My name is Chris Bischoff, and my brother and I created Beautiful Desolation.
The transformation of South Africa from the apartheid government to a democratic government was an incredible time period in our modern history. While I was too young to comprehend what the release of Nelson Mandela meant, I can recall the positive atmosphere at the time. It was a period of celebration and exuberance, mixed with uncertainty of what the future would hold.
When people think about South Africa, it often manifests with the weight of the previous atrocities that were perpetrated against its people. It can be hard to see this incredible multicultural nation without peering through the lens of a tragic history. Contrary to this, the experiences that stand out in my mind are due to the incredible resilience of the South African people. The first national elections, where the disenfranchised got a chance to vote in the future of their country. Winning and hosting multiple sports events — and seeing the streets brimming with cheering, flag-waving people. I was one of those people when the 2010 FIFA World Cup arrived at our shore, hearing the vuvuzelas and a nation feeling a sense of incredible pride.
The pivotal question we asked ourselves is this: Can we portray the hospitable people and beautiful scenery in Beautiful Desolation against a science fiction story?
We spent a lot of time manifesting the tangible history of our world. We looked at local folklore and then explored farther north, examining many African myths and legends. African legends are as diverse as its inhabitants. A billion people with over a thousand languages and dialects provide a rich palette to work with. We attempted to draw on this rich tapestry of stories and integrated them into the game’s universe.
A common trope in African tales is one of a world being put right again. The Khoisan people of Southern Africa believe Kaang created the world and then, after being disobeyed, destroyed it — only to put it right again. The West African great trickster god, Anansi, stole the world’s wisdom and hid it in a pot in a tree. A rainstorm conjured by nature washed it into the rivers, and now every person in the world only has a little bit of that knowledge. The idea of fractured pasts and broken histories being put right is central to Beautiful Desolation. This thread weaves through every quest that our protagonists undertake and intersects in their personal relationships.
Perhaps the most direct correlation to our country’s past comes from the two brothers our story revolves around. While this world was torn apart by the discovery of an unknown construct that sent history on a wildly alternate path, the brothers’ fractured relationship started long before this event.
In a time when PTSD wasn’t officially recognized, the horrors of the South African Border War left scars on a society that was already straining at its limits. Coupled with personal loss and their adverse childhood experiences, our characters carry those traumas with them into this far-flung future setting. They have to work through these while being thrust into an unfamiliar and increasingly strange place. Our lead voice actor, who voices Don Leslie, is a veteran of this war, and we relied on his emotive experiences to shape the story of these two brothers.
Contrary to this painful past, Beautiful Desolation takes place at an undetermined age after the fall of humanity. The gorgeous location would be used as a melting pot for an epic science fiction adventure that went far beyond the constraints of our history and evolved in a new and unique direction.
During the initial planning of Beautiful Desolation, the evocative images that immediately sprang to mind were the incredible vistas and varied flora and fauna. We needed to showcase pieces of our country — a palette of multicolored sunsets, sounds of singing street performers, and the ocean breaking on beaches of white sand — here at the tip of this immense continent. The diverse individuals that live here should feature foremost.
Aesthetically the world of Beautiful Desolation takes its cues from early isometric RPG pioneers, like Fallout and Baldur’s Gate. In the days of limited full-motion video, the environments had to tell a story as much as the text. With this in mind, we made sure that each area you visited and each culture that we created was represented not only in its architecture but also in the clothing, and even in the lighting in each respective homeland.
For example, the Hanasi have descended from a proud warrior nation that fought off the robot oppressors. They adorn themselves with masks made from animal skulls and cover their bodies in armor made from hides. However, this bravado masks a people who are lost in the world and who are looking to reconnect with their past. The exposed lighting in their dusty junkyard home illustrates the harshness of their existence. The Hanasi architecture shows craftsmanship that has been patched by scrap metals and old cars. They have a history, but it has been covered up, chained over, and now lies in rust.
In direct contrast to the Hanasi are the peaceful Chiznyama, who long to leave the world behind and travel to their gods in paradise. Their village, located at a decaying airport, is peaceful and serene. They enjoy the protection of a large energy shield that has cut them off from the wild world around them. Throughout the world, there are ruins of Chiznyama settlements, a sign of a people that have withdrawn and are now culturally insular — and slowly dying because of this.
Africa is a place of magnificent contrast — an inspiration that we could use as a wonderland for our adventure game story. With so many landscapes, beautiful people, and rich stories this continent has to offer, we do hope that more digital artists explore its beauty. Or hop on a plane to explore it in person!