02.05.13

Moonbot wants to bring myths to life with Golem


Moonbot Studios, the team behind 2011’s Academy Award-winning animated short and game/storytelling app/novel The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore, are looking to bring a new vision to life with Golem. With a gorgeous, hand-drawn Renaissance aesthetic and an intriguing take on the original Golem myth, it stands out even on Kickstarter’s crowded pages.

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For many years, William Joyce and our team at Moonbot Studios have been fascinated with a tale rooted in Jewish folklore. The Golem's story originates in Prague and has rippled through pop culture for decades: Frankenstein, Terminator, Prometheus. It is the first great monster story retold in countless variations.

Our game is set in the early 16th century. Europe is being overtaken by Cesare Borgia, ruler of an evil army determined to exploit the world’s greatest cities. Prague has become one of the most innovative cities on Earth and a haven for inventors and pioneers. Rabbi Loew, the greatest scientist and religious leader in all of Prague, must do something to stop this evil force. In a prayer dream, he has a vision of a giant man made of clay, wood, metal and stone — a Golem.

Gameplay centers around controlling the Golem and encouraging the five “guilds” to power up your various materials to make you a tougher customer. There’s also something about a soul...

If you’re wondering who these Moonbot folks are, The Atlantic profiled the studio and its wondrous first project back in 2011, calling it “The Pixar of the iPad Age” and extolling the virtues of it’s first app:

“[The app] recounts the wondrous adventures of a book lover who dotingly cares for a living library before writing a book himself that tells of "his joys and sorrows, of all that he knew and everything that he hoped." Gorgeously illustrated, Lessmore breaks new ground in the way that it incorporates interactivity. Each page has a wormhole of interaction. Read about a song and perhaps a keyboard will pop up and guide your fingers to plunk out "Pop Goes the Weasel."

When Morris Lessmore hand-feeds alphabet cereal to his books, the reader gets a bowl too, with letters that can be dragged along through the milk to spell out words. Each page holds its game like a secret and puzzling out what to do encourages the reader to look harder, knowing they'll be rewarded. The games pull the reader deeper; the narrative pulls the reader farther. The tension between lingering and racing is potent.”

The animation really is something special, and the focus on interactive storytelling – (but not Interactive Fiction, mind), was truly groundbreaking. They’ve been busy since, with work like The Numberlys and a soon-to-be-released PS3 Wonderbook game, Diggs Nightcrawler.

Golem seems to me a more personal, heartfelt project. While the above examples are charming and worthwhile (well, the jury’s still out on Diggs), Golem has the capacity to be darker and more adult. There’s whimsy in the art style, but also an inescapable gravitas.

There’s something appealing about the cross-pollination of storytelling methods wielded by Moonbot – traditional animation, interactive design, light game design – and I’d personally love to see them succeed in the more traditional video game format as well. We often complain about the lack of truly great storytellers in our medium – welcoming the Moonbot folks into the fray certainly can’t hurt.