Gerda: A Flame in Winter, the interview with PortaPlay, the development team

Gerda: A Flame in Winter, the interview with PortaPlay, the development team


War, video games, have always liked. The war scenarios, over the years, have given free rein to the heroic fantasies of the players, who fought on the front line on the battlefield or measured their strategic skills. The truth, however, is that war is among the most inhumane things that exist in this world and even when it is fought for a truly noble cause, it is still terrible.

Usually, however, there are very few video games that have tried to give a more human and realistic dimension to war: they take on the role of the soldier, of the one who is forced to war, but even less so explore the stories of civilians, of those who are forced to endure these conflicts and that's it.

Gerda: A Flame in Winter is one of these rare exceptions, a game between narrative adventure and role play , where the player plays the role of a Danish nurse (which gives the title its name) during the Second World War; the only tool available to the protagonist is dialogue and the RPG element of the game is all devoted to improving Gerda's soft social skills.

We had the opportunity to meet at Gamescom 2022 Hans Von Knut Skovfoged and Shalev Moran, respectively Creative Director and Lead Designer in PortaPlay, the development team that created the title, published by Don't Nod . Below, we bring you the interview with the developers of Gerda: A Flame in Winter.

Fighting resisting

in Gerda: In Flame in Winter, the invasion is fought with dialogue Gerda: A Flame in Winter is undoubtedly part of that list of games committed from the point of view social, a sort of movement in the sub-culture of video games born within the independent panorama and that more and more authors have tried to explore with their works. This War of Mine, Papers, Please, Road 96, Not Tonight, each of these games deals in its own way with the theme of war, control and political oppression.

Gerda: A Flame in Winter is no exception and Skovfoged tells us that PortaPlay's goal has always been to create a game that was set during the war and criticized it at the same time. "There is a way to fight in the war without taking up the rifle, and that is to resist. We wanted to create an experience in which the most powerful weapon of the protagonist was not the bullets, but the compassion. memories of my great-grandparents, who lived in times of war and fought the Nazi invasion with courage, but never violently. They passed information to the resistance, smuggled basic necessities and hid partisans and wanted by the Gestapo ".

The war in Gerda: In Flame in Winter you don't live on the front The peaceful and silent resistance was the only choice for many civilians during the Second World War, an opposition that forced sacrifices as great as the risks that everyone had to be hired. From this point of view, however, Gerda: A Flame in Winter goes a step further, adding a human nuance that is very often overlooked. "My great-grandparents have never killed a Nazi soldier" continues Skovfoged "because they saw the human being beyond the uniform. Clearly the Nazi regime was among the most abhorrent things ever given birth by mankind, but it would be unfair and a little naive to think that all German soldiers were convinced Nazis ".

In this we must also consider the particular situation of Denmark during the years of the Second World War. Initially declared neutral, Denmark was occupied with a lightning military campaign by Germany, but remained a protectorate in exchange for collaboration with the German forces. King and government coexisted with the Nazi occupation, until the Germans decided to put Denmark under direct military occupation, due to constant opposition from the Danish authorities. The government resigned to protest against the laws imposed by the invaders and inside the country numerous civil pockets of rebellion were created, which managed to oppose the regime peacefully until 1943, and acting actively with guerrilla actions only in strictly necessary cases.

Gerda's key image: A Flame in Winter Gerda's story, however, begins two years later, in 1945: after experiencing the German invasion and all that followed, Gerda's husband he is arrested as a member of the local resistance. The protagonist is therefore alone, and the only thing she knows how to do, because it is her job, is to help and heal people as a nurse. "From here we thought: what would a game about war be like where the protagonist is not a heroine but an ordinary person? How can a simple nurse be able to save the person she loves simply by treating strangers?". And this is precisely the concept behind Gerda's gameplay: A Flame in Winter, where the player will be forced to dialogue and have relationships with all the actors in the story, no matter whether they are Danish citizens, German police or criminals without a flag. br>

War is not a show

Cinema and video games have accustomed us to an untruthful representation of war What we immediately appreciated about Gerda: A Flame in Winter, is the clear desire not to wanting to make the war spectacular to make it more compelling in the public eye. Fortunately, the entertainment market is seeing a timid countertrend, but it is clear that for years, both in video games and in cinema, a certain type of rhetoric has resisted. Stories of reckless soldiers fighting for freedom, attacked by showers of bullets, bombs and other spectacular special effects. A perspective, it hurts to say, very often extremely American.

We certainly do not want to open a political debate and we ask you in advance to maintain an appropriate tone in the comments, but it is difficult to dispute the fact that the narrative of the Second War World made by the Americans is very fictional. "What I do not like about the US point of view on the conflict" Moran tells us "is the simplicity with which this is told. The American troops arrived in Europe without the slightest awareness of the infinite nuances that governed the Old Continent, dealing with the various states as if they were one big land, like their old far-west. Simplistic is also their way of dealing with conflicts in general: my ally has my back, my enemy is in front of me, and in that direction I have to go aiming the rifle. The perspective we wanted to offer in Gerda: A Flame in Winter, on the other hand, is very different. There is a protagonist who is capable, but fallible like any human being and who simply does not have the enemy in front of him. to itself, but it is surrounded by the community, made up of different figures ".

