Original article (Dutch language): https://www.nieuwsblad.be/cnt/dmf20190719_04518163
Het Nieuwsblad - 20/07/2019 at 06:00am by Kristof Bohez, translated by Lifelong Games
GEEL – She’s 93. She’s the voice of a new game, and actually also its star. For hours Bie described her memories to the war to her grandson Bob, who – being an gaming expert at Miami University - turned them into a unique video game: a dark thriller prepared according to grandma’s own recipe.
Brukel is the name of the game. A name that sounds delightfully mysterious in the United States, is in Geel but a simple reference to the street on which Bie grew up. A farmhouse that was suddenly taken by Nazis in the 1940s. Where German solders suddenly appeared in its living room around midnight, where she had to hide as a teenage girl from the horrors of the Battle for Geel – one of the most devastating battles during WW2 Belgium.
"We found ourselves in the middle of the front, we had to run for shelter to escape the gas. It is incredible how my grandson built that game."
- BIE VERLINDEN
Bie would tell the tales many times over. How she almost ended up burned alive in the basement, surviving in the nick of time. Stories that always stayed with grandson Bob. When he moved to the US in 2013 to become a professor of game design, he took the ideas with him: What if he turned those war memories of his grandmother into a computer game? The result is unique: At first you walk through the farmhouse, accompanied by Bie’s voice and English subtitles. Later on you end up stuck at the occupied domain, in the same way how Bie experienced it back then. There are bombings, fires, and other horrors that are based on authentic stories, soon to be discovered by gamers worldwide.
“I interviewed by grandmother for about 5 hours about her life during the war,” says Bob De Schutter from Ohio, where he is working at Miami University. “It took me multiple years and many trips back and forth to Belgium to gather all the information, and to design Brukel. A lot of it happened in my spare time, as it became a passion project. My goal was first and foremost to tell the life story of my grandmother, because many people can still learn from it. High school students, for example. I can see it work well in a class room and I have had a number of teachers show interest as well.”
And they are not the only ones. The game industry has responded enthusiastically about previews of De Schutter’s project. Brukel already received a number of awards, including an international one for most meaningful game. “Commercial success is not the goal for me,” De Schutter replies. “I want to make sure that the game works perfectly on every system and it would be great if I can break even. If it does better than that, the additional profits will be used to bring Brukel to gaming consoles such as the Nintendo Switch, Playstation 4 and xBox One.”
And what about Bie? She currently lives in close proximity to the renovated Brukel farmhouse and is still very sound of mind. She has never learned to play games herself, but she has seen the game being played. “I think it looks great,” she says. “Like it actually happened. Because everything you see in the game has actually happened to me. We found ourselves in the middle of the front, we had to run for shelter to escape the gasses that would suffocate us. I think it is amazing how Bob put all that together, but I am not going to do interviews everywhere if it becomes a success. I am too old for that.”
This fall, Bie will be 94, and around that time the game should become available for every PC. “We are still looking for a good day to release the game, potentially one with historical relevance.” Maybe interested players should keep an eye out for September, as it was around that time that British soldiers liberated Geel.