Archive for August, 2012

Thank you, alpha-players!

Aug 31 2012 Published by under development

So far people who have commented on the second alpha version of Bientôt l’été, agree that the game has improved since the first alpha release. So it looks like releasing early was a smart move. Many issues were caught in the first round and addressed in the second, improving the experience for all.

It’s funny how you just don’t know as a designer. You don’t know what things will work and what things won’t. Given this experience, it seems rather absurd that anyone would want to release a game without first showing it to a few friends, peers, fans. Yet this is exactly what we have done several times at Tale of Tales.

One could make a case for the purity of the expression of an artist, who should only follow his own instincts. But game development is so long and intense that even the most talented artist must stop seeing clearly after a while. Also, the decisions remain your own. Some players make suggestions, but most reports are about problems. And you have to come up with solutions. On your own.

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Tired of realism.

Aug 30 2012 Published by under aesthetics

Part of the charm of Bientôt l’été is how it evokes memories of the seaside in me. While it is not photographically or audibly realistic, it plays with certain associations in your brain that trigger recollections of experiences.

I deeply enjoy feeling the effect of such a simulation. But the care I have to take to maintain everything within the sphere of the real is getting on my nerves a bit.

While programming, I encounter many interesting effects that are the result of the logic that runs the game: glitches, errors. These effects are not realistic in the sense that they do not match with our expectations and knowledge. But they are real: they are triggered by the real code that runs the simulation. They are only errors in the sense that they are involuntary effects of (bad) programming. But logically speaking, they are perfectly correct.

It’s tiresome to pretend that the character on the beach is a real person. I know he’s not. And it doesn’t diminish my fondness for him. I like him as an artificial creature. So why could he not behave artificially?

I know. Because that’s not what this project is about. But after this, I think I’m done with realism. Synthetic creatures are different. And that should be ok.

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No easy progress.

Aug 29 2012 Published by under musing

The idea of videogames as a medium has certainly not won over all hearts yet. The desire for game-like videogames, and indeed even non-video games, has never been as strong as now. This is fine and understandable in and of itself. But it’s also kind of lazy and, sorry, childish.

But maybe the games industry has ultimately no interest in becoming as broad as to allow one strand of it to be a medium, while many others go off in different game directions. Maybe this medium truly is too new, too disruptive to fit within the old industry and its rigid academic supporters and fun-loving journalistic fans.

This would be a pity. Because I don’t feel the distinction is so great. But maybe there simply is a line that cannot be crossed, no matter how much it can be bent. We would be doing ourselves, and humanity, a disservice not to recognize this if it is the case. There’s no point in stubbornly hoping to be accepted by an industry that has no interest in expanding in our direction. We had better go our own way, then.

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Perfection for the ages.

Aug 28 2012 Published by under musing

When I look outside and get a glimpse of the fuzzy Belgian sun caressing the permanent cloud cover, I know that this is what I want to capture in Bientôt l’été.

It’s not the most glorious thing on the planet, not the most spectacular or surprising. But it is home. It is delicate and subtle.

No, the masses will not devour the game on launch day. Or shower it with paper stars and plus signs. But through the years, the decades, lone wanderers will come back to it. As to a simple source in the middle of a jungle. It’s not the only water in the world. But it is the only water of its kind. There is very little of it. But I have drank some. And so have a few other brave men that I am honored to call my brothers.

When the human spirit has finally collapsed under the pressures of its vanity, Bientôt l’été will still be there, dripping its feeble sunlight for unsuspecting mouths of unlikely survivors living like a hermit on the overgrown ruins of what was once a promising civilization.

It is for them that I want to achieve perfection. Not an awesome game, flavor of the month, indie darling, game of the year blah blah. But a solid, stubborn rock that doesn’t draw attention to itself but that is there for those who know how to find it to lean there weary bodies on for a moment, before they struggle on.

To capture the heart of will-free existence, the joy of everything, happy and sad. The pointless wonder over the absurd. Sharing in-jokes with the cosmos.

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Description of Bientôt l’été, attempt #5

Aug 27 2012 Published by under project

There’s a man on T. Beach. Or a woman. I don’t know. I’ll decide later. The man is alone.

There is wind. Wind and waves and sky. And the man. Or the woman.

He closes his eyes: the glowing energy of machines.

— What? This is not real!

He opens his eyes. Looks around. And around again.

Then he walks. Or she. And the gulls fly away.

The beach is endless.

Everything disappears, becomes fluid, becomes immense. We are lost in space. Looking for a man. Or a woman. To talk to. In French, if possible.

Far away. Nearly summer.

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How to know beforehand?

Aug 26 2012 Published by under musing

It’s frustrating how clearly I can judge the design of Bientôt l’été now. I know exactly what I would keep and what I would leave out. Why do I not see these things at the beginning of a project?

If I compare with the new projects we’re starting up, one of the reasons is probably uncontrolled enthusiasm about the concept. The idea itself is so exciting that practical execution seems like a minute issue. This is a mistake, though. Practical execution is everything. Ideas are worthless.

