It is done.

Michaël Samyn, 12 December 2012

Three years after our previous release, two years after acquiring production funding, 15 months after the reference collecting began, a year after starting the actual work and 2 months after the original tentative release date, it is done, our crazy plan to make a multiplayer game about two people sharing a virtual space talking in sentences from Marguerite Duras has solidified in a download available now from the new website.

If you’ve been following this diary, you know that making this thing has not been straightforward and that there have been many doubts and worries along the way. Some trivial, some achingly existential.

The creation of Bientôt l’été has been a life altering process for me. So much so that I feel I am starting anew. I have discovered so much, learned so much, changed so much.

I’m not sure if I ever want to do this again.

But the result of all this is the very consolation. Not just because I find it very soothing to walk along the virtual shore or move chess pieces around in cyber space. But also because there’s so much in Bientôt l’été that inspires to do more. Even if it’s far from perfect or ideal, it’s invigorating.

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Simple mysteries.

Michaël Samyn, 12 December 2012

For all my talk about Bientôt l’été being my last work of art, it actually already contains the seed of how I want to proceed next. Which makes it both the piece that explored the furthest and the one that allowed me to discover a new, simpler approach to this medium.

Next to its intellectual complexity and emotional confusion, there is also an aspect of Bientôt l’été that is very easy to enjoy. And I wouldn’t call this aspect shallow. It deals with less ambiguous matters but it still connects to the mystery of our existence. And that is where I want to be with my work.

To touch the mystery. To connect with it. To get an intuitive understanding, or at least a sense of belonging. And maybe when that is established, we do not need to dig so deeply anymore. Or we can find it simply amusing to do so. Complexity can be very light, if we can appreciate how strange and funny the degree is to which some things baffle us.

The things that help us, the things that move us, are always simple. We are simple creatures. Very limited in intellectual capacity. But we have big hearts. And when we feel joy, we cry.

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Art for the innocent.

Michaël Samyn, 12 December 2012

For all my love for Bientôt l’été, I’m not sure if it is the most effective approach. It is possible that I have overestimated the potential audience for my work. If so, this is a mistake I need to avoid making in the future.

Sometimes it feels like wit is in overall decline. And while I sense a strong tendency towards infantilisation in our societies at the moment, ever increasing sophistication is not the way to combat it.

With Bientôt l’été I have indulged myself in a deeply narcissistic exercise that I can share only with my soul mates. It can function as my very own Soul Mate Detector.

But that is not the task of art.

Yes, I believe art has a task. Art can be beneficial for a society. And since it can be, I feel I should contribute, as an artist (*). Art can show us beauty, point out what is beautiful in the world. And experiencing beauty connects us with an aspect of our being that is noble, that is worthy of salvation. We are not consumers, we are not markets. We are not collateral damage. A sense of self worth is the basis for the emancipation of the human race from the economic and political systems it created but then lost control of.

We are not all super smart. But we do all have the capacity for nobility. We need to find that part of ourselves that is good, and kind, and beautiful. Art can help us with that.

As an intellectual with a lot of exposure to and experience with art, I easily grow weary of what I perceive to be corny, sappy, simplistic. And so I look for ever increasing complexity and sophistication in art.

That’s fine for the spectator in me, the user, the person who experiences and enjoys art. But not for the creator in me. Not anymore.

I’m glad I had the opportunity to dive as deep as I have with Bientôt l’été. But now it is time to surface, to move on. And grow up. To take up my responsibility as a member of this community, and commit to my task as an artist.

(*) I don’t feel this needs to be the task of every artist. If only because I do often myself deeply enjoy the creations of artists who don’t give a damn and make very personal work. I just feel that given who I am now and what my concerns tend to be, I will be more satisfied committing myself to this task.

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Message in a body.

Michaël Samyn, 11 December 2012

I have said it before. Bientôt l’été is the last work of art I made. On the one hand because I have more or less dealt with what I wanted to deal with. On the other because I don’t see the point any more.

