Luxuria Superbia is not a game about sex – at least not in that way. It doesn't present you with two polygonal characters shuffling awkwardly at one another, limbs passing through limbs, lifeless eyes locked in a thousand yard stare. It is not like that at all. Although that is sort of where it started.
Four years ago, Auriea Harvey and Michaël Samyn, the husband and wife team behind experimental development studio Tale of Tales were at a GDC roundtable talk. Taking part with them was veteran game developer Brenda Romero who asked a simple question: what is the game mechanic of sex? She went on to talk about Japanese hentai games and dating sims, but that opening question had Harvey and Samyn interested. What the hell is the game mechanic of sex? And how do you simulate or explore it in a game with out, you know, this happening?
So Tale of Tales started a Tumblr called Cncntrc. They collected images that spoke to them about sex and spirituality: flowers, gloriously elaborate astrolabes, circles, lots of circles. They explored the links between sex and ornamentation, they looked at Buddhism and architecture – ideas of courtly love, garden design, the love temple in Versailles. They wanted to make a game that explored the idea of sex as an allegorical journey. They started prototyping.
Released today, Luxuria Superbia is the culmination of that iterative process – a game about touching, giving pleasure, and transcending from the purely sexual to the purely spiritual. The experience involves using the touchscreen or joypad to stroke the insides of flower-like tunnels, bringing out new colours and blissful music. If you touch the walls in the right way, the score goes up – the game likes it. The art is in the balance: movements must be slow and measured, you can't rush to success. You are giving pleasure. During the GameCity festival, I sat with Harvey and Samyn in a pub and played it as they watched: "It's a very sensitive game," explained Samyn, "You touch it very little, but it responds a lot. It is light, it is subtle."
It is all about metaphor. Touch and metaphor. Throughout history the flower has been a symbol of female sexuality, of female sex. From the courtly love ballads of the early Middle Ages through the Romantic era, poets have had something else in mind when they have written about roses. Luxuria Superbia, plays with this concept. Toys with it. The journey through each of the 12 tunnels is organic, playful, sensual. As you touch, the game gives you messages. It asks to be kissed. Gently. Again. Slower. It feeds back desire. Often you need to touch in several places at once; your hands open and close as points of light throb beneath your fingertips. Yes, it says, right there. It's weird, but at GameCity I watched a colleague play the game before me and it felt voyeuristic, their fingers trailing languorously across the screen.
There were many prototypes before this. Harvey and Samyn tried reversing the Rez model and having the tunnel flowing toward you, so that you feel like you're moving backwards. It didn't work, it didn't feel… penetrative. The duo agonised over how obvious to be. At first, there were more prosaic versions – one was even set in a cathedral – but it wasn't working. Frustrated, Harvey just said, "oh screw it, it's in space!" But space didn't work either. It was all just too subtle. "A friend of ours played it for an hour," said Samyn. "Then a week later he calls me and says, 'I get it, it's about sex".
So they swung the other way, toward an overtly biological feel, but this too lost the sexuality. They moved on to flowers, to the idea of a colourful, beautiful entity. Now when you progress through the game, each of the 12 tunnels looks… floral… but all have different themes, from earth, to sea, to sky and beyond. As you play, as you touch, objects frolic along the walls – on the sea level, they are little boats and life rings, elsewhere there are petals and butterflies. What does this add? "We realised the game was missing something," says Samyn. "It was missing humour. And humour is very important in everyday sex."
|Luxuria Superbia is a colorful, musical journey made to fill you with joy. Exciting designs explode from your touch as you glide through playful stylized flowers. It’s all about the experience and the interaction.|
That's the lovely thing about Luxuria Superbia. It could easily have been some intellectual erotic essay, some lofty treatise on libidinous imagery. It isn't, it's fun, and challenging and kind of raunchy. It works on your imagination, but also on something subliminal. It has in its mechanic a central truth – that 'success' in love is uncertain and unscientific, there is no FAQ. The only way to make someone happy is to put your hands out and touch, and learn from the connection. Luxuria Superbia says that the game mechanic of sex is something to do with giving.