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Kona, a Truly Québécois Game

June 8, 2016.
[Illustration by Alex Asfour.]

Kona Game, studio Parabole

[Illustration by Alex Asfour.]

Thanks to many large studios (Activision Beenox, Gameloft, Square Enix, Eidos, Ubisoft, WB Games, etc.) as well as several independent studios, there is no shortage of made-in-Quebec games. But until now, we didn’t really have any games actually set in Quebec and featuring local culture, except maybe for the werewolf tale Sang-Froid, by Artifice Studio, released in 2013. All the more reason to celebrate the launch of Kona.

Kona is an immersive adventure set in northern Quebec, in the 70s. You are Carl Faubert, a Korean War veteran turned private investigator roaming the wilderness outside of Chibougamau. You travelled to this remote location to meet a prospective client, the owner of a copper mine who seems to be having some trouble with the locals. But your client never shows up, and all the buildings of the settlement seem to have been hastily vacated.

Kona Game, studio Parabole

The game is basically a vast open space to discover, with few restrictions, other than those related to the fact that it isn’t fully developed. The storyline is not linear: the plot progresses at your own pace, as you explore and make discoveries, veering into the surreal.

The game throws in survival elements, the main one being how not to die of exposure. For example, if you want to stray from the car or any buildings, you must bring along fire-making tools. This element of cold-weather survival is reminiscent of the game The Long Dark, which takes place during a Canadian winter. Another threat is the stray wolves, always on the look-out for their next meal. You are not obliged to kill them, however; chucking frozen steak at them seems to satisfy their hunger. Rumour has it that you could even come across a wendigo. For your edification, ᑰᓇ (kôna) means “snow” in the Plains Cree language. The name is apt.

Parabole Studio was founded in Quebec City in 2012 by three former Beenox employees, Alexandre Fiset, Étienne Lemieux and Maxime Charbonneau. The Kona adventure started in 2014 thanks to a Kickstarter campaign that raised CA $44,271. Subsequently, the Canada Media Fund provided two separate grants, totalling some CA $330,000, enabling Parabole to assign 7 full-time staff to the project.

The game is developed with Unity. The quality of the graphics, especially the colours, depth of field and atmospheric effects, is remarkable. The Quebec forest, perpetually lashed by blizzards, is fittingly convincing thanks to SpeedTree for Unity 5.

The eery music, which complements the overall feel of the game, is the work of the folk rock group Curé Label.

Kona Game, studio Parabole

[The Magasin Général at Lac Atâmipêk, in the blizzards and bitter cold.]

Earlier this year, Parabole Studio decided to provide early access to the game in an unfinished beta state. This work-in-progress (30% of the final game), though somewhat buggy, is a bargain at CA $13; it is eligible for all updates, including the final version.

The application is available for Windows (7, 8, 10), Mac OS X (10, 9+) and Linux (Ubuntu 14.04, Ubuntu 16.04), on Steam and on COG. We hope that the game will be compatible with VR headsets like Oculus Rift.

Despite its imperfect interface and interaction management, the current version already gives you a good idea of the final game. The French-language soundtrack, performed by actor Guy Nadon, is incomplete, though subtitling is provided. One of the more interesting “bugs” I encountered was a lone wolf with numbed artificial intelligence who suffered no ill effects from being run over repeatedly. The final version is slated for August or September.

I encourage you to purchase the beta version: you will be supporting a small, talented team that makes original choices, besides treating yourself to hours of fun. If you don’t believe me, go see the comments on Steam; they are overwhelmingly positive.

Finally, this game is ideal for all Quebeckers who, at this time of year, with Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day upon us, are starting to actually miss winter. Crank up the air-conditioning, reach for a tuque, fire up the game, and be instantly, wonderfully lost in a blizzard.

Kona Game, studio Parabole

Kona Game, studio Parabole

Studio Parabole

[The team of studio Parabole, Québec.]

SpeedTree for Unity 5

SpeedTree is a procedural modelling tool for vegetation, specializing in trees. Used in both motion pictures and games, it is available for Unity 5 since late 2014. A large part of Kona’s visual magic is attributable to this tool.