Although the Dreamcast enjoyed only short-lived success in Europe and the US, development of new games continued in Japan for many years after Sega discontinued the machine. Like Saturn before it, the retreat of Dreamcast into the East made the console the preserve of passionate import gamers. Enthusiasts lapped up the endless supply of hardcore beat-’em-ups and shooters while others sought out more unusual experiences. LOL: Lack Of Love is one such game, a quietly released adventure that now commands high auction prices thanks mostly to its relative scarcity and provocative title. But Lack Of Love isn’t just a collector’s item to be bought, re-sealed and bragged about on forums. It also happens to be one of Dreamcast’s best-kept secrets, a beautifully crafted adventure game with a pertinent moral message.
Made by Lovedelic – the studio that later became skip Ltd, developer of Chibi-Robo! and Captain Rainbow – LOL was designed in collaboration with Ryuichi Sakamoto, the world-renowned musician behind the famous theme tune to Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence. The aim was to guide an alien lifeform through the evolutionary process from embryonic amoeba to huge four-legged mammal, all the while investigating the appearance of a robot visitor, intent on transforming the planet in preparation for human colonisation. Easier said than done. The genetic code required for each evolutionary stage could only be acquired by helping other creatures in need – their problems identified by observing their behaviour.
The act of helping others was at the core of LOL, just as it is in skip’s more recent games and is a value close to the heart of lead designer Kenichi Nishi. “We should care for other people, life, the environment and nature,” he tells us when asked about LOL’s message. “Sakamoto came up with the title,” he continues, “We wanted to question the way in which our lifestyle lacks love.”
But how did a relatively unknown designer and world-famous musician end up creating a Dreamcast game together? “We met through a mutual friend,” explains Nishi. “One day when I was working around midnight, my friend called me and said ‘Mr Sakamoto is coming to the Club Eden. If you come I could introduce you to him’. Of course, I put my work aside and went to Eden right away.” Eager to spend time with someone he admired greatly, Nishi arrived at the club and asked if he could sit with Sakamoto, who agreed instantly and happily chatted with him. “We talked about music, games, movies, novels, and computer technology for almost three hours even though I’d only met him for the first time. In the end I asked him to give me his address because I wanted to send him Moon, the PlayStation game I was working on at the time. And he gave me his email address,” the designer exclaims.
A friendly exchange of emails ensued until the pair found themselves discussing James Lovelock’s Gaia Hypothesis. This scientific theory suggests Earth’s geology and species exist to work in harmony and will respond to global ecological changes in order to maintain the planet’s ability to sustain life, and that the planet could, in fact, be considered a living entity in its own right. Sakamoto asked: “Can we make a game from the Gaia Hypothesis?” and suggested he write the music for such a game.The idea for Lack Of Love was born.
Now to decide which platform to develop the game on. Lovedelic’s previous two games were both published on PlayStation, but Lack Of Love was destined for a newer console as Nishi reveals. “Mr Hirose, the president of Sega at the time, persuaded me to develop LOL for Dreamcast at the penthouse of a hotel in New York, as we looked at the Empire State Building right across from us.”
Work began on Lack Of Love in 1998, with Sakamoto formally assigned to soundtrack duties toward the end of the project but continually suggesting ideas to Nishi throughout development. Hikarin, Lovedelic’s in-house artist, worked on the backgrounds, creating a half-familiar landscape full of alien-looking plant life and creatures. While Nishi took care of the overall direction.