Gonzalo Alvarez is a 23 year-old, Texas based game-designer and Illustrator. Jason Payne asked him about his two main projects that we’ve been following for the past year.
Jason: As an indie who creates both comics and games, do you find that the two disciplines inform each other? If so, in what ways?
Gonzalo: Very much so. Both of them are a form of storytelling through their own boundaries. Video Games with gameplay, and comics with panels and page turns. Both have a set of rules that the viewer or player has to work with and it sets up for interesting ways to use the mediums in communicating an idea. I feel that my comics are influenced by experiences in video games, and my video games are influenced by drawings I want to play as or fight against. It’s a great two mediums to work with that constantly inspire me for the other!
Jason: Borders seemed like a pretty timely game. Can you tell us a little about the game and your inspiration behind it?
Gonzalo: So Borders is a stealth-like game about crossing the border inspired by my parents immigration stories they told me growing up. After seeing all the hate towards immigrants on social media, I felt I needed to create something for people to simulate crossing over and hopefully understand what people with less privileges had to go through. I made the game simple to play and hard to master because I still wanted it to be fun and enjoyable, but the underlying political statement is there.
The main mechanic is that every time a player dies a skeleton is left behind as a permanent consequence of failure, and as more people played the public installation, more bodies accumulated. This was to symbolize just how many unnamed skeletons lie in Mexican desert, and was inspired by my dad’s story of seeing a skeleton on the way over to America. It was amazing to see the reaction of people once they died and started over and saw their reaction to seeing their skeleton and realizing all the hundreds of skeletons around them were past players. I’m really proud of that mechanic because; it was added at the very last minute after playing an indie game called Orchids to Dusk. (Check it out and you’ll see what I mean. I don’t want to spoil it.)
Jason: Creating an arcade cabinet for Borders was a neat idea. What was your motivation behind that?
Gonzalo: So. I went to Indiecade East 2016 in attempt to find someone to help me program my game projects and while I was there I saw all these amazing arcade cabinets. They were created to fit the aesthetic of the game that held them, and I had an epiphany. The arcade cabinet is to a game as a picture frame is to a painting or drawing. So if I wanted to show southeast Texas and my school that games are art, then I had to use the arcade cabinet to make a presentable installation of Borders, and so I did.
Jason: You seem like a pretty handy guy. What’s your background in woodworking? And did you ever expect that you’d use that skill in game development?
Gonzalo: Haha Thanks. Well my dad is a handy man and can fix anything, so he taught me a thing or two growing up. Also I went to a traditional studio arts school, so I learned everything from sculpture, to printmaking, painting, etc. So I spent a lot of time in the wood-shop.
I had no idea I would [use the skill for games], but I am so glad I did. I was intimidated to do so, but now there are so many things I look forward to doing with arcade cabinets and future game projects.
Jason: You had tweeted before that Borders changed your life. Tell us about that. How has it changed your life?
Gonzalo: Before Borders went viral, I felt unnoticed despite all the hard work I was putting into my art projects. I say it with modesty and I’m sure many artist have felt the same, but I am such a workaholic and it just sucked to not get some sort of sign letting me know it’s all worth it. Making Borders provided me more recognition than I could have imagined and allowed me to gain so many new friends, exposure, business partners, experiences and opportunities that I wouldn’t of had if this game never happened.
I displayed at E3, the festival I watched religiously as a kid, I’m on a PBS show to debut in November, founded my own game studio, and most importantly I can finally call myself a true game designer! Borders gave me the voice, path, and potential opportunities to become the successful independent creator I want to be once I graduate this fall 2017.
Jason: Can you tell us what Polloman is about?
Gonzalo: It’s a Mexican folklore adventure series about a cowardly boy whose heart holds the power to vanquish 6 terrifying Legends. After falling into the Mexican underworld of Mictlan, cowardly Emanuel must overcome his childhood fears and make the ultimate sacrifices if he hopes to ever see his father again.
Jason: The preview for Polloman states that the comic has “monsters directly from Latin American folklore.” Could you tell us about some of that folklore?
