Archive for June, 2012

Agatha

Jun 20 2012 Published by under research

I first encountered Agatha through Marguerite Duras’ film Agatha et les lectures illimitées and only later read the booklet (which is structured as a theater play, but it’s not unusual for Duras to include theater- or film-like descriptions and instructions in her work). The film consists of long shots of the lobby and immediate surroundings of Les Roches Noires, the former hotel in Trouville-sur-Mer where Duras lived (and earlier also Marcel Proust). Over these slow images, Duras and her much younger partner Yann Andréa read the text. Once in a while a woman or a man is seen standing still, looking away. The man is played by Yann Andréa. The woman by a younger actress.

The text and the way it was read in the film mesmerized me and has profoundly influenced how the voice parts are handled in Bientôt l’été. Not that there’s anything special about it. It was exactly its dryness and virtual indifference that made the effect so emotional, so strong. It was quite difficult to get our voice actors to speak like that, especially considering the rather heavily emotional content of some of the text.

A man meets a woman after receiving a telegram from her asking him to come quickly because she loves him. When he arrives she tells him that she is leaving him.

In the conversation that follows the man tries to understand the reason why. Because it is obvious that the woman still loves him. They reminisce their youth at the seaside, near a river, exploring an abandoned villa, playing piano and making love in an old bed in the empty building.

Suddenly it becomes clear that the man and woman are brother and sister. And that this is the reason why their relationship has to end.

Agatha is a beautiful text filled with wonderful descriptions of the many emotions that coincide with love. Some people have argued that Duras is a subversive writer with her portrayal of aberrant characters and relationships. But I deeply disagree.

Her work is about the beauty of love. But it doesn’t avoid its complexity. She investigates love, obsessively, and isn’t afraid to explore what’s underneath. But never to the point where she abandons the concept or discredits it.

When she writes about incest, we see the beauty of love, and feel the sadness of its impossibility. She doesn’t demand rights for this special love to exist, to be recognized. In a way, the complexity, the impossibility only makes the love more beautiful. And we do not want to destroy that by making it acceptable.

Love is disruptive, love is not easily controlled but at the same time love can be a habit, can grow into some kind of organ or a limb. And the fear of an end to love is that of amputation.

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L’amour

Jun 19 2012 Published by under research

I found Love the most difficult of Marguerite Duras’ novels I’ve read so far. I actually read it a second time, when I realized that I just didn’t get it. The second time, I read it very slowly and deliberately. It remained a difficult work but I did discover its beauty.

Three people on a beach. Two men, one woman. It’s the same beach as in all the other novels by Duras. T. Beach, S. Thala. With features that remind very strongly of Trouville-sur-Mer where Duras lived. The boardwalk, the hotel, the town on the hill behind the coast.

One man walks near the shore, in the distance. When he comes at the end, he turns back. Or sometimes he disappears. He is followed by gulls, sometimes. The other man is near the woman. She sits on the beach. He approaches her, seems interested in her romantically. She is evasive.

Sometimes it feels like they have done this before. That they came back to this place after having been away for a long time. Maybe one of the men was looking for the woman.

They meet each other, and they leave each other. Like the tide. During the day. Sometimes at night. They cry. They sleep.

It feels like the entire story takes place on a long straight stretch of sandy beach. Though it’s difficult to find a “story” in the novel. If anything, the lack of story in L’amour has greatly inspired and supported my own desire to have no story in Bientôt l’été.

There is no need for a story. We are dealing with emotions that we all know. But what we need is an opportunity to explore them, to see them in another light. To discover the indifference at the bottom of love, or the beauty of distance, the joy of unfulfilled desire and the poetry of psychological torment.

A dog dies on the beach. After a storm, we find dead seagulls. A man screams. A woman plays with the sand. Her eyes are closed. We want things. We know it. Yet we play. We play the game of human contact. We know that we can never get as close as we desire. So the distance of communication is comforting.

