Archive for February, 2012

An introverted game.

Feb 29 2012 Published by under musing

Bientôt l’été will be another disaster to show on festivals and fairs. It’s quiet, it’s subtle, it’s slow. There’s not even a whole lot to see. To enjoy it, you’ll need to concentrate, you’ll need to carefully monitor your own feelings. It’s about stopping, being still, musing more than thinking, allowing things to float through your brain to see if they touch something. That’s when it grips you.

It won’t jump up and demand attention. It doesn’t even want to exist without you. It’s an introverted game.

It deals with the kind of emotions that push an otherwise bright and gifted woman to drink. Not depressing thoughts or fear, but the sort of nervousness that passion can arouse. When you know that your body is too small and too inadequate to deal with the storms inside.

So you sit in silence. And you try to find a way to share the gleeful despair that love brings.

The sea is a metaphor for everything.

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Close to the avatar.

Feb 28 2012 Published by under ideas,musing

Bientôt l’été might be the first game we make in which the avatar is just a representation of the player. Usually things are more ambiguous, and the character you control serves as both the virtual body you use to explore the virtual environment as an independent character that is part of the fiction, someone you play the game with, not as.

In the earliest prototypes of Bientôt l’été, I was playing with such ambiguity. I loved the emotional effect of having the character walk away from the camera, becoming small, against the enormity of the sky over a flat beach. But when I started implementing interactivity, trying to express the introverted contemplation I so adore in Duras’ work, this stopped making sense. In Bientôt l’été, you need to be close by the character. You play their role. It is you who takes walks on the beach and collects things. It is you who meets a stranger in a café for an intimate conversation.

The background story of the space station, does add another later to your identity, though. You are not really playing this man or woman in the coastal town. All of that is a program running on a holodeck somewhere in space. You are actually playing a space traveller engaging in a romantic game with another space dweller.

On the other hand, one could say that the whole space situation is just a metaphor and not an actual story. I love the ridiculous complexity of this medium. It feels so natural!

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Au bord de la terre

Feb 28 2012 Published by under Duras

Au bord de la terre, le soleil est au bord de mourir.
Il meurt.

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Love on the net.

Feb 27 2012 Published by under ideas

The romantic theme of Bientôt l’été combined with its two-player aspect introduce an exciting range of simulation opportunities. I’m fascinated by the complexity involved with emotions one might feel for an anonymous partner represented by a virtual character. It’s easy to accept that shooting a virtual character controlled by another player is not murder. But I think we’re far less comfortable with the idea of falling in love with a virtual character controlled by another player. Just imagine your real life partner doing it with somebody else in a game!

So I feel a little bit perverted thinking what I’m thinking.

I was already considering a way for both players to express to each other how they feel about each other when they are talking at the café table. A simple gauge expressing amount of fondness would work fine. And each player sets it for themselves (no need for complicated deduction or vague symbols: each player decides for themselves how they feel -or want to play).  And then perhaps, if both players feel exceptionally good about each other, as a sort of reward, perhaps they could get to walk on the beach together. I imagine that could feel wonderful after all the solitary walks and the awkward conversations.

And why stop there? The “love gauges” could still be present when on the beach. And when both players agree, their characters could take each other’s hand while walking. When they stand still and both players notch up the love gauge a bit more, they could embrace, and then kiss, and then…

There’s nobody else on the beach…

It’s not that cold…

The sand looks soft…

Why not?…

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I, game designer.

Feb 26 2012 Published by under musing

When I think about it, I have to admit that what is most important to me in my work, is that its players enjoy it. So I’m not as different from other game designers as I sometimes flatter myself to be. They may call it fun, and I may call it joy. But that’s only a difference in nuance, if it is one at all. During the actual work, we have the same goals: we want to make something that gives pleasure to the player .

I’m far more satisfied by a player finding joy in my work without getting any deeper meaning out of it, than I am by someone who “gets it” but didn’t find the experience enjoyable. In fact, I don’t really have any message to share, or any insight -the interactive medium forces an author somewhat in such a position, anyway. I find joy in certain things and I try to share this joy with others in my work.

If there is a difference with designers of more conventional games, then it’s simply that I find other things fun than they do. But given the variety that already exists among even conventional games, isn’t this just a matter of adding to the range, rather than a subversion of the format?

