You Play a Post-Apocalyptic Fungus in 'Mushroom 11'

Just because humanity doesn’t survive the end of days doesn’t mean there’s no one to root for.

Oct 16 2015, 10:00am

Even after the apocalypse it's still impossible to find a good apartment. Credit: Untame Games

When I asked Julia Keren-Detar if the mushroom in the new game Mushroom 11, which she's the creative lead on, referred to a fungus or to the cataclysmic cloud of an atom bomb, she said it could be either.

In the game, it is clear that civilization has fallen, the world tapped out, and all that's left is rubble, mayhem, and the low lifeforms that can survive the harsh terrain. In your journey through it, you can try to put together what ultimately wiped humanity from the planet. Before you immediately start waving your finger at fungal spores for going and goofing up the planet, you should know that in Mushroom 11, you play as the fungus.

"There's really interesting science behind mycelium," said Keren-Detar. "How it can break apart complex compounds and how it can support life. Mycelium is this part of fungus that can support a lot of life by pumping carbon dioxide into the soil, it basically stabilizes compounds for plant life. Some people have used it to break down and dissolve oil spills. There's a lot of information there, though it mostly served as inspiration for the story."

Mycelium, unlike the simple super mushrooms of Super Mario Bros., doesn't have a great rap in the video game kingdom. We most memorably saw the spindly veiny web of mushroom fibers in The Last of Us, hosting the invasive Cordyceps, the infamous "zombie" fungus that causes mycelium to replace tissue in its infected host and even manipulate the poor critter (humans in video games, ants in real life) to serve its needs (cannibalize others and bring upon the apocalypse in video games, seek out ideal temperatures to spread more spores in real life).

"It took over a year to get the mushroom to look and feel right."

You are not this menacing in Mushroom 11. The game revolves around playing as a blobby hunk of shroom that explores the empty Earth. You use the mouse to eliminate parts of your mass to create more, branching new bits of you in another direction. A kind of rapidly hardening Play-Doh that navigates the landscape, solving puzzles, taking on bosses, soaking up small insects and other mushrooms for points.

The original prototype for the game was made during a Global Game Jam; the theme was ouroboros, a snake eating its own tail. Julia thought her husband, Itay Keren, was insane for hoping to program a playable reproducing blob prototype in 48 hours, and he managed it in eight.

"I just think he's insane," said Keren-Detar. "It took over a year to get the mushroom to look and feel right. It took a really long time. He sort of had to arm-wrestle Unity to get it to do what he wanted it to do. And even just the logic of getting the mushroom to grow where you want it is also complex."

Similar to THQ's ambitious creepy crawler Dangerous Creatures, your just-sentient protagonist's lack of self-consciousness and speech doesn't stop the story. The narrative develops around you, the world leaving clues for you to stitch together.

Because Julia Keren-Detar appears to be an optimist, she hopes her next game will also revolve around the apocalypse. Specifically, she'd like to adapt the Great Famine of 1315 that preceded a chain of wars and plague that wiped out nearly 70 percent of Europe in the Middle-Ages, into a video game form.

"I'm only going to focus on the famine part. Keep it simple," said Keren-Detar. "Apocalypses are these strange, fun things."