the battle wages on, instantly defeating them.

Doing battle with an opponent it all well and good, but what’s the point if it’s not immortalized for generations to experience down the line? Inkulimati understands this need and will record every single action of the battlefield in written word. It’s infinitely charming, and the amount of variations in how to say what amounts to just “X unit attacked Y enemy” is astonishing. How can you not chuckle at, “Powerful Morpheus killed the enemy and may those who failed to witness this live in constant pain and regret”?

Pumpkin Jack

Pumpkin Jack

Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, Switch, and Steam
Release: Q4 2020

Halloween may be a little over a month away but that didn’t stop the 3D action platformer Pumpkin Jack getting me in the spookyween mood. The human realm is suffering from the Devil’s curse and have elected the aid of a wizarding champion to save them from it. Not to be outdone, the Devil also chooses his own champion to stop the wizard, choosing the despicable spirit Jack. With the tasty reward of being able to pass on from hell, Jack dons his pumpkin head and a wooden & straw body on his quest to keep the world ruined. The premise sounds slightly grim but make no mistake that this is a goofy game through and through, a fact only emphasized by a brilliant opening narration dripping with sarcasm and morbid glee.

The demo took us through Pumpkin Jack‘s first stage, a dilapidated farmland full of ambient lanterns abandoned storehouses. The visuals are compliments by a wonderfully corny soundtrack full of all the tubas, xylophones, and ghost whistles one would expect a title that is eternally in the Halloween mood.

We got the basics of traversal, like dodge rolling and double jumps, before coming upon a terrified murder of crows. Turns out their favorite field has been occupied by a dastardly living scarecrow and they want Jack to take care of it. One crow joins Jack on his quest, taking the form of a projectile attack that he can sic on enemies. Jack also obtains a shovel he can use to whack on the animated skeletons with a simple three-hit combo. There’s nothing particularly standout about the combat, but it doesn’t necessarily need to be this early on. More weapons such as a rifle and scythe are promised in the full game and should go a way towards developing the combat along with more enemy variety.

Pumpkin Jack

Collectible crow skulls also dot the map and seem to be cleverly hidden as even when I felt like I was carefully searching the whole stage I had only found 12 out of 20 by the end. Their purpose is unknown in the demo, so here’s hopping they amount to something making me want to find those last eight in the full version.

After accidentally lighting a barn ablaze and escaping in a dramatic sequence we came across the scarecrow in question. Defeating it was a rather simple affair that was just a matter of shooting it out of the air with the crow then wailing on it with Jack’s shovel. We were awarded a new glaive-type weapon as a reward but unable to give it a whirl in the demo, unfortunately. All-in-all, Pumpkin Jack shows promise as a follow-up to action 3D platformers of yore like Jak & Daxter, so here’s hoping to a solid haunting when it releases later this year.

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