Last updated

Thralled logo.jpg
Director(s) Miguel Oliveira
Producer(s) Tiffanie Mang
Platform(s) Microsoft Windows, OS X, Ouya
Genre(s) Platform, puzzle
Mode(s) Single-player

Thralled is a platform puzzle video game about an 18th-century runaway slave and her baby escaping the Portuguese slave trade. The game began as a senior project in the USC Interactive Media & Games Division and later became an Ouya exclusive after being discovered by Kellee Santiago.

Platform game video game genre

Platform games, or platformers, are a video game genre and subgenre of action game. In a platformer the player controlled character must jump and climb between suspended platforms while avoiding obstacles. Environments often feature uneven terrain of varying height that must be traversed. The player often has some control over the height and distance of jumps to avoid letting their character fall to their death or miss necessary jumps. The most common unifying element of games of this genre is the jump button, but now there are other alternatives like swiping a touchscreen. Other acrobatic maneuvers may factor into the gameplay as well, such as swinging from objects such as vines or grappling hooks, as in Ristar or Bionic Commando, or bouncing from springboards or trampolines, as in Alpha Waves. These mechanics, even in the context of other genres, are commonly called platforming, a verbification of platform. Games where jumping is automated completely, such as 3D games in The Legend of Zelda series, fall outside of the genre.

The University of Southern California's School of Cinematic Arts's Interactive Media & Games Division first accepted M.F.A. students in 2002. The division currently offers both undergraduate (B.A.) and graduate (M.F.A.) programs in interactive media and game design. The programs include courses in game design, development, audio, animation, and user research as well as experimental work in gestural and immersive interfaces, transmedia design, and interactive cinema.

Ouya video game console

The Ouya, stylized as OUYA, is an Android-based microconsole developed by Ouya Inc. Julie Uhrman founded the project in 2012, bringing in designer Yves Béhar to collaborate on its design and Muffi Ghadiali as VP of Product Management to put together the engineering team. Development was funded via Kickstarter, raising $8.5 million and becoming the website's ninth-highest earning project in its history at the time.



Screenshot of gameplay Thralled Screenshot 9.png
Screenshot of gameplay

Thralled is a side-scrolling platform and puzzle game [1] where the player-character is a runaway slave mother escaping the Portuguese slave trade with her baby. [2] The runaway slave, Isaura, escapes from a sugarcane plantation in 18th-century Brazil to find her missing child. [3] She travels through Congo jungles [2] and "colonial New World", and confronts the pains of losing her child and own past. [3] While pursuing freedom and in fear of being caught and returned, [4] she completes puzzles that include moving carts and cutting rope-bridges while temporarily relinquishing the baby. [1] When the baby is placed down to move objects and cross chasms, a dark apparition version of the main character appears and approaches to take the baby. [5] Settings include the plantation, a slave ship, and a castle that stores slaves for trade. [4] The game has no dialogue, so Isaura expresses herself through movement. [4] The game is played through a sole action button which either comforts the baby or interacts with the environment. [2]


Thralled debuted in mid 2013. [1] It started as a student project by creative director Miguel Oliveira and his peers at the University of Southern California Interactive Media & Games Division [3] — Oliveira's senior thesis. [2] He and animator Tiffanie Mang continued the project after their graduation and planned an iOS release. [4] When Ouya developer relations head Kellee Santiago saw the game, she approached the developers about a deal: funding in exchange for exclusivity. They agreed, [3] and the agreement funded the new development company. [2] The game was shown at the March 2014 Game Developers Conference's Ouya booth [3] and in the June 2014 Electronic Entertainment Expo's IndieCade section. [1] Early feedback said that the game was too difficult, which hurt the level of "tension" upon trying again. [6]

iOS Mobile operating system by Apple

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Platform evangelism is the application of technology evangelism to a multi-sided platform. It seeks to accelerate the growth of a platform's commercial ecosystem of complementary goods, created by independent developers, as a means to the end of maximizing the platform's market share.

