Santa Ragione is affixed with a statement; ‘Micro game design studio’. It is almost certainly referring to the size of the two-man studio that Pietro Righi Riva and Nicolò Tedeschi helm. To avoid confusion however perhaps it should be rewritten as “Macro game design studio” as a clear distinction that their ambitions are more expansive than their tagline indicates.
As curators of the exceptional Lunacade; an international exhibition that has visited Shanghai, Sydney (with Bryan Ma) and Milan, they have promoted work from efficacious developers such as Tale of Tales, Die Gute Fabrik, The Chinese Room and Terry Cavanagh. Most recently showing their support for the impending LA Game Space by creating 90’s movie search em-up; VideoHeroeS.
It is important to note the role the duo play in supporting their peers as they deserve to be celebrated as much as the studios they endorse. People who are sampling their latest work seem to agree, a saturnalia is taking place online inside a subastral explorer named Mirror Moon EP.
A tightly designed options screen introduces an obtuse cockpit; the insides of a spacecraft where switches and levers are poised without label or explanation. After fumbling around for a while, the curious are rewarded with accidental progression; and inadvertently launched onto the face of a red planet.
The studios design philosophy seems to incorporate a penchant for restricting freedom, but as a means to focus not hinder: Fotonica’s forward sprint fixated on jumping through duotone abstractions. Pipnis; a shooter with dual spacecraft joined at the hip concentrated on teamwork. Mirror Moon presents a familiar FPS layout only with the aim locked in trajectory at deep space. The obligatory weapon is replaced by a bizarre instrument. There is no official term for the tool but “key holder” and “power arm” was used in development, preferred over the inevitable ‘gun’ reference. Personally I was expecting something more fantastical like; ‘celestial speculum navigation imager’ but key holder is probably more catchy.
Exploring the landscape provokes a sense of loneliness, manifesting as you try to grasp an understanding of your locale and your role. The impatient or incurious might want to abort the search, but the colour palette evokes hypnosis; coercing you to roll the giant sphere beneath your feet. As your gaze is firmly anchored to the ether the planet’s surface is barely in view, but on reaching them; figurations pulsate and ghostly architecture looms vitreous on the horizon, opaque or transparent depending on your knowledge of it. The eclectic structures in Mirror Moon are not only mesmerizing but house something important; attachments for your key holder.
A revelation comes through discovering that distant moons genuflect to your commands, your key holder fires signals which reflect back onto the ground you walk. This creates a generative map that lights the way to points of interest. Moons can be plucked out of the infinity, spun and repositioned, essential for the completion of the planets puzzles.
Little by little you uncover the intricacies of space. You familiarise yourself with the nuances of the cockpit; a star chart teases an expansive galaxy, urging you to search wandering stars and decipher enigmas. Single player simultaneously induces feelings of uncertainty and (initially) a craving for guidance. The longing for companionship becomes palpable as you witness striking vistas that you want to share, players only come into unison however through the multiplayer component of Mirror Moon.
Exploration is still singular, but the knowledge that others are simultaneously probing feels comforting. Forums are awash with oracles, speculative coordinates and imagery of space tourism, all the impetus needed to be first to land on a undiscovered planet, and whoever does; gets to name it, it transforms the experience into quests of camaraderie and produces a collective effort. Newcomers fearing a galaxy already discovered are given updated ‘seasons’ which make room for new pathfinders, the previous seasons planets forever engraved by the names their venturers chose.
In previous work the studio paid homage to the anatomy of the book in The Dustjacket. Users were tasked with finding the minutiae of print; publisher logos, typefaces and cover art. Even though this takes place on a couple of shelves in a room, there are parallels with Mirror Moons expanse; discovery, attention to detail and accomplishment. Santa Ragione wants us to look at things that might go unnoticed, whether that is a book, a constellation or a developer (Cardboard Computers; kentucky Route Zero has its own planet). Maybe the ‘Micro’ statement is accurate after all, a hint that Santa Ragione pour over details as devoted micrologists?