Nirvana X-ROM: how an Italian cult film became a video game

Nirvana X-ROM: how an Italian cult film became a video game

Nirvana X-ROM

On the other side of the screen, it all seems so easy.

Torrid summer '92, around a table protected by an umbrella are Fabrizio Bentivoglio, Diego Abatantuono and Gabriele Salvatores. In breaks from filming Puerto Escondido, the three delight in quick games of Soccer on the NES. At the end of the break, Abatantuono gets up to turn off the console and, looking at the screen, exclaims "but what happens when we turn everything off? The players go back to the locker room and wait to be called back? Do they go home to their girlfriends?". That joke will be the spark that will lead Salvatores, four years later, to make Nirvana.

A science fiction film in Italy?

The futuristic look of Christopher Lambert and the cast of Nirvana L ' the idea of ​​making a science fiction film in Italy, with a budget of around 6-7 billion, is still strangely pioneering today. It must be considered that the last Italian contribution to the sci-fi genre, made with a large budget, was probably Elio Petri's La Decima Vittima in 1965. Despite the out-of-the-box idea, Salvatores recalls that he managed to get the project approved by producers on the wave of fame and recognition of the Oscar as best foreign film won, a few years earlier, with Mediterraneo.

In a future (a distant and unknown 2010) with skies clouded by the fumes of factories, with the economy controlled by greedy multinationals, Jimi Dini (Salvatores' homage to Hendrix), depressed programmer, continues to work listlessly on the development of his latest video game: Nirvana. It is an action adventure that can be controlled directly via the mind, using a station not unlike the one seen a few years earlier in Il Tagliaerbe (1992).

The protagonist of the game, Solo (Abatantuono), decides to rebel against the gray routine of always repeating the same gestures within a limited digital existence. Solo will therefore beg Dini to cancel him forever and stop this vicious circle of game over. The programmer will then begin a journey, actually more motivated by the search for his ex, through disreputable neighborhoods and slums to find someone to help him penetrate the overprotected network of the software house Okosama Starr, so as to erase the Nirvana prototype forever.

The futuristic helmet used in Nirvana The usual "gang" of the previous films by the Lombard director returns to the cast: from Abatantuono himself, to Silvio Orlando, Sergio Rubini, Ugo Conti and Claudio Bisio. Many of which are used in such small parts that they can be considered little more than cameos. Furthermore, many act using their dialect, a choice not appreciated by all but which, after so many years, we believe adds that extra bit of realism that benefits Nirvana.

The big exception in the cast will be Christopher Lambert, wanted by the production to have a name of appeal so as to sell the film also abroad. Surely the film has several weak sides, including a poor characterization of the protagonist (not aided by Lambert's usual sui generis acting) and an unconvincing sentimental subplot that seems to clash with our spiritual quest.

Yet Nirvana remains a unique title in home cinema, skilfully blending a series of various inspirations, from William Gibson's Neuromancer to Indian religion: the cycle of religious reincarnation juxtaposed with the continuous rebirth of a video game character when he dies. Salvation will be achieved only in "understanding", while the imperfection of existence will remain so until one reincarnates. Salvatores' film also brings with it a record: it was the first time that digital special effects were created for a film in Italy. And, even more important for the purposes of this article, was the director's unprecedented choice of wanting to create a multimedia product that would work as a natural accompaniment to the film, to be distributed in stores at the same time as the film's release during the Christmas period: Nirvana X-Rom .

Nirvana X-Rom

A scene from Nirvana X-Rom Although it may be legitimate to doubt the artistic value of such an idea, it is easier to think of Nirvana X-Rom as to a mere commercial move designed to increase public interest in the film. Yet the intent seems genuine, so much so that the Nirvana ending, deliberately left open, is almost automatically linked to the beginning of the game. X-Rom is even mentioned, visually, in the film a couple of times. The screenplay, what we would now call "game design", was entrusted to the writer Bruno Tognolini. He was among the few in his sector to have had experience with an interactive product: a title for Philips CD-I linked to the program L'Albero Azzurro (on which Tognolini collaborated with Bianca Pitzorno and Roberto Piumini) released a few years earlier. br>
Reached by us by telephone, Tognolini is more than willing to talk about the interactive experience with Nirvana, still remembered with pleasure, so much so that on his website he has made the entire script of the game available for all interested parties. "Someone must have talked about my experience with CD-i in Salvatores," says Tognolini. "I immediately thought that the game should restart from the end of the film, when it is believed that the game has been canceled. Sometimes, when you uninstall a program in Windows, there are still traces of it, so I imagined the same happened with Nirvana. . Like a ghost in the car. The director liked the idea and I started working right away. "

The imprint of Nirvana's multimedia experience is inspired by the style of a first-person graphic adventure, among all from Myst (1993), with the use of "nodes", made in Quicktime VR, but with a different objective. "I started working with CD Italy, as well as Fabrizio Donvito, of Colorado Film, who provided me with much of the unused footage of Nirvana, as well as various photo shoots, to build single screens and video clips. The idea was to make a series of interactive sequences for the player, for example when he has to get rid of the organ hunters, by clicking on their red eyes. In short, it was about getting married with dried figs, being able to use what little material I had in order to put on a playful system that could be intriguing "remembers Tognolini.