Some of us find pleasure in running races or solving puzzles, others prefer shooting alien invaders and playing saviour of the universe, and once in a while, some of us like taking long walks along an empty sea shore. Since there’s already plenty of my colleagues involved in providing opportunity for the former, I’ll happily try and cater to the latter. So that everyone may have some software that amuses them.

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A body, to remember.

Feb 25 2012 Published by under aesthetics

The effect of reduced appreciation of the craft of painting through familiarity with photography, described in the previous post, does not apply to videogames yet. Even though many videogames use photography as a reference for aesthetic quality, we can still be impressed by the images they produce. I think this is, at least in part, because we know that there exists no technology that can capture a three-dimensional reality the way a videogame presents it. We know that all of what we are looking at is hand-made. This puts videogame artists in a position similar to that of painters before photography.

When I create a 3D situation for a videogame, I want it to feel real to the player. I want the player to feel like he is in that place, or at least be reminded of what it feels like to be in a place like that. If this place is inspired by an existing place, I can only rely on photography and audio-recording for part of the presentation. For the actual mood of the place, the atmosphere, the way it feels, there is no capturing technology. I need to create computational processes and make combinations of all of the elements that make up a realtime 3D scene, to present this reality.

So when I am in that place, in the real world, my body becomes a capturing device. I don’t photograph, I don’t record, I don’t make sketches. I stand there and try to soak up the place, to store what it feels like in the memory of my body. So that, later, in the studio, I can reproduce it in a game engine. Maybe this is how painters worked before photography.

And maybe this is why those old paintings feel so much more saturated with reality than any contemporary pictures (be they photographic or painterly). The artist could only present reality as he had experienced it, reality as he had lived through it, as a human. And maybe this is why I respond so much more emotionally to a painting than to a photograph. Maybe, watching the painting, my body re-produces some of the human processes that the artist went through to produce the image. And that feeling of sharing a sliver of life with a remote person on such a physical level, is very moving to me.

Let’s hope that 3D capturing technology is not invented before the Ingres of videogames can make his work. A few centuries from now.

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Ingres in the details.

Feb 24 2012 Published by under aesthetics

I was looking at reproductions of Ingres’ drawings and noticed that he was doing something similar to my white room + details idea. In this drawing, for instance, as in many of his, the face is worked out with more refinement and detail than the rest of the body. It feels a little bit odd when you start noticing this pattern in his drawings.

To a contemporary viewer, the oddness gets worse. After a century of modernism, and an unprecedented familiarity with photographic images, many of us would be inclined to appreciate the drawing of the body more than that of the face. In the loose lines that represent the fabric of the clothing, we enjoy seeing the hand of the artist. But when our eye moves to the face, we lose interest. She just looks like a woman, not unlike many depictions on Flickr.

When we move to a full painting, it probably becomes very difficult for us to appreciate the craft of the artist. Certainly, we admire the image for its content and aesthetics. But it takes quite a bit of concentration and experience to fully realize that this image was produced by a hand of a man, painstakingly applying paint to a canvas. Craft is far easier to recognize, for us, in the drawing of the clothing.

Will players of Bientôt l’été appreciate the empty space of the beach more than sparse detailed objects in it? I wonder.

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Details, and nothing but details.

Feb 23 2012 Published by under aesthetics,concept

When I started working on Bientôt l’été, I was trying to find a style that was vague, blurry and perhaps a bit glitchy. At the same time, I did want the 3D simulation to feel real, and tangible. A big part of the effect I wanted to achieve could be done in post-processing the rendered image. But for an image to be processed, it needs to exist first. So I figured I should build a game world first and then mess it up visually.

I designed and blocked out the exterior area over several iterations. There’s the sea and the beach, a dyke with a row of houses, a pier and an industrial harbour on one side and a villa on a cliff on the other, and there’s dunes. A lot of elements were inspired by my Google-enabled virtual visits to Trouville-sur-Mer, the city on the coast of Normandy where Duras lived for some time, aspects of which one can encounter in several of her books and films.

