Opticale, Pokemon Go Rival Pops Up In Neutral Switzerland

Playing Opticale by Lake Geneva
Playing Opticale by Lake Geneva
Lola Le Testu

LAUSANNE â€" Inside Studio Furinkazan's offices, the Celestial Cascades suddenly appear. The heavenly jungle, naturally, can only be seen through your smartphone screen: A red light flutters around in the room until it is caught on the corner of a desk. Then it turns into a Tudù, a small iridescent blue bird with squirrel ears.

This is a special preview of Opticale, a new mobile game that will be available for free download iOS in early September in Switzerland, and before the end of the year elsewhere around the world, landing into an augmented reality gaming territory suddenly dominated worldwide by the Japanese-based phenomenon of Pokémon Go.

The marketing campaign for Opticale will start on social networks in early August, as users are invited to explore the parallel world of Astral Lands, and discover the extraordinary AR creatures who live there.

Basement pub startup

The project was first launched in 2014 by Soufian Malhouly, the founder of the Swiss startup Studio Furinkazan in the city of Lausanne. Working in the basement of the pub Le Petit Bistro Central, the enterprise brings together about 30 people from around the world, including some French, Finnish and Canadian team members.

The company has been financed by the personal funds of the founders and their immediate circle. "This decision gives huge freedom regarding creative control," says Soufian Malhouly. "This is probably why we are able to present such an elaborate project today.”

Opticale features 71 creatures inspired by various myths and tales. For example, the Grifftilon hiding in Lake Geneva refers to the strange stories about the lake, to the submarine explorations of Jacques Piccard and to the escutcheon shield of the city of Geneva.

The elaborate realism stunned Maurizio Rigamonti, a lecturer in design and programming of video games at the University of Fribourg. "When I tested Opticale, I was shaken," Rigamonti says. "The story is so compelling and plausible that one may actually wonder: Is this scientifically valid or not?”

Low costs

Despite the complexity of the universe, Malhouly estimates that the total cost of the game development has been about $102,000, about one-eighth what is normally would have cost. "Some nights, I didn’t even sleep, but I never thought of quitting," he adds.

The platform's revenue model relies on a system of "pay-per-win," meaning that the game will be free but with in-app purchases. Opticale uses geolocation and enhanced reality, just like the now famous Pokémon Go.

Pokémon Go competitors

Even though Malhouly laments that the launching date of his game is so close to the one of Pokémon Go, he is not pessimistic. "The success of Pokémon Go proves that there is a real market," he says.

The Studio Furinkazan team is counting on the elaborate universe of their game to set it apart from the Pokémon phenomenon. Others, including French gaming giant Ubisoft and even such efforts as Moscow's city government, are using enhanced reality and geolocation. "That's the thing about successful mobile games," says Malhouly. "The next day there are dozens of others that are basically the same, but with a different look.”

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How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.

But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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