The first half of 2020 was consumed with the early days of the worldwide pandemic. Referred to as COVID-19, the highly contagious disease has miserably affected humanity and saw the world as we knew it come to a grinding halt. Due to imposed quarantines, people were forced to stay at home and go without. As a result of being stuck at home with nothing but their thoughts, people naturally became bored and eventually looked for new things to do. In the Philippines, the trendiest activities became biking and baking. At the start of quarantine, Instagram bakeshops such as Beyond Bakery or Bakes by Erk started to put up shop and fortunately flourished. Besides bakeshops, other small businesses like Oh Mai! and Plant&Grow also thrived during the start of this phase. Moreover, during this time, people were still somewhat hopeful about the outcome of this pandemic.
But the virus just kept getting worse, especially in the Southeast Asian archipelago. The masses needed to go out and do on-ground jobs to feed themselves – mainly because the government was failing its citizens and lacked the ability to efficiently aid their countrymen. The factor of the requirement that quarantines had become a conflicting issue, especially amongst health workers and economists. At the time of writing, the national capital region is placed once again under an enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) from August 6 to 20 – the most restricted quarantine classification. Conclusively, one thing is certain — the virus has affected the Phillippines' nightlife scene catastrophically.
But like love, music always finds a way. Thanks to the Internet, the music scene was still able to continue sharing the love for its art. Communities such as Manila Community Radio and transit were still somewhat thriving in spite of what's considered the longest quarantine in the world. Even if the ongoing pandemic has brought grief upon us, there is one thing to celebrate for sure — the truth that the people are starting to remember and reignite their creative spirit. Since the Filipino people have no choice but to continue staying at home as the world opened up around them, refusing to admit defeat, they got creative expressing themselves. Not only that, existing musicians and artists found that they have more free time than ever to nurture what they love. However, sometimes, inspiration can be scarce in one place and creators stuck at home quarantine want nothing more than to escape from their work.
Another popular activity during quarantine in the Phillippines was playing video games. Professional and amateur gamers alike emerged and the video game industry thrived as people needed a way to escape while being stuck at home. Video games allowed players to explore a fantasy world wherein they could become someone other than themselves.
Video games are truly an extraordinary form of art. It enables players to thoroughly immerse themselves in the world of another. However, as seen in most mediums of art, its solemnity is sometimes disregarded and only created as a form of entertainment for money. While this reality may not be a good or bad thing, it just goes to show the diversity of creation.
With that being said, Jorge Wieneke V (formerly similarobjects) is still a being of integrity – in the world of video games as much in the music scene. During the quarantine, Wieneke decided to retire his music container called similarobjects while pressing pause on his 32-bit virtual Club Matryoshka and explore new frontiers. Fortunately, he had another creation to work on and naturally, it intersects music with another passion of his: gaming.
Since October 2020, Wieneke has been working with a team of various experts on a video game called June: Tales from Cyberspace, which is described as a modern fable told in the form of an adventure puzzle-platformer game. "Explore surreal landscapes and help June solve intricate puzzles in order to bring a lost world back to life."
The video game centres around a character named June, the first child of the fictional world called Cyberspace. June is a non-binary entity born in the nebulas of the metaverse. In Cyberspace, you will explore as June while you discover her origins and shape her world perception in the process. During the adventures, you will encounter different micro-civilizations — each with its own unique ideologies and social structures. Some will befriend June while others will hunt her down. June: Tales from Cyberspace is a "caricature of our modern times, inspired by that dreaded existential question that we all aspire to respond to: “What is my place?”’
Wieneke currently works on the music for June: Tales from Cyberspace. So, I caught up with him to tell me more about it.
How is the gameplay like in June: Tales from Cyberspace?
June: Tales from Cyberspace is an artistic experience that merges together the world of gaming and fine arts. To create this versatility we combine elements of traditional video gaming such as platforming, puzzles, and stealth, together with real-world artworks from contemporary artists of DSLcollection.
Throughout its various biomes of Cyberspace, a collection of artworks are placed in the environment, taking the form of easter-eggs. They are used as conceptual keys that give the player a deeper layer of understanding of the character and storyline.
What are the video game’s mechanics/objectives?
The story of June is that of all of us. It talks about how the desire to belong, pushes us to search for acceptance in a world that is strange to us. As the first child of cyberspace, June is born into a metaverse that was long ago created by humans but is now inhabited by semi-autonomous creatures. As she travels through each biome, she looks for signs that can help her slowly unravel the mystery of her origins. The main objective is to help June discover her meaning and purpose through a series of ever-growing puzzles.
What inspired the video game?
June is a metaphor for the collective identity of a cybernetic culture. Wanting to create a modern hero, we got inspired by concepts from the contemporary artworks of the DSLcollection to create our own version of Cyberspace.
In the team, we’re all passionate about art, culture, music, video games and philosophy. Combined with our own existential questions regarding life and reality as well as our love for the concept of cyberspace, we took inspiration from all those fields and ideas to create a myth that would speak to our generation.
