Archive for September, 2012

Describing Bientôt l’été in one sentence.

Sep 30 2012 Published by under project

Next to the difficulty of explaining what Bientôt l’été is, I’m having trouble coming up with one sentence descriptions as well.

We can call The Endless Forest is a multiplayer screensaver where everyone plays a deer or The Graveyard a game in which you play the role of an elderly lady who visits a cemetery. The Path is a short horror game inspired by Little Red Ridinghood, Fatale explores the legend of Salome and Vanitas is a meditative exploration of luxury and loss on the iPhone.

But what is Bientôt l’été?

Is it

a French videogame about love

as I originally called it -until somebody started fussing about its heterosexuality? Maybe I should call it a game about heterosexual love, though that would imply assuming that gay people don’t have an imagination. Or that people would only play the game as some kind of simulated version of their own life.

Do I call it

an exploration of beaches and moods in Marguerite Duras

Though I should probably avoid mentioning Duras too up front. Since few people in videogames know her and those who do might not appreciate the association with videogames, or have expectations that the game cannot deliver on.

I do get the impression that the idea of making a videogame that is inspired by the work of a highly respected modern author is attracting the attention of people who are interested in literature. Given that we are always trying to seduce new people into gaming, referring to the literary background of Bientôt l’été might be a good idea.

Sea. Space. Cybernetics. Touch.

says the reference material collection. The reference to science fiction, space and/or holodecks should probably be included. Since the juxtaposition with love, seaside and cafés is interesting. And because the space station metaphor for internet connections is quite crucial.

Talking with your lover at a table in a café at the seaside on the holodeck of a space station in orbit of an earth-like planet in a distant solar system.

I like how this one grows: from the intimacy of the lover to the small café table to the open seaside to the vastness of space.

Your body at the seaside on a remote space station. Alone. And then together.

A videogame about playing a game in a videogame about the desire to touch.

Love and loneliness in space.

It’s not raining. It’s not raining. It’s not raining.

A literary experiment in virtual space.

If any other short descriptions come up after playing the alpha version, please do tweet or email!

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Say no to nerds.

Sep 30 2012 Published by under musing

I know we’re supposed to be tolerant of all sorts of life styles. And I am. Tolerant. But not encouraging.

I think the world, and especially the technology and videogames related parts of it, could do with a bit less patience with nerds. They are just too comfortable. They more or less retreated from the world to form a cocoon around them where nothing can harm them. I understand that for some people this is a matter of survival. I imagine that nerds are weak and insecure. And I don’t blame them for seeking comfort.

But we really shouldn’t pay so much attention to what people like that say. Life in an artificial womb has made them extremely protective of their fragile situation. Which means they are ultra-conservative in the literal sense: intent on conserving the state of perfection that they inhabit. As such they are not open to new ideas. Nor do they have any particular concern for the rest of the world. All they care about is their own little bubble.

Technology has traditionally drawn nerds. It supports a solitary existence where empathy is an unnecessary luxury. Technology may even require nerd levels of concentration to develop. And I’m sure a lot of technological progress only happened thanks to the dedication of nerds.

But while we owe them respect and gratitude, we should ignore them when it comes to envisioning the future, broadening ideas. When we think about ways in which we can make the medium of videogames more accessible, or more varied, so that people of all kinds can find something of beauty in it, we really should not consult with the nerds.

Their message is simple: things are fine the way they are. Don’t change them. If videogames are not appreciated by everyone, that’s just because of what they are. They cannot change. And then they get aggressive. Because they feel that the changes we propose will happen at the expensive of the things that they love, the things that make them feel comfortable, the things that help them cope with a strange world.

Let’s just ignore them. It’s not like suddenly technology will stop being a haven for nerds. They will always find a cozy little nest in it. But the rest of the world needs to live as well. And we have our own needs and desires.

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No revolutions.

Sep 28 2012 Published by under musing

An article about us like this makes us seem like insane, arrogant, revolutionary, etc. And while I cannot deny any of the words in such an article, I don’t really recognize myself much in the emotional tone of it.

I’m a hardworking rather boring person. My only real vice is an obsession with work. But I schedule it very well so that it all feels orderly and controlled. There’s no chaos here, no surprises.

Maybe the way in which our work deviates from the norm makes it seem revolutionary. But that is hardly the spirit in which it is created. We simply try to make beautiful things. And we are continuously frustrated by our lack of talent and skills to really realize our dreams. So we work hard and learn all the time.

We have no desire to make things that other people are already making. But that is not the same as actively going against the grain. We can’t help it that we both don’t like most games and really love this medium.

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Not a game at all.