We always return. We are glad to see each other. Glad to have company on this incomprehensible piece of rock hurling itself through time and space. The sunset is beautiful.

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Le ravissement de Lol V. Stein

Jun 18 2012 Published by under research

The Ravishing of Lol V Stein is a key work of Duras for me. Next to The Lover, it’s the one I remembered most vividly reading in my early twenties, when I first came in touch with the writing of Marguerite Duras.

The entire book revolves around a single event. An event that recurs in several of Duras’ novels. There’s a ball in a seaside casino. This ball is attended by a young couple, very much in love. An older woman swoops in and captives the attention of the young man. He dances with her the entire night, and when he leaves with the woman, his former fiancee still sits in the same position, numb, holding her friend’s hand.

The Ravishing of Lol V. Stein takes place ten years after this event. Miss Stein has spent most of this time in a psychiatric institution, but when the book starts, she lives in a beautiful villa, married to another man, with three children.

Like Anne Desbaresdes in Moderato Cantabile, Lol Stein enjoys taking long walks all over town. On one of these walks, she follows a man to the home of a her friend from back at the ball, Tatiana Karl, also married in the mean time.

The man whom she had followed turns out to be Tatiana’s lover, Jacques Hold. When he falls in love with Lol, she rejects him and prefers to spy on his encounters with Tatiana in a hotel, instead. Lying in a wheat field, she watches them through the window, while he knows.

At the end of the book, Jacques accompanies Lol to the seaside casino where Lol’s drama occurred. The tension rises during the train ride there, but when they finally arrive and see the abandoned ball room, nothing happens.

The casino and the hotel make an appearance in Bientôt l’été, as architecture housing the café where the players meet. And the mental state of Lol V. Stein definitely inspired the characters. They take long walks on the beach, while seemingly unconnected fragments of amorous thoughts float by, rushed in by the violence of the waves.

There’s always a feeling of insecurity about Lol. One never knows whether to expect a reasonable conversation or a complete nervous breakdown. And all the while Lol seems to frolic through life, almost giggling.

The novel switches viewpoints about one third in. The uncertainty about who is telling the story, rather typical of Duras’ style, was also very inspiring to me in terms of how to approach the characters. There’s a deep ambiguity about their role as avatars or characters in a story that seems to be missing.

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Moderato Cantabile

Jun 17 2012 Published by under research

The earliest ideas for Bientôt l’été were not based on any specific novel, but inspired but a certain atmosphere that is present in much of Marguerite Duras’ work. Above all, it was this atmosphere that I wanted to capture in a videogame. When starting the research for the game, we were quickly attracted to the setting and the main characters of Moderato Cantabile as a starting point for Bientôt l’été.

In a small industrial town on the North Atlantic coast of France, a murder has happened, interrupting the piano lesson of the son of Anne Desbaresdes, the wife of the local factory owner. A man has killed his lover in a café. Mrs Desbaresdes joins the crowd to see the murderer embracing his victim on the floor before the police take him away.

The subsequent days, Anne Desbaresdes strays from her usual walks with her child, to visit the place of the crime. She meets a factory worker, Chauvin, who seems to share her fascination with the event. Together they speculate about the reasons for the crime and the possible events that might have lead up to this desperate act, while discovering a taste for the wine served in the café.

Over the course of their meetings, the reader increasingly gets the impression that Desbaresdes and Chauvin are no longer talking about the strangers involved in the incident, but about themselves. It is never explicitly said, but somehow, in between the lines, one senses a sort of falling in love happening.

I grew up in the province of Belgium closest to the sea. My grandfather lived at the seaside, in the dunes, and we visited often. The long sandy beach of Belgium is a major attraction for spending leisure time. This has given me a fondness for the seaside that resurfaces when I read Duras, who lived on the beach of Trouville-sur-Mer for many years.

