Transitions: The Heart Forth, Alicia Interview

AAtownsfolkAlonso Martin may be in over his head.

The Mexican-born film director has written and helmed nearly twenty short films, and in that time, he’s gained an appreciation for the medium and its ability to convey a feeling. By now, with film, he knows what he’s doing. But an idea soon came along that he didn’t think was serious enough to be committed to reel, so he’s leaving the comforts of film and wandering into a foreign land. He’s making a game.

“If I had known it was going to be this tough, I’d probably have stayed with film,” Martin says.

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I. Lost

Heart Forth, Alicia is the game in question, and work on this evocative, story-driven game started roughly seven years ago. In fits and starts, ideas were kicked around during a time when Martin and some associates were making other freeware games, but his passion for movies soon lead to studies at Universidad Iberoamericana. Alicia was pushed to the back burner.

“I suppose what called me about film when I was a child was that the stories in film felt more entire than, say, literature,” he says. “I never saw myself doing anything other than film.”

“The reason I want to do film today is much less clear to me,” Martin laments. “I suppose that’s because it’s what I know how to do, in a way. I used to think there were more tribulations than reliefs in life, but I don’t know how to feel about that now. Life seems to be about knowing to say ‘yes’ and knowing (when) to accept, and I don’t do either of those things well.”

Existential questions notwithstanding, the reality of filmmaking also reared its ugly head. Martin’s affection for more contemplative works placed him at a disadvantage in a business that favored more commercially-viable films produced strictly for their entertainment value. Giving in would mean compromising his ideals.

“I finished film school and understood there’s no easy way to get into the film industry without having to place your future in the hands of other people,” he recalls.

It’s a trade-off that Martin will have no part of.

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II. The Island

As forays into gaming go, Martin hit his stride early.

“I became friends with this guy, and he showed me The Secret of Monkey Island 2,” Martin recalls enthusiastically. “I just couldn’t get past the amazing feeling of its world and the characters, and how epic the animations were, and the backgrounds, and the locations…”

It wasn’t long before Martin was fully immersed in the genre of adventure games, soaking in Day of The Tentacle, Full Throttle, and the Indiana Jones titles. But he didn’t stop there.

Martin’s game, Heart Forth, Alicia, includes vibrant characters, collectibles, and minor role-playing elements tucked inside a tight platforming experience—characteristics he hopes players will find reminiscent of some of his other favourite games.

“I’d love to hear that this games reminds people of Super Metroid or Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, at least in (terms of) design,” he says. “The story element will certainly make the experience very different from those two games, and probably more similar to the more recent Zelda games or Xenogears.

“I’d love to catch the interest of some Xenogears fans.”

The backstory alone for Heart Forth, Alicia deals with about 700 years of history, and that’s seemingly just the tip of the iceberg. There are standard weapons, upgrades, and magic spells for both protagonist Alicia and her companion fairy Ingrid, and these are all used to fight the four different elemental classes of enemies in the game. Additionally, a 24-hour day and night cycle means that nearly all of the story elements and quests are time-sensitive.

That’s one lengthy list of features for one man to put in what will be his first commercially-available game.

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III. We Have To Go Back

Following Martin’s departure from film school, he returned to work on Heart Forth, Alicia for a few months. It’s a project he loves and believes in, though it’s not a narrative that he felt had sufficient hooks for a film. But it is a complex story, nonetheless—something he felt would lend itself well to the medium of video games.

Exactly how complex his story is becomes apparent in conversation with Martin, as talk quickly turns to ruminations on philosophy, psychology, and philanthropy. He speaks about finding purpose and free will, God, and Martin Heidegger’s intense ideas about “being.” Though not directly informing Heart Forth, Alicia, they certainly paint the picture of a man filled with passion. 

“I think we should seek to generate a conflict between two opposites, and make them overtake one another so that each one makes the other shine at its best,” he says. “So, with this in mind, it’s interesting to experiment with how some cultures might not understand each other, and might get in conflict with each other simply based on their understandings of themselves in the world.”

“It’s worse than losing motivation.”

Video games, Martin thinks, provide exactly the kind of opportunity to explore our ideas and add details that might otherwise seem meandering or uninteresting in the context of film. But it wasn’t long before the true scope of the project started catching up with him.

“Unfortunately, it hasn’t been an easy experience,” he says.  “In projects so big and long, you have to work on something and then leave it alone for a few days in order to see what’s really working and what isn’t. If you don’t, you’ll think everything is wrong, and you’ll start doubting yourself and the project. This is very dangerous, since you begin wondering if it’s not a mistake to work on the game in the first place.

“It’s worse than losing motivation.”

While Martin admits that handling every aspect of the game’s creation is a substantial burden (“You feel a hole in your stomach each time you realize there’s still so much to be done,” he says), the heart of the game is a story he’s excited to tell—and that’s a comfortable place for a filmmaker.

“I’ve learned a lot with this project,” he continues with a hint of enthusiasm, “so I’m kind of glad I was foolish.”

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Alonso Martin is clearly gaining confidence in Heart Forth, Alicia. The development blog posts have gotten more frequent, he’s brought someone into his inner circle to help him promote the game, and he even took it to a game development group to show publicly for the first time.

Whether he knows it or not, his thoughts echo the feelings of anyone else who’s ever put their work in front of others.

“It’s like walking out naked into the street,” Martin says. “Some people don’t understand, some people just stay quiet, and some are just kind and offer comforting words.”

Martin knows he’s a filmmaker throwing himself head-first into the world of games, but it’s still his art. He’s taking his time to make sure he gets Heart Forth, Alicia right. He’s tempering his expectations as he goes, growing by leaps and bounds along with his game, and it’s becoming readily apparent that maybe this new world isn’t so foreign after all.