How to Make a Video Game While Rationing Water and Amidst Rolling Blackouts
By Patrick Klepek – care of VICE.com
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Much of Beautiful Desolation was made amidst catastrophe. South Africa was in the grip of a water crisis, the result of multiple years without meaningful rainfall. People lined up with containers, hoping to walk away with anything. There was talk of “Day Zero,” a date when places like Cape Town would, in essence, run out of water. The Brotherhood, a two-person studio responsible for several moody adventure games, happens to be based in Cape Town.
“There were days where [we] had no electricity and had to severely ration water supplies,” said The Brotherhood co-founder Chris Bischoff in an interview with Waypoint. “I sometimes think we should have actually thanked our water tank and petrol generator in the credits.”
(And yes, the studio is called The Brotherhood because the two co-founders are brothers.)
Beautiful Desolation is the third release from The Brotherhood, an ambitious slice of sci-fi post-apocalypse. The Brotherhood’s previous games are dark horror stories in space, and while Beautiful Desolation is also set in the future, it’s a future much more close to home; Beautiful Desolation is The Brotherhood imagining a future for its own home of South Africa.
“Our goal with Beautiful Desolation was always to make something unique,” said Bischoff, “something that players had never seen before in the sci-fi setting and our home was perfect for this.”
Bischoff’s family arrived in South Africa in the 1840s, after emigrating from Germany.
It’s a place of beauty, but, at times, a pain in the ass for making games. The Brotherhood isn’t the only place to call South Africa (and frequently Cape Town itself) home. The popular action game BroForce, made by Free Lives, is from the area. Same with puzzle platformer Semblance by Nyamakop, and the satirical violent cleanup sim, Viscera Cleanup Detail.
Bishoff called development in South Africa “uniquely challenging.” Only recently, for example, did the studio get broadband internet, which made uploading and downloading gigabytes of data, required in making even the most modest modern game, a total pain.
“On paper, we’re considered a developed country on various fronts, yet even some of our most basic infrastructure is seriously unreliable,” he said. “The country suffers from regular, planned power outages that last for hours on end, so we need to work around those. We have often joked that Statis [another game from The Brotherhood] is one of the few games out there built on a petrol generator.”
Rolling power outages are normal for The Brotherhood. One minute, the lights are on. The next, they’re not. It’s a big reason why their games are made using laptops; it allows them to jump from one power source to another, depending on the circumstances. Bischoff actually has an uninterruptible power supply device snuggled under his desk in case of a blackout.
In the event even this fails them, their files are being continually backed up.
“100 meters of extension cables became the norm for us!” said Bischoff. “Power off, grab the extension cables, and run them around the house before the UPS turns off!”