In Gerda: A Flame in Winter nothing is easy In addition, Gerda: A Flame in Winter was published in a period in which the war there is and is related close to home: despite the news no longer reporting the evolution of the conflict in Ukraine as often (perhaps precisely because after a few months, that spectacular element is now missing, ed.), the war goes on.

"I was born in Israel" Moran tells us "and I can say that if someone, from the individual citizen to the entire political machine, wants to pretend that war does not exist, then that war will not exist. current situation is that either you run into politicians who don't want to get their hands dirty with war, because it hurts your image, or you meet those who exploit it for electoral purposes that never have to do with the interests of the victims ". And this is where Gerda: A Flame in Winter is probably striking, because the production of PortaPlay talks about war by escaping political dialogue, because at the center of the story there are first of all people.

"Unfortunately when we talk of war, we tend to consider cowards those who do not actively spend themselves for the cause. Very often in war power fantasies, there are never consequences: you sacrifice yourself to the cause so that everyone, even the dearest ones, remembers you as a hero, grateful of your sacrifice. The reality is very different: your loved ones often do not live far away but they are there with you, and they can be children and the elderly who do not have the ability to understand what is happening or to escape. So you stay there, apparently doing nothing , while in reality you are resisting without exposing yourself or your family to unnecessary danger. And on the other hand there are those who are oppressing you, not always convinced that they are on the side of reason, and even when this belief is there, eg even being forced to oppress killing does not bring joy "says Skovfoged.

Role in war

Gerda: A Flame in Winter is much more than a narrative adventure During the adventure, the player is forced to make different moral choices, very often very difficult to digest, finding himself repeatedly faced with the uncomfortable meaning of the right choice. Fighting the oppressor with your head held high, with pride and courage, is not always the best thing: it is morally right not to compromise, especially if you have to deal with a Nazi, but remaining morally upright may not be the most convenient choice. In times of war the choices to be made are many and all very hard and it is difficult to go to sleep with a clear conscience. Even avoiding pulling a trigger, sooner or later everyone gets their hands dirty, and Gerda: A Flame in Winter builds her playful mechanics starting from moral conflict.

Not an easy task because the video game is still an entertainment product regardless of genre or subject matter. We then asked the developers how they balanced the delicate theme with the playful element of the title. "From the beginning, we set ourselves the goal of creating something that would actually be perceived by the public as a video game rather than an adventure that you can't have control over," says Skovfoged. "The game is all about Gerda and her social skills. What we wanted to offer was not a simple adventure with multiple choice dialogues, but a video game with a much more complex RPG system. There are no statistics such as strength or dexterity in the game. typical of a traditional role-playing game, but they are all focused on social interaction, and the points accumulated can also be spent to force the outcome of a negotiation ". For further information on the game system, we refer you to our review, which you can find at this link.

Keeping all factions in balance will not be easy The mission system has also been designed to respect the aspect more social than relationships, which is why accepting a task from a non-player character will have certain repercussions on the balance of the narrative. Gerda: A Flame in Winter is not an RPG designed to be played for hours and hours, to satisfy the wishes of completist players, but it must be played following a precise strategy, moving cautiously between one faction and another.

Everything in Gerda is dramatically irreversible, so it is not wrong to say that the length of the game is compensated by ample replayability: "We have developed our work so that we can satisfy all players. There are those who plays an RPG, gets to the end and is satisfied with the experience and who instead wants to explore all the possible alternative choices by replaying it several times. Gerda: A Flame in Winter works in both directions: it provides a satisfying and complex story to the first game, but it remains stimulating also in the following ones ".

The relationship with Don't Nod

Don't Nod is the publisher of Gerda: A Flame in Winter During Gamescom 2022, Gerda: A Flame in Winter was a kind of deja-vĂ¹. Two days before the interview with the PortaPlay guys, in fact, we had talked to Parallel Studio about their Under the Waves (you can read our tried it here), published by Quantic Dream. A few days later, we find ourselves chatting again with a team whose work is published not by a large publisher, but by a medium-sized development studio.

"At first, we ignored the fact that Don't Nod also released third-party video games. When we discovered it, we realized how much our game was in line with their production, imagining the perfect partnership with them "says Skovfoged. "After the first email, only a couple of weeks passed before we started working shoulder to shoulder! Right from the start the relationship was configured as a stimulating creative ping pong: we put our ideas on the table by receiving from Don't Nod feedback, and vice versa. Surely the aspect on which we benefited most from their advice was the management of the title on the different platforms and the relative timing of publication. "

Don't Nod's contribution was important for Gerda: A Flame in Winter Moran then adds his point of view: "Also from the point of view of the narrative design the suggestions of Don't Nod have helped a lot. When I found myself making the endings of the game, I received several advice. For example, I did not initially include a really happy ending, but it is actually important. I then worked to make all the others richer and more complex, so as to be more satisfying for the player while re keeping in line with the narrative. "

We close this article with great gratitude to the two developers because they gave the writer one of the most beautiful interviews done during the German fair, full of humanity and sentiment, just like their Gerda: A Flame in Winter.

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