We reached out to Aconite founders Star St. Germain and Nadya Lev to discuss HoloVista, a gaming experience that flexes its storytelling and mixed reality strengths in equal measure.
Many of us know augmented or mixed reality gaming through Pokémon Go, and such experiences are taking off with the latest entry in the Five Nights At Freddy’s franchise for another example; this type of experience has arrived and developers are learning what they can do with it. Beyond gaming, many more already augment their reality every day with Instagram filters.
Dylan Madeley interviewed Nadya Lev about Aconite back in Spring 2017, and Aconite was billed as a storytelling platform. Games are a way to tell stories, often cinematic in scope, and Nadya’s choice of description for Aconite at the time heavily emphasized storytelling, but it’s a full experience beyond the story. HoloVista brings stunning visuals and a neat approach to gameplay that should be familiar to smartphone users.
We talked to founders Star St. Germain and Nadya Lev to discuss the game.
Without spoiling the entire game, how would you describe HoloVista to someone who isn’t familiar with the Aconite platform, whose familiarity with mixed reality storytelling/gaming is entry level?
Nadya Lev : HoloVista is a story about exploring your unconscious mind via a high-tech mansion that adjusts to fit the occupant. It’s a story about mental health, luxury, perception, and family. Mechanically, HoloVista is a mixed reality hidden object game in a sleek social media wrapper, reminiscent of a near-future Instagram. You play as Carmen, a new hire at an elusive architecture firm, with your device acting as her phone. Players experience a week in Carmen’s life through the places she goes, the objects she photographs, the thoughts she shares on social media, and the friends she talks to. Every time Carmen travels to a new location in the story, players access a virtual camera, which allows them to view the game’s environments in full 360°, finding and photographing significant objects. Through solving puzzles, players learn how Carmen and her friends feel about the photos she takes, and the images gradually reveal a secret that Carmen has been running from since childhood.
During the development of this game, what were the thought processes behind this specific type of gameplay? I like that there aren’t other peripherals required, just the smartphone itself; is the idea to work with how you see people using their phones already?
Star St. Germain : We were interested in designing an experience that mimicked the way we use our phones in real life; taking pictures, posting them on social media, messaging friends, and scrolling through a feed. Aconite has a design goal to play with the line between reality and fiction, so everything about HoloVista was conceived of with this in mind. We wanted to make the game as immersive as possible, with the hopes that for a moment, the player might forget that what they’re reading is fictional.
What were the inspirations for the use of color in this game? It seems like a very synthwave palette to me, though admittedly I’m not well studied in the visual arts world.
SSG : Color was used very intentionally in HoloVista. Each character has a color associated with them, which allowed us to reference them by color within the game’s environments. The clothing each character wears, the photos they take, the objects they own, and even the UI of their social media posts all reflect their color. Carmen is blue, a reference to blueprints, as well as the ultramarine shade that painters traditionally use to represent the Virgin Mary, a nod to her beliefs as a Catholic. Carmen’s mentor Jazz is green for envy, because Carmen thinks she has it all. Carmen’s BFF Vlad is red for love, because Carmen is crushing on him. Carmen’s younger sister Inez is aqua for water, for reasons that I will redact because I don’t want to spoil the story for you! We initially thought about each color individually more so than as a palette, but we spent a lot of time later on specific shades to make sure they all looked good together.
HoloVista has currently rolled out for the iOS platform; are there plans to roll it out for Android devices? Are there particular obstacles in such cross-platform rollouts that you would like to elaborate?
NL : Cross-platform rollouts can be tough for a small game studio because each platform has its own technical quirks, UI/UX constraints, and legal requirements – therefore, testing the game and fixing issues for different platforms can be time-consuming and costly. Mobile is especially tricky because you’re dealing with many different screen aspect ratios, device hardware, and OS versions. Android is especially tricky compared to Apple because of how many phone manufacturers there are. We’re currently researching what would be the smartest way to get HoloVista into the hands of Android users. I’m not ready to commit to a porting announcement quite yet, but I can tell you that it’s something that we’re actively considering.
Music is a key component of the gaming experience. It can be central and highly memorable or it can be subtle, unobtrusive, yet far more effective than silence. How would you describe the music approach for this game?
SSG : When looking for a composer, we reached out to Mariode, who was my most-listened-to artist during the year leading up to HoloVista‘s production. It’s rare to imagine who might be the ideal choice and then just have them join the project. When it came to working on the music, we took an environment driven approach. Each room in the house had a song, and that music changed over time. So, subsequent visits to rooms the player had already seen would yield a thematically appropriate remix. The rooms of the mansion are almost characters themselves, and Mariode’s music was a critical part of bringing them to life. Mariode’s low-fi electronic soundscapes sampled elements such as birdsong, soap bubbles, and the ocean surf at key moments in the story to match the look of each room. The soundtrack encompasses a wide emotional range, spanning from humor (as in the warbling synths that accompany Carmen’s 3AM drunk texting rampage) to fear (as in the chill-inducing sound of children laughing in an empty pool).
Are there already other experiences in the pipeline heading our way, for the Aconite platform?
NL : Yes! We’re currently working on our second game. We can’t reveal anything about it just yet, but we’d love to invite the Auxiliary readership to join our mailing list so that you can get the chance to playtest our various game prototypes as we continue development! You can sign up at aconite.co.