The sea is an important theme in her work. But also the socio-historical context. Seaside towns only started emerging at the end of the 19th century, because the water and the air were considered healthy. So they have always been places of leisure. Their earliest architecture is the Belle Époque and Victorian style so typical for the pass times of the well to do. Every seaside resort has a casino, for instance. And a seaside casino is another recurring theme in Duras’ work.

The situation of sitting at a café table, talking and drinking, is copied almost literally in Bientôt l’été. This is exactly what you do in the multiplayer part of the game. Not that there’s any chat. You find things to say on the beach. And you don’t know who your partner is (unless you use the special private mode and arrange to meet a friend). Your partner will always be displayed as the other character, regardless of their choice. So if you play the woman, they will be portrayed as the man. Because that’s how the story goes.

You talk, you drink, you smoke, you listen to music. and then, inevitably, there is nothing more to say.

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Novels read.

Jun 16 2012 Published by under research

I had already read a few novels by Marguerite Duras long before even thinking of creating something like Bientôt l’été. It was my philosophy teacher in art school who introduced me to her work. My friends and I adored it and devoured it, even in Dutch translation.

For Bientôt l’été specifically, I have read a dozen or so books. The text in the game (270 separate phrases at the moment) comes from these novels.

To read these books in their original language was one of my main reasons for going back to school to (re-)learn French last year and the year before. The spoken text in the game will be in French. But for the written text, a choice of translations will also be offered (English and Dutch so far).

Marguerite Duras is a very celebrated, if somewhat controversial, author in France. Yet, outside of France, her fame is mostly limited to Jean-Jacques Annaud’s 1992 film The Lover, which the writer disliked so much that she re-wrote the story of the novel that the film was based on and switched publishers when her publisher didn’t want to release a new book with the same story.

In an attempt to familiarize you, dear readers, a bit with the subject matter (and style) of Bientôt l’été, in a next few blog posts I will discuss the different books that I have read for this project, try to explain their stories and attempt to evoke a sense of the spell they cast on me.

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To pre or not to pre.

Jun 15 2012 Published by under project

I like that Proteus and Kairo offer an alpha build of the game well before release. I am now considering this for Bientôt l’été.

There’s two reasons why I want to do this. And one why I may not: if people don’t like the unfinished game they may never give the finished one a chance when it’s done.

However, we are talking about only a very small group of people that is interested in playing unfinished versions of games. So not much harm done if they don’t like it. Some people in this small subset may, however, like the game, and if they do, they might be very keen on spreading the word about it. And that is the best publicity an independent developer can get.

I also want to hear reactions to the game, before we confront “the masses” with it. I worry about Bientôt l’été. I have no idea how people will respond. The little experience I’ve had so far with collaborators playing the game, has been tremendously helpful already to help improve the game so many more future players will enjoy it. I want more such feedback.

I’m thinking of releasing a build of the game that doesn’t include some of the features that still need a lot of work. So this build would feel fairly polished and would be fairly stable. It would just be missing some parts. Which would help to keep people interested and curious. And it would also help optimize the simple core of the game. If that part is good, not much can go wrong by adding the missing features.

So, would you buy an alpha build of Bientôt l’été? And if so, would you share your feelings about it with us? Would you share them with your friends?

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Ne dites pas tout à la fois

Jun 14 2012 Published by under Duras

Ne dites pas tout à la fois, faites durer les choses.

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Sexy characters.

Jun 14 2012 Published by under concept

When I saw the final characters that Auriea created for Bientôt l’été I couldn’t help but chuckle. Just because they arrive at a moment when sexism is a hot topic in the games industry in the wake of E3. Here I was looking at two characters designed by a woman: a male character and a female character. The roles were reversed.

Completely according to the specifications inspired by the main characters in Marguerite Duras’ Moderato Cantabile, which serves as the basis for Bientôt l’été, the female character is strong, exudes authority and power and knows exactly why she’s here. She’s inspired by Anne Desbaresdes, the spouse of the business man who owns the factory and who lives in a gated mansion at the end of the Boulevard de la Mer. The male character is inspired by Chauvin, the rough factory worker who may have been stalking her, but is well aware of his social inferiority to the woman.

