Lisa Q&A – Behind The Painful RPG

Billed as “the painful RPG” during its Kickstarter campaign,  Lisa caught my attention for two reasons: its cute art style, a cross between Mother 3 and The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, suggested a dark comedy similar to South Park, and, most of all, it promised to present players difficult choices that affected the gameplay. Thankfully I didn’t have to wait long after writing the first Kickstarter Weekly to review the game, and while I’m not sure if Lisa presented any revolutionary ideas regarding (moral) choice systems, I can say it presented me some serious dilemmas with dire consequences; I even had to walk away from my computer for half an hour before I made a decision for one gruesome scene.

These choices have stuck with me long since I completed the title in January, so I decided to email Austin Jorgensen and find out what inspired him to create these gut-wrenching scenarios. Find out after the jump how Austin feels about modern gaming’s (moral) choice systems, whether or not he feels his game was too harsh, and why he felt compelled to include that one horrific scene in which…nope, never mind; it’s too disturbing for me to even spoil.

Lisa Image 1
While this scene isn’t in the game, it is an accurate representation of the kind of hardships you’re forced to endure.

1. What are some aspects of (moral) choice systems in games that frustrate you, and do you think you’ve addressed some of these issues with Lisa?

Austin Jorgensen: There are two things that stand out the most to me:

  1. The choices don’t directly affect the gameplay; therefore, they take away from the gift of being an interactive medium (video games). If you make a tough choice and it either greatly hinders or aids you, it adds a lot more weight to the situation.
  2. Knowing the right choice. This actually has been improving a bit over time. However, I do have a problem with games giving you the good choice and the bad choice. If you’re going to make it that black and white, then why even bother with it at all?

As far as how choices were handled in Lisa go, I don’t think anything you make will be as amazing as it was in your head. I did my best to stand out and give gravity to the choices. In some ways I think I succeeded; in others I may have fallen short. One thing I did find out is that people were not ready for true sacrifice in gaming. The majority of people did not like the forced Russian Roulette scene.  I don’t think people were ready to lose their comrades in such a swift and unrelenting way; it just resulted in a lot of save scumming (restarting) for most players. I’m not ready to give up on the themes of sacrifice and loss in gaming, but I may need to use a bit more finesse. 🙂

2. Did you ever feel the need to consult anyone close to you about whether you should or shouldn’t include some of the harsher scenes such as the aforementioned Russian Roulette bit?

Austin Jorgensen: No. When it was a big moment in the game, I didn’t talk to anyone. I didn’t have anyone with whom I was comfortable enough to discuss these things. I’m sure anyone would tell me I’m stupid and it’s a bad idea, haha. I did, however, ask opinions for smaller things/details.

Lisa Motorcycle
Lisa isn’t all about making tough decisions. Sometimes there are happier things, like motorcycles.

3. Most players instinctively save before making key choices so they can quickly see both options play out. Since Lisa has one outcome with a limited degree of variability, were you worried that most players would act on their instincts? Did you try to design any safeguards to encourage them not to reload their previous save slots?

Austin Jorgensen: This was almost entirely an engine problem for me. I would have loved to implement an autosave feature, but I couldn’t get anything I was happy with. It may be a blessing in disguise; I think the game would have been looked down upon if it was that harsh. With that said, regarding most of the bigger choices you have to make, you’ll know exactly what the outcome will be. You’ll know what you have to lose or gain, and you’ll know how it will affect your playthrough.

4. For some choices, Brad had his mind set and the players didn’t seem to have a say in the matter. Why did you design these scenarios to disregard the player’s input?

Austin Jorgensen: Because at this point you have lost control. You control Brad; you are Brad. At a certain point, Brad has no control and neither do you. It’s purely thematic.

5. Finally, there’s one twisted decision that I told you made me get up and consider the consequences for half an hour. You mentioned it was bizarre for you to include, so I was wondering what made you decide to go through with it?

Austin Jorgensen: I became fascinated with it. The scene contains a choice that’s so simple and almost insignificant in the grand scheme of things, but it really made you question what was the best thing to do. This decision was a battle between your heart and your brain. This is always the most difficult type of choice we make in real life: to follow your heart or to follow your brain?

Lisa is now available on Steam. Check it out and then let us know in the comments which one you chose to follow: your heart or your brain.

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