Well, what's this here, then? Nakana.io is bringing an autobiographical adventure game to Switch, Xbox and PlayStation 4 called Cosmic Top Secret, and it's certainly a mind-bender!
Cosmic Top Secret — which is apparently an official term used by NATO for the juiciest of secret secrets — is a game built around the real-life story of its creator Trine Laier as she investigated her parents' historical activities during the Cold War and discovered, to her surprise, that they may have been agents of espionage for Danish intelligence.
As you can see from the reveal trailer above, the game has you rolling, flying and investigating various events and people involved — including "spies, army leaders, math geniuses, fighter pilots" — finding out their entertaining and unusual stories as you piece together the story. The game's mixed media, zine-style presentation is certainly eye-catching, and plays into its themes of investigation and conspiracy beautifully.
The game has won various awards including 'Most Amazing Game' at Berlin's A MAZE event and the Culture Award at IndieCade in 2017, and it's a little hard to describe... which is why we've gone straight to the source — creator Trine Laier — to find out a little more about Cosmic Top Secret's style and story...
Nintendo Life: What inspired you to turn your parents’ story, and the history around the Cold War topic, into a video game?
Trine Laier: To begin with I did not know that my parents had such an extraordinary story. They were just mum and dad — economist/soldier and housewife — casually talking about their work over dinner. Once I told my animator colleague Karla about it and she started telling whoever we met, how cool it was that my parents were spies. I thought it was pretty annoying that she kept on bragging about it. “Can’t you keep it down a bit Karla, this is not something to just shout out loud about!”
Then later when my dad accidentally told me he worked on DASK, the first computer in Denmark I got seriously intrigued - what the heck did he actually calculate on that machine? But he refused to tell me, because of his lifetime confidentiality pledge to the intelligence. “IT'S ALL OR NOTHING!” He said rather dramatically and then I decided it's gonna be ALL!
I started playing out with ideas, drawing my dad and missiles - following him around and recording it. I pretty much knew I wanted to do the story as a game, because I love games. I did not not know what kind of game, except that I wanted to bring my dad's physics into it - and his: “No! I can’t answer you!”
Hence the first prototype for Cosmic Top Secret was inspired by the Brio game where you have to roll a metal ball through a maze in a wooden box. (In our version you had to steer my dad instead and try to avoid him falling into the holes, because then he would drop his mobile and you would lose the connection to him, and then you could not ask him what the heck he worked with!)
The game started to take shape and people joined the production. I called the Intelligence and asked to get access to my parents files. They were pretty surprised, but said they would discuss it in the “Organisation” and get back to me. My parents were invited for a briefing about what they could talk about and what not. Then it became quite awkward - they were asking: “Well, Trine, go ahead and ask us - what do you really wanna know?” and I was like: “I dunno what it is I don't know and want to know.”
It kind of frames the theme of Cosmic Top Secret to me. How does secrets influence our lives? How can we know if we don’t know what it is we don’t know? And do we need to know everything about each other? These are the questions I hope the players will ask themselves whilst playing Cosmic Top Secret.
Can you tell us about the mixed media stylings and explain a bit about the creative process in crafting such a unique-looking experience?
It happened really intuitively - I printed a photo of my dad in a rush, cut him out and drew some cartoony legs and some scribbles on his Robe Di Kappa polo shirt and put it together with tape. Because of the fisheye angle from the photo, he ended up having some really big hands and arms. Two fingers were bandaged together, like his real fingers were after an accident throwing hand grenades.
It was important for me to keep those kinds of “left-overs” from reality and portray him as a real human being with ALL it implies of faults and scratches. Those were also the first signs that he would not stay with me physically forever. He became so much a character, that it was impossible to change it and in a way his design defined the style of the rest of the universe. The crumbling of the paper, the characters falling apart, the old documents with sensitive information etc. everything seemed to fit together in that structure. These big hands were also great material for the animators, when animating all his resolute officer like gestures.
During the 7 years of production, we researched and collected tons of old photos, videos, interviews, documents, items - and of course recorded many new ones too. The hybrid visual identity we settled with allowed us to present all this true content and sometimes let players directly interact with it.
If you had to sum up the game in a single ‘elevator pitch’-style sentence, how would you describe the experience to prospective players?
It’s about The Cold War that I grew up in and my parents protected me from while working secretly for the Intelligence. It’s also about broken legs, unspoken things and up-and-down feelings. Despite our faults we should accept and love oneself and each other. What started as a personal project rolled into a paper ball that got larger and larger, grabbing some awards on the way, inspiring the creation of a life-size event at the Cold War Museum of Denmark, and ultimately making its way to all the major gaming platforms!
If you’re interested in the game and want to chat with the creators, follow the game’s News channel on Switch, follow Nakana.io on Twitter (the publisher on Switch) and join a dedicated Discord channel on their server and (hint: you may want to remember this special code: MEATBALLS).
The game has been available for some time on non-console platforms — have you played it? Let us know below what you think Cosmic Top Secret is all about and — crucially — if you think T's dad really was James Bond... but, you know, Danish.