In Bientôt l’été, the male character looks handsome, mysterious, and highly desirable. Dressed in flimsy fabrics that you can easily imagine running your hand over while feeling every inch of the shape of his legs and shoulders and chest. He is obviously put on this planet to please womankind, and in particular the woman whom he will meet in the café at the seaside, after a lonely stroll on the beach.

Not to trivialize the serious nature of this project, but this kind of characterization fits well with Marguerite Duras. She didn’t seem to think very highly of men. But this expressed itself more in a sort of amused sympathy, not onlike how one feels towards a friendly pet. She certainly has deeply loved men. But I don’t think she ever considered them equals.

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No stories.

Jun 13 2012 Published by under musing

One of the great aspects of the videogame medium is that it can liberate us from the terror of storytelling. After a century of dominant linear media, humans have become storivores to an unprecedented extent. The relentless manipulation by movies, advertising, scientific discourse and propaganda has made us virtually blind for any sort of reality that cannot be framed in a neat, satisfying narrative with beginning, middle and end and a clear and simple distinction between causes and effects.

We’re addicted to linearity. Not even just to happy endings, but to endings as such. Combined with our aesthetic taste for destruction, it’s no surprise that our media are filled with apocalyptic visions. We love linearity so much that we are willing to accept predestination. Clinging to religion or darwinism, we are willing to accept complete disaster, simply because it’s a logical consequence of “the nature of man”.

Thankfully the techno-commercial complex is now offering us a way to escape the tyranny of story.

Videogames allow us to portray realities in non-linear ways. Certainly time forces the experience of the game by the player to be sequential, but it doesn’t need to be built like that. In my experience, videogames are built like little creatures. You poke them one way and they respond in some way, you poke them another way and they respond in some other way. You don’t poke them at all, and they simply do whatever they like.

And all the while the player takes as much or as little time as they want with the game. Unlike with a book or a movie, even when the player pauses, the game goes on, and the player continues to experience its emotional effects.

It strikes me that such a non-linear presentation offers a much fairer depiction of reality, of existence on this planet. The ticking clock may sometimes give us the illusion that our lives are chains of events. But when you sit down calmly, and listen to the world, and watch it happening, you realize that existence is both far more complex and much simpler.

Things happen and they happen again. Some things have happened millions of times. And we’re here to watch a few of them. Our own bodies have existed before and will exist after. With slight variations, all utterly meaningless. But beautiful nonetheless.

Things don’t have to make sense to be beautiful. Our reason is not the only connection we have to existence. And there’s many ways of thinking. Our intellect is a toy that we can play with, not a cage to reduce reality to.

My skin is covered with antennae, reaching out to take it all in. I want to see with my eyes closed, feel the sound of the ocean, touch the untouchable landscapes continuously forming in my imagination. There is no separation between me and the world. The notion of cause and effect trivializes our relationship. There’s no story here. There’s so much more. So much more.

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Existence and art.

Jun 12 2012 Published by under musing

Making art about life experiences is like saying goodbye to existence. It was nice. Thank you. Bye.

You only need a tiny bit of real life experience, to have stuff to make art about for an entire life time. Which is a good thing. Since making art is a lot of work, and while you’re doing it, you’re not experiencing life.

Existence is so immensely rich. There’s always new ways to look at even the smallest aspects of it. New ways of loving it and celebrating it and being grateful for having known it.

So much so that simply going through life without art, almost feels like not living at all, like walking blindly from cradle to grave without noticing anything. It is through art, both creation and appreciation, that we can really start seeing reality. It’s an amusing contradiction, given how art, per definition, is not real itself.

Art gives us emotional glasses that allow us to feel things that would otherwise pass us by unnoticed. It is the artifice of art that shows us the depth of the real.

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