Sep 27 2012 Published by under concept

I’m very sympathetic to the attempts of people like Chris Bateman to make use of the term game in a broad inclusive way. Much more sympathetic than I am to the nitpickers who have contracted the meaning of the word to only the kinds of activities that they enjoy (usually rigid formal games with specific rules, goals, challenges, conflict, competition and victory conditions). But when I play Bientôt l’été, I find it difficult to think of it as a game.

Walking my avatar on the beach doesn’t feel like playing a game. Even if the controls are very similar as in other videogames. Bientôt l’été is about doing something. Imagining being somewhere.

This has nothing to do with games at all. Unless maybe games of make belief. But even then. We don’t really believe we are there. It’s a game of imagination, of what if. It has nothing to do with formal games. In fact, it is so different that I can add chess without causing any confusion (just as one could mention chess in a novel or draw it in a painting).

Playing Bientôt l’été is about how it makes you feel to imagine being in such a situation. On a beach, in a café, in love, or not. On a space station, in a simulation, with a virtual creature. It’s not about the fiction, or its meaning. It’s about the emotions and memories triggered in you while you’re playing. These emotions are real not fictional. It’s not about empathy. It’s about you. Not how you feel about somebody else.

I guess the closest equivalent to pretending to walk on a beach in Bientôt l’été is actually walking on a real beach. Not a game. Not a fiction. Just something you do. Something that affects you emotionally and makes you think.

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Alpha 3.

Sep 26 2012 Published by under features,project

We have (pre-)released a new test version of Bientôt l’été, just in time for IndieCade. Yes, Bientôt l’été has been selected for the festival. Which is not the same as nominated -apparently the IndieCade jury didn’t appreciate our piece- but the only difference is that we can’t win a prize. This version of Bientôt l’été will be playable at the festival. And we will give a short presentation about it at the conference.

— Press button to collect —

The biggest change in this alpha version 3 is the replacement of the unintuitive stand-still-to-fade mechanic for collecting chess pieces, by a simple button that you see when you close your eyes in the direction of an Apparition. Clicking it starts a short cut scene, showing the object, after which your avatar picks up the chess piece.

This final simplification motivated the removal of the Hints from the screen. We figure that the interaction is now so easy that Hints are not necessary any more. They are still available when you close your eyes.

— Hiccups —

Another reason for removing the Hints was performance. Remember those weird hiccups that would happen all the time in alpha 1 and 2? Most of them were caused by drawing text on the screen: Unity3D’s infamous GUI system. To further reduce the impact of this system, we replaced all OnGUI calls by a single one.

We have also transcribed the music mixer from the visual language of Antares Universe (in which the entire game logic is created) to text-based Javascript. This has greatly reduced the frequency of the hiccups that happen in the game. So now we can finally listen to Walter Hus‘s wonderful music without interruptions. Almost. Still a bit of tweaking to do.

Some new music tracks have been added, by the way, to the ambient music of Femme, the female character. Pretty surprising at times!

— End of the World —

In principle, the beach in Bientôt l’été could be endless. It stretches. And the waves and the gulls follow along with the avatar. But in response to various reactions to the previous test versions, I have added an end to the world. To symbolize that end, there is a bench: beyond that bench you will find nothing new. Your avatar can sit on that bench and enjoy the scenery. Should you walk further anyway, an invisible wall will become visible and stop you.

— Gamepad controls —

I changed the mouse controls from conventional point-and-click to “hold down to walk, release to stop”. This feels a lot nicer, I think. Plus it removes the implication that the target where you click would matter.

The major addition, however, is gamepad controls. I wasn’t going to add this until Steam announced its Big Picture feature and I realized how much I enjoy playing videogames from the couch. It was quite a nightmare to make Unity3D play nice with different game controllers on different platforms. But it was worth the effort. The gamepad has become my favorite interface to Bientôt l’été.

A direct result of the implementation of gamepad controls and the dominance of Microsoft’s XBox 360 controller is a change of the letter keys that you press to play the game with the keyboard. Instead of the first letter of the English name of the function, we’re now using the same letters as on the buttons of the controller: A, B, X and Y.

— Future cloud —

We have added functionality that will make it possible to load your collection of phrases and chess pieces into a separate client. This client will consist of only the multiplayer part of the game (the café) and I hope to release it for tablets and maybe the web. For free. So after you have walked some time on the beach, you can load your collection on your tablet to talk to another player. Only the back end of this system has been built so far. So this cannot be tested yet. Just know that if you don’t toggle off the “Cloud Name” in the Credits section, your collection will be uploaded to our database.

Private networking has been re-enabled. If you fill in a password at the bottom of the Credits screen, you will only be connected to players with the same password. So for a private session, you need to share the password with your partner in play.