As the game environment started feeling like a real place, I also started to realize how much model and texture work was going to be needed to achieve a near photographic illusion. And what for? To mess up the rendering of this reality in post-processing. I realized that I was taking the long way around and that this was stupid considering the small scale of this project.

And then it came to me: why should I show anything in the game that is not important, that is not pertinent or poignant? So I swiped it all of the table and started, almost literally, with a blank slate. I had developed a fondness for photographs of early urban development at the seaside around the turn of the previous century (like this and this). I like the emptiness in those scenes. Not much had been built yet, but what was there was wonderful Victorian seaside architecture.

I decided to start from an empty space, a white room. And only add detail to elements that were important. In fact, make those elements as beautiful and “realistic” as possible.

It’s very liberating to think of my game environment as empty. Instead of worrying about how to get all those models and textures made, and where to make the unavoidable sacrifices, I can now work in a purely additive fashion (and accompanying positive mood). If I need a tree, I’ll add a tree and make it beautiful. But I don’t start from the assumption that there will be trees. Maybe there will not be any.

This idea also connects well with the artificiality of the holodeck context as well as with the gravitation towards silence in Duras’ work. And it’s something that is always on our minds at Tale of Tales: the desire for an aesthetic style that emerges from the medium’s own strengths rather than its capacity to imitate.

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Close your eyes to interact.

Feb 22 2012 Published by under features,ideas

One of the things I want to capture in Bientôt l’été is the sort of introverted, concentrated way in which almost nothing happens but a few words spoken, a small gesture made, the way in which Duras seeks for precision, accuracy, by standing still, and focusing. I wanted to find an interaction, a “mechanic” if you will, to express this, so you would feel this process when you play, do this activity of focusing, of freezing in your steps and concentrating. I felt I couldn’t use the “let go to interact” mechanic of The Path because, this time, the player needed to be in control. He or she needs to do this, engage with what they are looking at. But in a way that is almost passive, almost nothing.

So I came up with a simple idea: press a key to close your eyes: the screen becomes black, and the object you want to interact with fades in. You need to hold the key (=keep your eyes closed) long enough for the object to be completely “there”. When it is, the interaction happens (in most cases, collecting something from the beach, often a phrase).

This activity of closing your eyes is always available. You can also do it when no object is nearby. You can blink, if you like. As such it is our version of Grand Theft Auto’s greatest feature: honking the car horn. :) When you keep your eyes closed for a bit longer, your inventory of collected items fades in. We’re thinking of these items more as memories (as in The Path). Though there will also be real objects that you can carry with you and play with in the café.

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Silence, love, a beach -in space.

Feb 21 2012 Published by under concept

This new game started by combining two older ideas. One is the desire to create something interactive with the atmosphere of certain passages in Marguerite Duras’ novels: when lovers sit next to each other and stare into the distance, silently, or speaking words that seem dry or unfeeling or irrelevant or even cruel, while the reader knows the passions raging inside. The other idea is for an ambient multiplayer game set in a virtual park: you sit down on a bench and another player sits down next to you, you don’t speak, you don’t interact, you just enjoy each other’s company.

Duras’ novel Moderato Cantabile provided us with the basic situation for Bientôt l’été: a man and a woman meet in a seaside café. We do not plan to tell the story of the novel. We will just borrow this situation and combine it with other elements from other novels and add to this ourselves. In the café, you will meet another player and communicate with him or her in the awkward-yet-precise style of Duras’ dialogs. Ultimately we want you to fall in love with your partner, an impossible love. You might need to build up to that. Maybe over several play sessions. The elements you can use in the conversation will be found on the beach, outside. This is the single-player part of the game: strolling along the beach, collecting thoughts and things that wash ashore.

This entire world is presented as a simulation. You are not actually in a seaside town on the French Atlantic coast. You are in a space station, god knows how far away from the nearest inhabited planet. The seaside only exists on some kind of holodeck. And the people you talk to are far away, probably also on a space station, somewhere in the universe. This may not always be apparent in the game. We’re not sure yet how much of this science fiction framework we will actually display. But the assumption is definitely there.

For us, the holodeck and the communication in space is a metaphor for the actual situation of the players: on their computers connected through the internet, a situation very familiar and dear to Auriea and I since this is how we met and fell in love.

Maybe you will too.

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