July 2019

How can “The Valley of the Fallen” continue like 40 years ago? Or that the victims of Franco did not recover their relatives, buried throughout the country in mass graves, as well as inside the funeral monument of the Sierra de Guadarrama.

“Time for democracy” is a protest in the form of a video game. A complaint to the injustices that continue to be present in Spain, following the dictatorship.

You can play it here:

This is a very simple game, made in less than three months, emerged from an idea raised in class, where the teacher gave us the themes to make video games in a month. The issue raised in this case was: “Time travel”. It is logical to think directly about popular culture, “Terminator”, “Back to the Future” … but I came up with the idea of ​​associating this time travelling without the science fiction escapism of what these mechanics have implied; on the contrary, I thought that every second that we live in this country (which is mine, obviously occurs in many others) we make a trip to the past, given that there are many elements that have not changed much since the democratic transition of 1978; a transition that implied not only the amnesty of Republican political prisoners, but also those of the fascist side. As Franco said, he left everything “tied and well tied” so that once the evolution of a modern and democratic country was made, the repression experienced during 40 years of dictatorship did not have many reprisals. And this is what I denounce, nothing more. That we should live in a normal country, that compensates the victims of Francoism, that returns dead relatives so that they can be buried, that those involved in the cases of stolen children are investigated, and where there could be reprisals to torturers such as Billy the Child. That the Valley of the Fallen ceases to be a funerary monument to Franco and what it represents, and is a museum of historical memory, if you like, to teach new generations what happened in this country, so that it doesn’t happen again. What I ask, for what I protest, is what has been done in Argentina with the ESMA, or in Germany with the struggle to preserve the memory of the horror experienced during the Second World War.

I ask myself again: How can it be that “The Valley of the Fallen” continues like 40 years ago? What prevents it? Why does some poeple think we should not “reopen” wounds that had already healed? How can they think that these wounds have healed? I leave it as a rhetorical question, it is incomprehensible to me.

Let’s go back to the game. I had the idea of associating everything described with the time travel proposed by the professor. I quickly made a sketch in class with a very simple idea:

It would take place in the Valley of the Fallen, this was very clear.
First designs of mechanics

The player, who represents democracy, should dominate “time areas” in order to metaphorically move forward. And he would compete against the artificial intelligence of the computer, which would represent fascism, and that would want to go back in time. In this way I would directly associate the proposed theme: a game of going back and forth in time, capturing areas of time.

I had the initial idea and had to make it interesting and “playable.” Since I love levels with random generation, which are always different, I thought about doing so, that time areas were created with different positions and sizes. And also, following a very simple idea of what democracy is, you could only capture this area of time if you had the necessary number of people. And something else: while you were dominating an area, the rival side could expel you if they were more, leaving you stunned (without killing, without unnecessary explicit violence) and erasing the time you had dominated.

The game in prototype state

From there I implemented the artificial intelligence programming, as well as the artistic improvements until reaching the alpha, in a couple of months:

The game at alpha state.

As you can see in the previous image, I reduced the sizes of the areas to 4 (for 1, 5, 10, 20 people) and each area has the positions of the predefined people. In this way I found that it was more understandable. I also reduced the number of doors to transform it into a “level counter”, so that the player could see without the need for an extra-diegetic HUD where he was in the progress of the game. I also liked the idea so clear, (literal!) that it represented: they would be closing the doors of fascism.

Speaking of the HUD: I have always preferred video games that strive to make a diegetic HUD if it is essential (Dead Space) to see the classic life bar, and numbers of ammo on screen, etc. I like the immersion of, for example, Inside. I had to think of a way to make it understandable, but without limiting the player’s immersion, or this minimalist abstraction by putting numbers on the screen. For me it would greatly reduce the work in general. Logically, the player would gain understanding, especially for the rookie player, but it is an understanding that I think is associated with a certain stagnation in the player’s experience. That is, as most games do so, the player already expects it to be this way. Thus, it comes “badly educated” and it becomes more difficult for you to open your mind and capture what without explicit mathematics on the screen, can be explained equally. Unfortunately, and slightly diverting the subject, in the current consumer society this is a constant. In this way when a movie leaves the canons of the 3 acts, or the “timings” of conventional plans, the viewer does not understand it, it generates a rejection that is the result of his experience in films that have absolutely nothing new, but are what they like because they can understand them easier. Because these films don’t require you to think a little. In my case I have found that it is also difficult to understand, but I could not make it more understandable without deviating from the vision of the work, its objectives. Since it is so minimalist, and I am treating the aspect of democracy vs. fascism as the simple “good vs. bad”, I wanted to do it also visually simple: white vs. gray. Thus, when whites dominate an area it becomes white, and when gray do, gray. In addition, as the game ends, the background (square and mountain) will become darker or lighter depending on who wins. I am quite happy with the result.

In the final improvements I dwarfed the playing area more, so that the player had to interact more with the AI, apart from aesthetic reasons:

Final version of the plaza.
You can see three doors with rocks that have collapsed and “democrats”, in yellow, that have been expelled from an area.
Rocks detachment animation.

I would also like to discuss the sound theme, which can be heard in the trailer:

Given the simplicity of the game, metaphorically, visually and mechanically, the sound could not be less. So, we have 5 instruments where each one has its function:

  • Drum: gives the sound base during levels. Each time there are fewer areas of time left to dominate, it accelerates, creating tension to the player.
  • Double bass: forms the enemy’s sound unit. Fascism, serious, gray, “bad.” They have six notes that form melody with each other.
  • Cello: the democrats. These have 8 notes that also form melody between them and those of the double bass. In a way they do not clash when they sound at the same time, although there is a dissonance that was just what I wanted to express.
  • Transverse flute: 4 notes for each time area size, from bass to bass.
  • Piccolo: When an area has dominated it sounds like a short whistle. I wanted the player to end up associating his only two notes: one for the fascists and one for the Democrats.

I’m not a musician, so in order to get the notes melodic with each other, I asked Javi Juanco, my uncle, for help.

Finally I would like to finish this blog (?) expressing what a good friend of mine gave me as feedback. He had not understood the issue of time areas and going to the future or the present. In fact I think he saw it much better than that. He said this:

I understood that it was about conquering the spaces of symbolic story, that is, portions of the story of history that we all end up defining as an official or widely accepted story. In democracy this story of collective history is decided by the citizens themselves with their vote; if the majority votes a party that thinks X, the story of historical events will be X (beyond what really happenned). In other words, everything is ideology, history too and the truth must be decided by the citizens themselves or at least be aware of the power they have in their hands, whether they use it or not.

Bernat Gutiérrez