Gonzalo: So growing up as a Mexican kid parents would always scare you from being disobedient by saying El Cucuy or La Llorona was going to get you. El cucuy was the equivalent of the Mexican boogieman and no one has ever been able to describe his features, yet everyone feared him. La Llorona, the more popular story, is of a weeping women who drowned her children and is now a ghost who goes around at night crying” Mis Hijos” (My kids). Parent’s would tell you not to go outside at night and use this story as a scare tactic.
It was fascinating to me just how engrained in the culture these stories are because EVERYONE was aware of these Legends and believed them. (At least the kids did) Other folklore creatures are El Raton de Dientes, the Mexican tooth fairy who is actually a rat that steals teeth to replace his own. Creepy and fascinating. The other 3 legends are El Chupacabra, La Lechuza, and El Diablo, but there are plenty of other non-boss type creatures within the world that I’m excited to bring to life in this world.
Jason: On October 3rd you tweeted, “Why Polloman needs to exist. Look up La Cukaracha on google images, then look up the Kappa Yokai. You get two different qualities of art.“ Would you care to expand upon this statement?
Gonzalo: Glad I curate my tweets a little before posting! Haha So, just as I stated, you can look up the Kappa, a demon creature in Japanese folkore, on google and get a bunch of awesome renditions and high quality artwork. Then you look up La Cukaracha, and you get all this crappy clip art and cliche borderline stereotype artwork. It seems more people are interested in Japanese culture because of its popularity, and I feel that Mexican pop culture and folklore icons get no love from the art community. My goal with Polloman is to create a universe where all these folklore icons that I grew up with can exist and hopefully finally present high quality artwork to represent them. Hopefully Polloman can also inspire others to find interest in the culture and have people begin doing their own awesome artwork for them.
Jason: What are your plans for Polloman once it’s finished? And where might readers expect to find and read it?
Gonzalo: Oh boy so I know this may sound crazy, but I’m super serious. I’m trying to create my own independent transmedia franchise with games, comics, a show, and merchandise much like Pokemon, Yu-Gi-Oh, Inuyasha, ect. So this is a 5-10 year long project…Haha. I really am wanting this to be what Inuyasha was to Japanese folklore, except it’s for Mexican culture, something I feel is underrepresented in pop culture. I have a competitive marble/strategy game in the works to release alongside the comic that works with the lore/mechanics of the world much like Yu-Gi-Oh. I also have toys, a real-time strategy RPG videogame, and a storyboard for producing a pilot episode in the works… but first the comic!
The comic series is a 60 chapter long series that will be released through physical issues available at cons and bookstores(hopefully) as well as online updated weekly on Webtoons Line, Tapastic, ComiXology, and hosted on the official website. Currently I am in the final process of finishing the 22 page prologue I’m releasing this December, and production of the first 6 chapters begins starting next year.
Jason: On these projects, do you feel that there’s been any particular challenges you’ve faced, or freedoms that you’ve been afforded, because you are an indie?
Gonzalo: So Indie challenges = money and exposure. To do what I want to do, I still need to eat and people need to know about it to purchase it. haha! I really want to make this happen however, so I’ve applied to a lot of grants, scholarships, and other things while I’ve been in school to prepare to tackle this project once I’m out. As an indie, you are a one man army, so a lot of time is spent doing graphic design stuff, social media stuff, marketing things, doing all the artwork and design, and so it’s A LOT of work that could go unnoticed and unpaid… but Borders taught me that busting your ass CAN pay off.
Thanks to being an indie, I don’t have to wait on anyone to approve what I want to do. I just F**king do it. haha. I believe in my projects and my capabilities of completing them and it’s great to have things like Webtoons, kickstarter, and patreon to facilitate being an independent creator. I can make the things and sell them to the people who care about them without anyone to intervene. Especially because these projects aren’t necessarily the mainstream genres, I doubt I would find a publisher easily. (I’m so tired of medieval fantasy or lame superheroes) I’m not saying having a publisher is a bad thing because they help A LOT and would love to have one, but being indie allows you to be able to make things now rather than later.
Jason: In closing, do you have any other projects on the burner or announcements you’d like to share?
Gonzalo: Anything Polloman related will be available at www.legendofpolloman.com once the site goes live this fall. If you really want to support this project and learn the behind-the-scenes process as I make everything, make sure to check out my newsletter.
Gonzalo Alvarez’s official website is Gonzzink.com
Jason Payne is a cartoonist and indiegamedev. His official website is Syrupneko.com