Kellee Santiago American video game designer and producer

Kellee Santiago is a Venezuelan American video game designer and producer. She is the co-founder and former president of thatgamecompany. Santiago was born in Caracas, Venezuela and was raised in Richmond, Virginia, where she played video games from a young age and was encouraged by her software engineer father to experiment with computers. While attending New York University's Tisch School of the Arts, she became active in experimental theater, and intended to pursue it after earning a master's degree in the Interactive Media Program of the School of Cinematic Arts at the University of Southern California. While there, however, she became involved in video game design, and produced Cloud, a game developed by Jenova Chen and a student team. Its success sparked her and Chen to found thatgamecompany upon graduating, and she became the president.

The mother and child element was chosen to "universalize" the horrors of slavery—that the latter could be made easier to understand through the former. [4] The conceit was also a way to not focus on the violence of the era, which Oliveira said he could not accurately or comfortably depict. [6] Thralled is also partially to humanize the tens of millions in modern slavery worldwide. [4] Oliveira has said that he thought the video game medium was young and should be pushed further, as well as that the interactive medium has endless possibilities for self-expression of "intimacy", [2] for broaching hard topics, and for empathizing with victims. [6] He felt that most games focus on "primitive", animal feelings—"aggressiveness and competitiveness"—and was interested in empathetic and humanizing games that focus on "love and caring". [6] The idea of the shadow figure that pursues the unaccompanied baby descends from a Congolese idea of the dead's world as parallel and reverse to ours, as viewable through reflections in bodies of water and mirrors. The developers also integrated their research on period Congolese and Brazilian culture into the game. [6]

It is expected for release in 2016. [3] The developers have no plans to release on other platforms and have not said whether the game is a timed exclusive, [3] though Polygon reported that it was one. [2]


Pre-release reception praised the game's artwork and concept. [1] Polygon 's Colin Campbell called the game "emotionally challenging" when citing the baby's cries and Isaura's conspicuous fears. [4] He noted that its gameplay and Ouya exclusivity were likely weak spots. [1] The "chilling experience" made Kotaku's Evan Narcisse cry. [4] He said the game made him consider the lengths to which he would go for his own daughter's betterment. [5] Director of antislavery organization Walk Free Debra Rosen praised the game for its role in raising awareness about modern slavery. [4]

<i>Polygon</i> (website) Video game website

Polygon is an American video game website that publishes news, culture, reviews, and videos. At its October 2012 launch as Vox Media's third property, Polygon sought to distinguish itself from competitors by focusing on the stories of the people behind the games instead of the games themselves. They also produced long-form magazine-style feature articles, invested in video content, and chose to let their review scores be updated as the game changed.

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  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Campbell, Colin (June 12, 2014). "Thralled is a beautiful and heartbreaking game". Polygon . Vox Media. Archived from the original on June 20, 2014. Retrieved June 19, 2014.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Hall, Charlie (June 14, 2014). "CEO Julie Uhrman talks about the future of Ouya and new exclusive game". Polygon . Vox Media. Archived from the original on June 20, 2014. Retrieved June 19, 2014.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Corriea, Alexa Ray (March 13, 2014). "Thralled, the colonial-era Brazilian slave story, comes to Ouya this fall". Polygon . Vox Media. Archived from the original on June 21, 2014. Retrieved June 21, 2014.
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Campbell, Colin (September 24, 2013). "This emotionally challenging game attempts to bring home the pain of slavery". Polygon . Vox Media. Archived from the original on June 21, 2014. Retrieved June 21, 2014.
  5. 1 2 Narcisse, Evan (August 22, 2013). "I Need This Haunting Game About a Runaway Slave to Get Finished". Kotaku . Gawker Media. Archived from the original on June 22, 2014. Retrieved June 21, 2014.
  6. 1 2 3 4 5 Carmichael, Stephanie (March 19, 2014). "Empathy game Thralled explores slavery through love and motherhood, not violence". VentureBeat . Archived from the original on June 22, 2014. Retrieved June 21, 2014.

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