Exclusive interview with Miguel Oliveira, Creative Director of Thralled

Thralled logo Image

Not often do we see games stray away from the norm. Most games nowadays don’t touch on taboo subject matter or contain minorities in their games. I and many others believe that the more diverse our industry becomes, the more games will have diverse characters or deal with a wide array of untouched subject matter.

As developers of varying backgrounds get into game development, the more diverse video games will become. The people who play games come from all walks of life and the need for new, different gaming experiences is essential for this industry to grow.

Thralled is a 2D puzzle platformer that takes place in Brazil during the 1700s. You play as Isaura, a female slave who escapes from her captors and immediately sets off to look for her newborn son. It’s a surreal game that aims to show the sacrifices and struggles Isaura must endure in order to find safety for her and her son.

We were fortunate enough to interview the Creative Director of Thralled, Miguel Oliveira about the game.

Miguel Oliveira
Miguel Oliveira

IGR: What are your duties as Creative Director?

As creative director, I am responsible for inventing and managing the creative vision for Thralled. In other words, I make sure that we stay true to the principles and philosophies we set to follow, and that the story, interactions, design, etc. – all elements of Thralled which we create – are consistent with those principles.

IGR: Where did the idea for Thralled come from?

It came from the necessity to talk about slavery and the crimes of my ancestors; I was born and raised the Portugal, the nation under which the majority of Africans were enslaved in the period of the transatlantic slave trade – it’s estimated that around 30% to 50% of these enslaved were taken to the ports of Brazil, a former Portuguese colony – and the country that really pioneered the transatlantic slave trade movement.

People in Portugal don’t really talk about this, however – I learned next to nothing about the Portuguese’s involvement in the widespread human trafficking in either the classroom or popular depictions of our history. Concealing this part of our past is a profoundly irresponsible way to preserve it.

Furthermore, slavery is something that should be talked about, something that we must not be allowed to forget; not only because it created noxious notions of race with which we still live – namely, racism toward people of African descent – but because slavery, as an institution, is very much alive and well, with around 30 million people enslaved around the world today. It is a pressing issue, and one we must talk about and find solutions for.

IGR: What kind of research did you have to do while developing this game?

Research of all kinds – We have looked thoroughly in literature, film, music, on libraries and on the internet, and consulted Historians knowledgeable on the subject in order to find pertinent information.

IGR: What has developing an indie game allowed in terms of creative freedom?

It has allowed as much creative freedom as I could ask for – It’s really fantastic. There are no creative impositions on OUYA’s part, so we’re free to do as we wish. Our only constraint is, of course, budget, but OUYA has been gracious enough to grant us enough to accomplish our goals.

IGR: How has your relationship with OUYA been during the development process of this game?

It’s been absolutely wonderful. Kellee Santiago and Jared Yeager, the folks responsible for dev relations whom we work the closest with, and the rest of the OUYA team are amazing. They’re really supportive – Without them, Thralled wouldn’t be possible at all.

Thralled screenshot - baby

IGR: I was fortunate enough to play the demo your team set up at Indiecade last month. The demo had some great looming tension involving a ghostly figure going after your baby when you were required to leave it alone for a bit. Is tension going to be a main theme in the game? Are there ways in which you mix up that tension or add even more tension?

I’m not sure if I would call tension a main theme of Thralled. It is one of the feelings we are most prominently trying to stir, but Thralled revolves more largely around love, the kind of motherly love that Isaura, the main character, feels for her child. We like to believe that the tension you describe stems from the attachment you may have felt for the baby, and the fear of losing him.

Tension comes as a consequence of love, which – along with attachment, empathy, and respect – are indeed the main themes of Thralled. Tension, fear, and unease will be present in Thralled, as they must – because Thralled’s subject matter is what it is – and there are a variety of ways in which we will attempt to induce those feelings, but they are deliberately applied to encourage reflection about the human consequences of slavery and stir empathy for its victims’ plight, and not for their own sake.

IGR: The themes around this game are rarely touched on, talking about slavery or depicting slavery in entertainment mediums has become taboo. With that in mind, how have you gone about developing the game? Has it changed the creative process?

One of our main tenets in approaching the topic is to have the utmost respect for the people we’re depicting. One needs to start there, and from then on we check every creative decision we make upon that principle. In other words, we have gone about developing Thralled very carefully to make sure we do not break that tenet. We started development with that tenet in mind, so the creative process hasn’t changed as a consequence of as much as it was founded upon it.

IGR: On social networking sites the “I Need Diverse Games” initiative launched earlier last month. It’s a call for more diverse protagonists in gaming. What’s your view on this initiative? And your views on gaming’s lack of diversification? **

I think it’s a fantastic initiative. We need more voices like this, asking for diversification in our medium. If we want our medium to be taken seriously, we need diversification, we need to be equipped to tell all sorts of stories, from all kinds of perspectives. Imagine if all films were like Transformers and all music was, say, like Miley Cyrus’. Not that I have anything against them, but we need more – We need Citizen Kane and we need Beethoven. Interactive media, like all media, can explore the whole range of the human condition in unique ways. This medium we are working with carries so much potential, so many possibilities, so many ways in which we can explore and express ourselves. It’s about time we seize that potential.

IGR: What do you want people to take away once they play this game?

Our ultimate goal is to make our audience empathize with the plight of the characters, to make them care about them. This sense of empathy, combined with the notion that the type of suffering that is abstractedly portrayed in Thralled was and is in fact real, will hopefully heighten our audience’s sensibility to others’ suffering. Maybe it will inspire people to help others in some way; maybe it will do its part in making the world a little better.

I like to believe that I’m in the business of molding minds and shaping hearts. I believe interactive media has this potential power to inspire, to bring about change in people – It is a potential that we are trying to tap into.

Thralled screenshot - night

IGR: When are you aiming to release the game?

We’ll make an announcement about the release date pretty soon!

IGR: I remember at Indiecade you mentioned that the game was exclusive to OUYA for a limited time. What other platforms are you planning to release it on?

PC, Mac, console, mobile – As many as we can get it on!

Our thanks to Miguel Oliveira for taking time out of his schedule to do this interview.
You can read more about Thralled over at its official website:

And get updates on the game by following:

@Thralled on twitter

** ( and on Twitter as #I Need Diverse Games)