Another reason is probably that I have learned a lot during this project, and I am simply not the same designer any more. What seemed like a good idea six months ago, I now consider to be silly. Because I have learned a bit about me, a little bit about the public and a bit more about how to design towards that illusive dream about this medium. Or at least changed position a little, if only for a while, if only as an experiment.

Ironically, Bientôt l’été is already an old project for me. I’m almost starting to become nostalgic about it. We’ve spent so much good time together. And it’s not even finished yet. So I’ll take good care of it before I let it go. It almost feels like its birth will be a burial.

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Wired for success.

Aug 25 2012 Published by under musing

We are happy when other people like us. We are happy when other people like a thing we made. So we try to make things that other people will like. It makes us happy.

I assume there is some grand evolutionary reason for this behavior. But it doesn’t seem very productive in terms of civilization. Maybe civilization is a weak trait that evolution will remove in the long run. In the fight between nature and culture, nature always wins. At the expense of life itself, if need be. It’s for the best, I’m sure.

Maybe being wired for success is how nature tries to slow us down. The rapid evolution of civilization as a result of many people stubbornly going against the grain has lead to a very perilous situation. We are endangering the entire planet. If we would stop our revolutions and just do things that pleased other people, we would evolve a lot more slowly. And perhaps not endanger our environment so much.

Whether this is a good idea at this very moment is another matter. Maybe we should first do some more rapid thinking, before we can slow down in a world that isn’t threatening to wipe us all out.

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What doesn’t kill you…

Aug 24 2012 Published by under musing

It’s tempting to think that being forced to work so hard for acceptance, will make our work better. But is this really true? It might be if the audience we were trying to win over was the audience for literature, or film. But they don’t give a damn about what we are trying to do.

The audience we are working for is the games audience. And the only luck we will have is with people who like both games and what we do. Given the nature of these games, such people must be incredibly generous and open minded.

But who knows on what grounds our works are rejected by gamers? Or accepted for that matter. Will finding a way to please the gamer audience lead to the highest possible quality that this medium can achieve?

I worry about this. Because I care about this medium. Or what it could be. And maybe we should be more stoic in our dedication and not hold success with the gamer audience in such high regard. At this point it seems like a necessary step towards anything else. Which is a distracting pity. But we owe it to this medium, and humankind, to remain critical, both of our failings and our successes.

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Preparing for non-success.

Aug 23 2012 Published by under musing

I was disappointed not to find Bientôt l’été among the Indiecade finalists. But I guess this is a healthy reminder of the fact that I’m not working on a popular game. Despite my new found desire to engage in such a project in the future, Bientôt l’été is not it.

Good thing too. In a way it’s easier to make art than it is to make entertainment. When you make art, all you need to do is be sincere. Your primary goal is not communication but honesty and precision. Art is closer to science than to entertainment in this way. Art will also chose truth over a simple story. Even if that truth is difficult to understand or appreciate. If the result ends up being unpopular, you can safely blame the audience, the context, the times, etc.

When making entertainment, however, you aim to please. And whether your work pleases or not is directly expressed by the audience’s response. If they don’t like it, you have failed. There’s nothing else to blame but yourself.

Not that I think Bientôt l’été is some sort of untouchable magical artistic masterpiece. I can definitely see its weaknesses. And I can understand that for some people these weaknesses might be deal breakers. Not for me, though. I’m in love with this piece. And I love everyone who loves it.

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Support for the unpopular?

Aug 22 2012 Published by under musing

I am happy to adapt my artistic approach to the response of the audience. And I often prefer works of art myself that were tweaked to appeal more to a larger audience. But is this ultimately a good thing?

There’s a lot to say in favor of an artist being pushed to please his audience. The most obvious is that there is no point in the creation of something that brings joy to people if it, well, if it doesn’t. If one tries to make something beautiful and nobody likes it, one should probably try something else. The other important advantage, in my opinion, is that it offers an escape from the modernist cult of the personal, of extreme individualism, the artists as hero, etc. This trend has produced such astounding ugliness paired with unbelievable arrogance, that sacrificing the few exceptions feels completely justified.

There is still a strong tendency in popular opinion that argues in favor of originality: “One should just make what one really wants to make, what one is personally driven to make.” This theory is not supported by practice, however. When it is time for the proletarian preachers to put their money where their mouths are, they often opt out and choose to invest in the easier, less experimental, less original. Perhaps those pieces were still created in all honesty. People with a popular personality will create work that is popular. People with a less popular personality are still encouraged to make personal work. They just should not expect anyone to actually appreciate it. In a way, this could be interpreted as an aversion towards craft: only do what you are already good at.

Before the internet, it was a lot easier to travel one’s own path. One didn’t know if people liked or disliked one’s work. One could always blame one’s lack of success on many external factors. But the internet gave artists direct access to the opinions of their audience. And humans being what they are, negative opinions often have greater impact than positive ones.

I do believe that this is not necessarily a completely bad situation. I believe many artists’ work even improves when it is made with its audience in mind. I believe I might be one of those artists. But I can’t help but feel that there should be more support for the Einzelgängers, for people who stubbornly do what they believe in, without much support from the audience. We may be losing a lot of good ideas if, as a society, we cannot find a way to support and encourage unpopular creativity. Not everything should be decided by the market.

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