How did you become part of the team?
I met Calin Segal and Tiffany Attali from Children of Cyberspace while working on Club Matryoshka x CTM Festival’s Project Hyphae. They helped us develop the rich and deep lore for that event. We ended up enjoying our work together so much that they invited me to hop on their team for June. The chemistry was great and we just continued exploring that connection further.
Was it ever a dream of yours to create a video game?
Video games have always been a big part of me ever since I was a child. In fact, this isn't the first video game project I've been involved in, as seen by my participation in projects like Tactiles iQube, “Game On 2019’s Best VR Game” title “Mama mo”, XboxID’s latest “Soup Pot!”.
I’ve also been developing for a few years my own experimental video game concept album, called Infinite Regression. So it’s safe to say that working on video games has been both a dream and reality for me. I see games as such a strong medium that I really find myself drawn to it more and more these days.
How did you start creating music for June: Tales from Cyberspace?
Process: The challenge was to create a strong sonic identity and DNA for the whole game and to think of something that was non-linear but more of in terms of layering and sequencing and to create a musical experience that builds up based on how much you progress and advance in the game/puzzles. We wanted to encapsulate the idea of a fantasy cyber-world, but also retaining all the beauty of the human experience together with our lush history. Merging both synthetic and organic into an experience that exists in a world outside our own dimension has its own ups and downs due to its open endedness. In a way, what keeps us grounded is the objective of creating a sonic environment that can relate to the players and potential gamers.
So the goal was to arrive at something nostalgic, familiar yet unknown and new at the same time, by rolling together influences from every era and culture into its own ball of energy.
Of course I can never really go away from the influence of having grown up on classics like Final Fantasy, Chrono Cross, Ecco the Dolphin, Donkey Kong and beyond. Because video game music has always played a big role in my life. It was fun to be able to create a new experience for others, out of my own personal favorite games. Aside from this, the team and I have been looking towards June, the main character of this story, as a form of alter-ego. We’re taking the position of simply lending our voices to help birth the character. In a way, you can say the process is to act as a medium to the character, to let June speak through us — to be June…
Timeframe: We started working on the game last October 2020, 10 months ago. The team has been experimenting on different versions, iterations, tweaking the game on and off tirelessly while I’ve been developing many attempts at capturing the music and sound immersiveness. Our work is far from done, but I feel like it will only get better due to how much the team and I have grown to develop better synergy and understanding of each other's skills.
To be honest, it feels like it's just begun and the best of this project is yet to come. We’re only at the early beta stages now, so you can expect it to be fleshed out even better soon!
Inspirations: I would say my biggest inspiration for this project is June, the protagonist of the game. Being able to lend her my skills and act as a medium makes this project more than just a video game to me. It feels like an experiment in itself. Other inspirations for this include existentialism, Artificial Intelligence, Neural Networks, Proceduralism, Art and the Human condition and Polystylism.
Equipment: I wanted to make a blend and balanced use of both digital and analogue synthesis, so I’ve used both software (Ableton Live) and hardware: Elektron Analog Four, Elektron Digitone, Roland SP-404, RBMA Granular Convolver and Korg Electribe 2. I assemble, piece and stitch everything together in Ableton, then later tweak the implementation in Unity.
What are your favourite video games (all-time and current)?
To be honest, I have so many I’m not sure if I’ll be able to name them all but here are the ones that appear on the top of my head: Final Fantasy (VII, VIII, Tactics), Fallout 2, Chrono Cross, Suikoden 2, Death Stranding, Metal Gear Solid, Minecraft, Rust, Hades, Legend of Mana, Alien Carnage (Halloween Harry), Donkey Kong Country, Undertale, Monster Rancher, Pokemon, Undermine, Breath of Fire 3, Xenogears, Valkyrie Profile, Wild Arms, Brave Fencer Musashi, Bishi Bashi Special, Parappa the Rapper, MGS3: Snake Eater, Bully, Kingdom Hearts, Shadow of the colossus, Oddworld: Abe’s Exodus, Klonoa, Dino Crisis and more hahaha! I can go on and on…
How have you been feeling ever since the death of similarobjects?
I’ve been feeling less of the pressure to create, and learning to love the other parts of my being, accepting the need to rest, take breaks and just ultimately give myself room to get bored and get inspired. Feels nice not having to push myself to always make music and allowing inspiration to have ample time to grow inside of me. I’m having fun finding inspiration in so many other things and just allowing myself to breathe and live life and do stuff outside of music. It feels nice to give myself a break and just allow life to happen I guess! But I'm happy to find things that give me joy and keep me excited about life again :)
Any closing remarks?
June: Tales from Cyberspace is an indie game project run by an indie game studio so I'd love it if people could help support our little project! I’d love it if people could check out our Kickstarter and help fund a humble project like ours so we could possibly take the game to the next level. We have a long way to go but I’d love to see how we could evolve the experience further with everyone’s support <3