Meet the real-life rebel who inspired the platformer Dandara.
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What could a 17th-century Brazilian revolutionary and a gravity-defying videogame heroine possibly have in common?
A courageous heart, a passion for justice and a name: Dandara.
When indie studio Long Hat House set out to create its surreal 2D platformer, Dandara, they were inspired by the stirring tales of Dandara dos Palmares, a warrior who fought to end slavery in colonial Brazil. The result earned worldwide praise for its innovative action and themes of empowerment.
“She was at first an inspiration for our main character – the design, clothes and style – so we named the project after her: Project Dandara,” says Long Hat House developer Lucas Mattos. But as the team shaped the game’s story, it resonated so closely with the lore that the name stuck.
Few detailed records about the real-life Dandara survive. We do know she joined Quilombo dos Palmares – a large community of fugitive slaves, mainly of African descent – and fought against Portuguese and Dutch oppressors in the late 17th century.
“The legends say she was a warrior, a hunter, knew capoeira [the Afro-Brazilian martial art] and was a great strategist for the Quilombos’ defense tactics,” says Mattos.
Those traits are represented in the game’s agile heroine – a modern Afro-Brazilian warrior with a long, flowing yellow scarf – as she sets out to restore balance to a mystical land plagued by oppression and fear.
To traverse this dystopia, Dandara leaps gracefully from floor to wall to ceiling, firing magical arrows at fantastical enemies. There’s no true up or down in the game’s interconnected environments, many of which are inspired by Long Hat House’s home city of Belo Horizonte, Brazil.
Initially the developers made Dandara’s world modern and gritty, arming her with all sorts of lethal weapons. But the shift to a less realistic, dreamlike realm called the Salt proved a much better fit for the character.
“With these changes, the weapons ended up becoming powers, drawn from her energy,” says Mattos. “Missiles and machine guns had to change in tone, becoming more magic-like.”
The real Dandara was married to Zumbi dos Palmares, a key figure in the country’s slavery-resistance movement. She was arrested in 1694 when Portuguese settlers invaded the Palmares region in northeastern Brazil. Rather than be forced back into slavery, she took her own life.
“Dandara comes to the game bringing the meanings and stories she carries with her name,” says Mattos. “Through her, the player is able to bring balance to the game’s universe by overcoming its own obstacles.”
Heroes of Dandara’s race and gender are all too scarce in videogames, and the creators of Dandara hope their work inspires other developers to resist familiar stereotypes and forge new paths.
“There’s a whole world of stories and people that we, as an industry, have been neglecting,” says Mattos. “The more people play and enjoy games like Dandara, the more they will discover all these sources of inspiration we have been missing.”