When I chose videogames as a medium for my art ten years ago, it was because I considered it to be the most suitable medium to explore contemporary issues. I felt that the old media were failing to address the complexity of life in the 21st century and that people really needed art that dealt with that.

This means that I believed that deeply explorative and complex art could help people solve the problems of today’s society. I don’t think I believe that any more. Today I find society has deteriorated beyond any hope for relatively comfortable saving through art-provoked thoughts.

Humans have lost it. Their civilisations have become a parody of themselves. And while there are a lot of theatrics, there is very little substance. Nor desire to even survive as a species.

I still feel art can come to the rescue. If only to offer a reason why our civilisation and species should be saved from oblivion. But this art will need to be extremely simple.

It is understandable that sophistication and complexity is not appreciated by the masses. But now we have also lost the elite. It has become virtually criminal to consider oneself more intelligent or sensitive than others. And any signs of behaviour that doesn’t fit with what is acceptable by the masses provoke aggression and bloodlust.

I don’t think people have actually become stupid. But stupid is how one is supposed to behave now. Intelligent art will not work in such circumstances. People are simply not equipped to deal with it any more. And there are no people around to tell them that intelligent art is far superior to the pulp rubbish we are allowed and encouraged to enjoy. Try that in a public place and risk lynching!

So to be effective, art will need to mask as pulp, be simple, so it can be accepted by the unaccustomed masses. Even if your art is intended for an elite, it still needs to be able to pass for shallow because otherwise the people who enjoy it risk public scorn, or simply prevent scorn by ignoring the art.

But your art also needs to penetrate the hearts and minds of the stupid, or at least of those who act stupid because it’s fashionable. No more deep exploration or honest investigation of complex issues! Deal with simple ideas, cliches even, but present them with charm –not irony! Be honest. Don’t even try to add hidden layers. Just trust your artistic soul that the meaning will be there, for others to find it, equally unconsciously.

Art as a secret communication between human souls through the vehicle of unpretentious entertainment made by bodies for bodies. For when the oppression is over, or when the system that pushes us towards this shadow of a life, finally collapses. If some of our bodies are still alive then, perhaps our souls will come out.

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Art and not art.

Michaël Samyn, 10 December 2012

I’m very excited about the projects we will work on after Bientôt l’été. But they also make me realise how special this one is.

In at least one of our future projects, we will attempt to make something that people like. Something that players find nice, pleasant. This will be a major driving force behind the design. It has to be good, good in that way.

And I now understand that art is something different for me. Art is not necessarily good. It is honest first. That doesn’t mean that when creating art, I do not try my best to make the experience pleasant and well crafted. But this is not the primary driver for such work.

Maybe I see art creation a bit like scientific research, in the sense that whatever the outcome, the research doesn’t fail if done properly. Disappointing results do not invalidate the research.

Honest exploration motivates my art making. So if I set out to create something that pleases people, I can’t really call it art. That’s something else for me. Also valuable, but most certainly different.

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Ah, to be understood.

Michaël Samyn, 5 December 2012

Imagine making art for people of equal intelligence as you, with similar interests and similar backgrounds! They would understand your references and your little jokes. They would appreciate your efforts to bring beauty into the world. And they would challenge you to go further, to dig deeper, to find more delight, discover more insights.

I guess this is how creators of popular games must feel. So many people to share their ideas with, so many people with similar tastes, similar interests. They never need to wonder about the point of their work and whether and how to address another audience. They can just spontaneously create. What a joy that must be!

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Inspiration overload.

Michaël Samyn, 4 December 2012

When I look at the collection of reference material for Bientôt l’été, I can’t help but feel inspired. Not the nice and practical “I know what to do” kind of inspiration. But the depressing and discouraging “So much stuff, how will I ever address all of this?” kind.

Nevertheless, there’s a lot there that deserves consideration. What strikes me as specifically interesting at the moment is the number of pulp references. That makes me think that perhaps something can be made around Bientôt l’été‘s themes that is far more accessible than the current game.

