Today we would love to talk about this breathtakingly beautiful game called “Never Alone” (Kisima Ingitchuna). You may have heard about it. It has received an incredible amount of positive media coverage from Euro Gamer to Forbes. Yes, this is not just a puzzle platformer. It’s a flagship product of the Iñupiat, an Alaska Native people, in an effort to transfer their culture to the younger generation.
This unique position makes “Never Alone” a very special game on many levels. It’s the first Alaska Native-themed video game ever produced. It’s not only about the Alaska Native people, but also made in collaboration with Alaska Native people. Nearly 40 Alaska Native elders, storytellers and community members have been, and continue to be, involved in all aspects of the development of the game: from initial concepting to final production. Even the whole game is narrated by a master storyteller in the spoken Iñupiaq language.
To visualise such profound culture and traditions is definitely difficult. There is a risk of being too mainstream and not reflecting truthfully the spirit of the Alaskan Native culture. Fortunately, Dima Veryovka, Art Director of “Never Alone”, has had experience and advanced study in indigenous art to do the game justice. He has shared with us the remarkable insights he had while developing the game.
“I grew up in a family of artists, in the beautiful city of Odessa, Ukraine, located on the short of the Black Sea. Throughout my childhood I spent a lot of time in my dad’s art studio helping him with various projects, and learning how to sculpt, carve stone and work with many other materials. I graduated from the St.Petersburg Academy of Arts (Russia), where I earned a Master’s Degree in Fine Arts and Architectural design. After graduation, I began working as a toy designer, sculpting toys and characters for clients like Disney, Hasbro, Mattel and many others. Shortly after, I launched my career in interactive entertainment where I was a key member of the design and development team of the SOCOM series, MAG and Unit 13. Twelve years later, I joined the E-line Media team in Seattle, as the Studio Art Director.
I have been in the industry more than 14 years, but I have never worked on such an amazing and creative project as “Never Alone”. This project is truly unique because it is the first video game developed in deep partnership with an indigenous community. It is also very special to me personally, because I love Inuit art and studied indigenous culture at the Arts Academy. Additionally, much of my early artwork, including stone and bronze sculptures, was highly influenced by Inuit art and mythology. This project gave me an incredible opportunity not just to learn more about Alaska Native culture, but to meet and collaborate directly with indigenous artists, storytellers, and elders.
The only way to be successful in making a game about living people and their culture is to work closely with them. During development we collaborated with more than 40 cultural advisers, and made more than a dozen trips to Alaska. This included three trips to Barrow, Alaska; the largest and northernmost town in the US, where we met with Iñupiat community members and participated in community events big and small.
With each visit to Alaska, we became increasingly connected with and inspired by the people we met. Their stories and ideas were deep drivers for the game we would make together. Many of the Iñupiat artists and storytellers even visited us in Seattle, and helped us tremendously throughout development. In addition to buying many art books and going to several galleries, our team had the opportunity to explore the private collection of Alaska Native artifacts at the Smithsonian Museum in Anchorage. We were able to view authentic Alaskan Native art, tools, and clothes up close. We took photographs, examined, and even held several pieces.
None of this is normal practice for general game development, and it is also the reason why “Never Alone” has been one of the most interesting and creative projects I have been a part of. I’m excited to share some of our experiences with other artists and developers.”
Iñupiaq artist Ron Saganna shows Dima a bear skull at the Heritage Center Art studio.
“The idea was to create this game with a very atmospheric, soft looking feel that captures Arctic beauty. I drew first concepts using a lot of pastel, desaturated colors, which helped us create very moody, dreamlike visuals, while still portraying an authentic and believable Arctic world.”
On the Arctic Ocean
“Trying to embrace the Iñupiat people’s philosophy, spiritually, and the mysticism of their heritage, I draw a lot of sketches in black and white. Over time I managed to develop my own graphic style that is original, but at the same time reflects the Iñupiaq artistic vision. Initially, I draw all new ideas in that style and as the design becomes clearer, we develop it further in 3D with more colors. The characters were inspired by Artic dolls. We tried to give them a very authentic hand crafted feel to make them look like somebody had sewn them using fur, skin and ivory. Creating characters in 3D and using realistic materials like fur and skin helped us very much in achieving that.”
Characters inspired by Arctic dolls
The Ukpik Owl Man
You can get “Never Alone” the game here and dive into this atmospheric world to explore awe-inspiring environments, trek through frozen tundra, leap across treacherous ice floes, swim through underwater ice caverns, perform heroic deeds, and meet legendary characters from Iñupiat stories!
This blog was first published on Kuvva blog.