— Aesthetics —

I have mostly finalized the aesthetics of the game now. Added some color correction to the exterior scene. And a shader that I’m particularly proud of. It’s a “masked blur” shader. I hate how 3D always looks so clean and sharp. But just blurring the screen doesn’t feel nice. So I made a shader that only blurs the screen in specific uneven areas defined by a texture. And then I move that texture around. It’s a nice effect. I have also added Tale of Tales’ patented light intensity fluctuation, which gives a nice feel of moving clouds.

Some of you will be happy to see the new foot prints in the sand and the little splatters when you step in the water. The avatars now have a few idle poses. And they move their fingers a bit. Sometimes their spine spirals out of control. So I still need to tweak something there.

The interior aesthetics have also been polished a bit. Some sound effects were added. And smoke! The more you smoke, the more the room fills with smoke. It looks very unhealthy! Especially now that the bot can smoke too, and drink and play music. It still doesn’t have a brain. But randomness seems to work well enough.


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Sep 25 2012 Published by under musing

We were complimented on our faith in videogames. It felt nice to hear at first. But then I wondered why should this be a compliment? Isn’t it normal to have faith in videogames? Doesn’t everyone see how wonderful this medium is and how great its potential?

And then I looked around me, at the social platforms that we share with our friends and peers. And I noticed that many people talk about games, regular games. With great enthusiasm. As if it is any news that they had fun playing a game. Imagine a large gathering of grown ups continuously raving that this or that candy tastes well. Welcome to the world that Tale of Tales exists in!

It seems like even people with a good head on their shoulders are obsessed with games these days. It’s trendy. They are certainly intelligent enough to realize that these games are all Skinner boxes that just trigger the release of certain chemicals in their brains and condition behavior. They even sometimes criticize some of these -the ones that their parents play on Facebook- but then they go on to sing the praises of yet another simplistic twitchy puzzle or another kitschy murder simulator.

At Tale of Tales, we still have faith in videogames as a medium. Why does that sentence suddenly make us sounds like dinosaurs? Is it over? Has the window of opportunity for videogames to become a medium closed? Is it all panem et circenses as of now? No more art? No more joy? No more wonder about the beauty of existence? Just endless “depressed fun”? Because we are entitled and we are “free”? Nietzschean bacchanals until the end of times? Voluntary regression to some earlier state of our species’ evolution?

No matter really. That is not a world I want to live in. At the risk of sounding melodramatic, this is a choice between continuing on my path or death. Either I continue with hope for humanity, and in support of those who make our species worthy of such hope, or I stop. If there is no hope for this world, if there is no beauty, if all that is left is fun and games ad infinitum, I do not want to live.

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Sep 24 2012 Published by under project

I have experienced doubt about Bientôt l’été before. Questioning whether there is any point in making something that only few people will appreciate, doubts about confronting my own modest artistic talent with the genius of Marguerite Duras, wondering if anybody who plays videogames has even heard of Duras or read any of her books, let alone appreciates her work like I do.

And while I’m happy for Bientôt l’été to remain the last “art game” I create for a while in favor of simpler pleasures (a choice based in part on naive hope and speculation and in part on desperation, indifference and disgust), I do feel increasingly confident about this project, as I continue refining it.

There’s nothing wrong with Bientôt l’été in essence (and my definition of successful art is “that of which nothing is wrong”). All I need to do now is polish the diamond so that it becomes easier for other people to discover its beauty. I do believe it is possible to take this process very far. Until many people can enjoy it, absurd numbers compared to how weird of an art piece it is. Just keep polishing the surface until it shines for everyone. No matter what is at its core.

But I don’t know if I will have the patience. Or find it worth the trouble. I have no desire to please everyone. Least of all with Bientôt l’été. I’d rather it remains one of those forbidden fruits, the appreciation of which I can recognize my friends by. Yes, that is how vain and unreasonable I am. If you don’t appreciate my work, don’t call me your friend. My work is my baby. I will chose it over you any day. Love me, love my work. Or stay away.

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Not done with Duras.

Sep 23 2012 Published by under aesthetics

While Bientôt l’été contains many elements that refer to Marguerite Duras, there still remains something in her work that it doesn’t capture. It’s normal for a game design to deviate from its basic premises. I feel one has to let the design go where it wants to go. Stubbornly clinging to one’s initial ambitions is not only frustrating but it often brings unsatisfactory results.

Not that this particular aspect of Duras’ work was ever really on the agenda. It’s just something I notice when I read her work now. It’s simply inspiring for some other interactive piece.