At the beginning of the adventure, the first interaction foreseen for the player is with Dini's house (what today we would call a" smart home "), present in the film only in the first few minutes, which soon becomes one of the major components of the game. Tognolini continues "Jimi's house was one of the actual protagonists of the game, this artificial intelligence that spoke and assisted the player, brought to life by a female voice from my theatrical past, the good Lucilla Giagnoni" continues Tognolini.

L'Albero Azzurro

Bruno Tognolini The writer, as a video game enthusiast without having ever worked as a game designer, brought with him a completely different experience. "When I was writing for L'Albero Azzurro, our goal, together with Bianca and Roberto, was not to leave the child motionless in front of the TV. So we tried, as much as possible, to invite the little spectator to get up, to try some object to take with you: a ribbon of colored paper, a jar of glue. The same idea, to be honest, I intended to bring it back into the Nirvana gameplay as well. " And indeed, X-Rom is enriched with several alternative gameplay solutions, some surprising even today. We can only imagine what reaction they might have triggered in an average player in the much more plastered 1996.

For example, at a certain point the player is asked, by the same Solo, to enter a sentence to solve a puzzle: it is a phrase from the book by Carlo Collodi, Pinocchio. Theoretically not that difficult, but there are no clues whatsoever in the game nor is it a famous phrase, so that the writer's intent becomes clear: to bring the player to the bookstore or library. Another example is when the player is required to save a file provided by the game itself to a floppy disk. To read the file on the floppy, however, X-Rom requires the use of a different PC than the one you are using to play, since otherwise the Okosama Starr could track it down. "Here the intent was precisely to have the player bring the player to a friend, let's say almost a form of forced sociality ..." smiles Tognolini.

For the occasion, several actors of the film contributed with some sequences made specifically for the video game, including Diego Abatantuono himself, as well as Stefania Rocca (Nayma in the film) and Amanda Sandrelli. "We had assembled very simple sets on which the actors could record these short sequences, in particular I remember that when Diego (Abatantuono, ed) arrived he had not even studied the script and improvised on the basis of what he had already done for the film and his great experience. Stefania Rocca, also very good, took up the role of Nayma, intervening as an aid to the player: she went into action when the player was blocked, after making mistakes in solving a puzzle. "

The Casa di Nirvana X-Rom Tognolini adds that its out-of-the-ordinary gameplay objectives were not really appreciated by everyone: "I was summoned by the producers of Cecchi Gori New Media, they told me that as a rule a video game is self-referential and must be rigorously self-sufficient . The player must find in it all the resources they need to continue, it was suggested to me that the player should not get up and carry him around the house or in the library. case. Of course, I insisted on how it made the gameplay more compelling and in the end I got it, those ideas stayed. In hindsight, perhaps, they weren't all wrong. "

Indeed, the critical reception of X-Rom was certainly not the best, both from the few magazines that reviewed it, treating it as a product multimedia, both by the players who remember in particular the difficulty and the various bugs that hindered the enjoyment of the experience. By the way, Tognolini comments: "in addition to the programming problems, I believe that the greatest limitation of the product was being so closely related to the film. Without seeing Nirvana, understanding what was going on in X-Rom was virtually impossible. "In fact, there is not even a plot summary of the film or a reference to help. good response with the American public, but certainly the success was not transmitted to X-Rom, it soon slipped into obscurity. It is not mentioned by the director even on the occasions in which he has talked about the film in recent years.

Nirvana X-Rom today

A clue to solve a Nirvana X-Rom puzzle Playing X-Rom today is not easy, the need to use a previous version of QuickTime leads to having to resort to a machine Still, however, after 25 years Nirvana remains a fascinating product: halfway between "making of" where you can explore clips and sounds of the film, and video game, with limited interactive experiences and puzzles that require you to think outside of your own. you diagrams of the graphic adventure. For example, just to access Jimi Dini's house it will be necessary to pay the utmost attention to the introductory video in order to answer some questions: in short, almost an exemplary punishment for those who usually skip introductions at foot!

Tognolini remembers it as his last effective experience in the field of multimedia products. "Actually, I had another game in mind, so complex that no developer would ever want to make it. So I turned the subject into a novel, entitled Lilim of the sunset, published by Salani. The image of the virtual reality helmet returns there too. , as in Nirvana. He played on this juxtaposition between a child who recreates, within a VR environment, an evangelical narration of the story of Mary hunted by a hitman, with a nativity scene builder who, with his figurines, is building the same story. In the end, the two decide to team up to save Maria. Personally, I just wanted to call it Palestine Quest, but I didn't like it ... They tried to ask me to make a subject for a film, but - due to my limitation - not I was able to reduce it and, proposed to Cecchi Gori, Rita Rusic criticized me for its excessive density. "

Nirvana X-Rom was not a lucky experiment 25 years later X-Rom remains an experience unique in the field of products multimedia products produced in Italy in the 1990s: despite a small budget, its experimental character still resonates strongly today. At a time when graphic adventures sought to amaze with high production values ​​and advanced technical solutions, X-Rom operated outside the box, with gameplay solutions that are still innovative. On the other hand, as it is impossible to move without leaving traces and apparently insignificant fragments of personal information, even X-Rom has left footprints that, even today, a game designer could study and experiment with interesting results.

Yes thanks Bruno Tognolini for his kind availability.

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