There’s references to fashion, to science fiction, to eroticism, to romance, to nature. All very accessible subjects. I don’t regret making a rather difficult piece in the end. But the opportunity to revisit these things is appealing, if somewhat daunting.

I can think of a lot of things that I could do with this subject matter. But the easiest ideas to have are often the most complicated to execute. And since technology is not getting easier and distribution of software requires ever increasing levels of bureaucracy, as the corporations tighten their grip on the internet and therefor our audience, I am lately drawn to radically simple ideas. And those are the most difficult to get.

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Working for the quiet people.

Michaël Samyn, 2 December 2012

One of the reasons why our culture is flooded with loud banality is that the people who enjoy silence and integrity are, in fact, silent. They do not talk. They do not participate in the collective circus of capitalism. They do not vote on things. Because they believe making a competition out of everything is demeaning. So what they believe in always loses.

This is not how they see it. Since there is no competition in their mind.

This is our audience. We are like them. It’s difficult. But we believe these people deserve our dedication. Even if they never tell us how much our work matters for them. Even if they stay far away from the social and commercial systems in which their participation could actually help us progress and produce more. We respect their silence, their refusal. We want to support it. Help them feel strong. Connected even, maybe. An invisible network of humanity hidden deep underneath the robotic constructions of consumerist democratic society. Holding each other’s hands so we stay afloat while the self-indulgent self-destruction continues outside.

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Duras film: Moderato Cantabile

Michaël Samyn, 1 December 2012

Extract from Moderato cantabile, a film written by Marguerite Duras and directed by Peter Brook in 1960

— I should not have drunk so much wine.

— Since yesterday evening, you see, I have been thinking about it more and more. Since the piano lesson.
I could not stop myself from coming today.

— So what?
You are Madame Desbaresdes, the wife of the director of the factories on the coast. You live on Sea Boulevard.

— Yes, Sir.

And to conclude this series of Duras films, Peter Brook’s adaptation of Moderato Cantabile, the novel that inspired the situation in Bientôt l’été.

We see the factory worker Chauvin, played by Jean-Paul Belmondo, meet with the wife of his employer, Anne Desbaresdes, played by Jeanne Moreau, at a café table in a seaside town. This is the first time they meet. There had been a crime passionnel the day before in this café, and curiosity drove the woman to interrupt her daily walks here.

In the novel, many more conversations like this follow, whereas in the film, they meet in all sorts of places. The end result is the same, they fall in love but then decide this love is impossible.

I chose this extract to show the poverty and banality of the situation. There is nothing fancy about this workman’s café. And yet we are drawn to such places in search of some human warmth, away from the wind and the noise outside. We find comfort in the proximity of others, even if we have nothing in common with them.

As long as, perhaps, the conversation doesn’t make too much sense.

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Duras film: Nuit noire, Calcutta

Michaël Samyn, 30 November 2012

Extract from Nuit noire, Calcutta, a film written by Marguerite Duras and directed by Marin Karmitz in 1964

Wasting one’s time, one’s youth. Naive expressions she must be using. I wanted to talk about her despair. A great swelling wave smoothly flooding through her. It is the day before yesterday that her lover must have left. His name is Jean, as I heard.

The woman in Calcutta is blond. I will invent her tomorrow.

And that concludes the films directed by Duras herself. Nuit noire, Calcutta was directed by Marin Karmitz. It’s much more conventional than Duras’ own films (as are many of the adaptations of her writing). But it still retains dome of the atmosphere and themes of her work. And the discrepancy between the text and the images (the man is thinking about a novel he wants to write).

Spying on someone in a hotel room through the window, for instance, is a recurring theme in Duras’ work. And of course, the way the sound of the sea flows in when that window is opened is lovely. The almost full moon behind the man. Walking on the boardwalk in Trouville-sur-Mer -already! And the images of lone wanderers on the beach, reminiscent of the avatar’s roaming on the holodeck in Bientôt l’été.

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