When Stefano Maccarinelli looks out from his office, his gaze sweeps across the Vallemaggia. Between the mountain slopes, the river of the same name snakes down towards Locarno, flowing into Lago Maggiore after roughly ten miles. Perhaps this view of the Maggia also helped inspire the computer game that Stelex Software is currently developing. «Monorail Stories» is slated for release on the Steam platform in autumn this year. It tells the story of people commuting on monorail trains between two mountains – in the middle of nowhere and somehow detached from our reality. The two main characters, Sylvie and Ahmal, commute at different times and in opposite directions – but they are indirectly connected to each other. «They don’t know that they have a common story», says Stefano Maccarinelli. And the story changes with every decision you make as a player.
Stories of humanity and friendship
«Monorail Stories» aims to highlight the extraordinary things in everyday life and inspire existential reflection. The game tells «varied stories of humanity, friendship and intertwined fates» that arise in daily commutes, says Stefano Maccarinelli. For Stelex Software, based in the canton of Ticino, «Monorail Stories» is the most important project in the company’s history so far – and the game developer has been around for quite some time. Stefano and his friend Alex Quanchi started working on their first games back in 2004. The name «Stelex» combines the first names of the two founders. The initial titles – which were not really developed with professional ambitions – were the point-and-click adventure «I Misteri di Maggia» and the smartphone game «Dice Hockey», an original combination of ice hockey and chess. «We simply wanted to have fun, learn, experiment – and were happy enough when we managed to cover our low costs», says Stefano.
A lot of things changed for Stelex Software in 2012. Stefano and his wife Tania took over full control of the company and turned it into a professionally run organization. Stefano is responsible for programming and project management, while Tania takes care of everything graphics-related. Depending on the project, the Maccarinellis also hire freelancers to help out. In 2018, they brought «Eselmir and the Five Magical Gifts» onto the market, another point-and-click adventure inspired by the works of Swiss fantasy author Sebastiano B. Brocchi. In 2021, Stelex Software won the Audience Choice Award at the prestigious Swiss Game Awards.
Let’s turn to «Monorail Stories». The game features not just intertwined stories and precisely observed characters but a very special mood too. «We wanted to portray a world similar to ours but also far away and different. A world floating in space and time, a backdrop to the story’s almost dreamlike perspective, but one that doesn’t overwhelm the action», says Stefano Maccarinelli.
The graphic style of «Monorail Stories» is deliberately retro and in pixel art: solarpunk mixed with pseudo-realism and science fiction. Milan-based artist Marco Dotti is working with Stelex on this project and is responsible for the graphics. «Monorail Stories» is Dotti’s very first venture into pixel art – making what we can already see of the game all the more impressive. «To match the minimalist look and feel, we’ve removed all the unnecessary bits and pieces to emphasize the essentials», explains Stefano Maccarinelli. This was much more difficult than originally expected, says the company founder.
Innovative Twitch format
When it comes to the gameplay, Stelex Software also aims to bring a breath of fresh air with «Monorail Stories». This is no small feat, since point-and-click adventures are usually relatively static as a genre. To make everything a little more dynamic, «Monorail Stories» presents three different game modes: firstly, the solo story mode with its interwoven narratives and endings, and secondly, a multiplayer mode in which two players take turns controlling the two main characters. The third mode is also multiplayer, but it takes place on the streaming platform Twitch. Here, the streamer controls one of the two main characters, while another viewer from the platform takes over the other main character. «The result is a dynamic game in which streamers can play live with their followers», says Maccarinelli.
Castle legend in virtual reality
In addition to working on its own projects, the studio also takes on commissioned work. The best example is the VR project «Castello Visconteo». Stelex Software digitally replicated the castle on the shores of Lago Maggiore on behalf of the town of Locarno. That was quite a challenge, since only one part of the once-extensive building complex has been reconstructed. The Servizi Culturali and the Archivio of Locarno provided Stelex with a wealth of historical illustrations from the 16th century, which then served as a template for the VR model.
Stelex divided «Castello Visconteo» into three parts: a guided tour with a VR headset, a 3D world that can be explored freely and a visual novel. «Our studio focuses on narrative games, which is why we wanted to concentrate on an old legend of the castle», says Maccarinelli. The visual novel is based on Heinrich von Kleist’s story «The Beggar Woman of Locarno». «In a way, we’ve created a playable sequel to it», says the Stelex founder. If you’d like to try out «Castello Visconteo», you can do so at the castle museum.
Don’t be afraid of failure
Projects such as «Monorail Stories» or «Castello Visconteo» are a lot of fun, but also take a lot of work. «You start projects with passion, but ultimately you need discipline to finish them and make them successful», says Stefano Maccarinelli. The Stelex founder loves combining technology and art creatively within a project. Maccarinelli also has good advice for aspiring game developers, of which there are more and more in Switzerland: «Start small, don’t be afraid to try things out. But the main thing is not to be afraid of failure!»