Duras has a way of describing situations that has great emotional impact on me when I read it. And situations is exactly what I want to create with this technology (not stories, not causal chains, not moral choices). She never describes an entire scene for the purpose of imagining it visually. She mentions only certain elements. But each of them feels somewhat like a metaphor. Not a metaphor that clearly expresses or demonstrates a thought or feeling, more like an emotional trigger that remains more or less meaningless.

There is always a character involved. Although the descriptions may not be observations by the character. Maybe the character is just another element in the scene. But one we feel great empathy with. We are there with her.

I love the muteness of these situations. Not silence, as I feel a lot of ambient sound. But muteness, in the sense that something is palpably not being said. Something that cannot be said. Something that is either too horrible or too fragile to be spoken.

I want to create such a situation in the realtime medium. I’m not sure how to go about it. Maybe I should literally follow a passage in one of the books. And simply build in 3D whatever is described (and leave the gaps open?). Or maybe I should just aim for the atmosphere created by such passages and invent the situation (which is how we usually work).

Temps couvert.
Les baies sont fermées.
Du côté de la salle à manger où il se trouve, on ne peut pas voir le parc.
Elle, oui, elle voit, elle regarde. Sa table touche le rebord des baies.
A cause de la lumière gênante, elle plisse les yeux. Son regard va et vient. D’autres clients regardent aussi ces parties de tennis que lui ne voit pas.
Il n’a pas demandé de changer de table.
Elle ignore qu’on la regarde.
Il a plu ce matin vers cinq heures.

I love how Duras gradually introduces descriptions of the scenery or the situation, precisely at the moment when they feel metaphoric (even if their precise meaning is unclear).

Aujourd’hui c’est dans un temps mou et lourd que frappent les balles. Elle porte une robe d’été.

These quotes are from the first page of “Détruire dit-elle”. Maybe that’s what I should do. Just take this first page and make a videogame out of it.

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In Duras’ footsteps. Walking. And drinking.

Sep 22 2012 Published by under features

Taking long walks is the main activity in Bientôt l’été. As it is in many of the novels by Marguerite Duras. Her protagonists roam beaches, the cities they dwell in, in one case they cross an entire country on foot. They walk and walk and walk. Tirelessly. Daily. For months, for years. With no purpose, no goal. Sometimes it seems like they are only half conscious of the act. As if the walking is a kind of physical ritual necessary to engage in a certain mental activity. If only forgetting.

And of course, inevitably, one day the walking is interrupted. An event happens and as of then, the ritual loses its pointlessness. The body of Anne Desbaresdes cannot resist moving towards the seaside café to encounter the body of Chauvin, in Moderato Cantabile. The embarrassed waitress turns up the volume of the radio (also in the game!) while Desbaresdes and Chauvin order one glass of wine after the other.

Alcohol. Another recurring theme. Duras writes about what she knows. Long walks, love and drinking. She was an alcoholic. Probably for most of her life, judging by the frequency of heavy drinking in her novels. She died at age 82 and continued to write highly lucidly to the very end. So she far from drank herself to death.

Drinking, like walking, must have been a kind of ritual -only far less healthy. A way to order thoughts, control the mind. For the Great Work that she was engaged in. Or as Anne Debaresdes wonders in Moderato Cantabile.

Si on ne buvait pas tant, ce ne serait pas possible?

If we would not drink as much, this would not be possible?

Duras was far too clever and sophisticated to draw any simplistic moralistic conclusions about human behavior. She was an observer. She did not judge. Human life in all its variety and with its different kinds of weaknesses. And she realized that it is not despite of these weaknesses that people could be beautiful. It was because of them. I will be forever indebted to her for that insight.

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In Duras’ footsteps. Café music.

Sep 21 2012 Published by under features

Someone playing the piano is a recurring theme in Duras’ work. Several of her novels have a particular song that keeps being heard. Either a classical tune, or a dance, or a mysterious droning and chanting.

There’s a virtual jukebox in the café in Bientôt l’été and one of the songs it plays is Hervé Vilard’s Capri c’est fini. This was apparently one of Duras’ favorite songs. She mentions it in her novel Yann Andréa Steiner.

Quelquefois c’est au bord de la mer. Quand la plage se vide, à la tombée de la nuit. Après le départ des colonies d’enfants. Sur toute l’étendue des sables tout à coup, ça hurle que Capri c’est fini. Que C’ÉTAIT LA VILLE DE NOTRE PREMIER AMOUR mais que maintenant c’est fini. FINI.
Que c’est terrible tout à coup. Terrible. Chaque fois à pleurer, à fuir, à mourir parce que Capri a tourné avec la terre, vers l’oubli de l’amour.

Other music that comes straight out of Duras’ work is India Song. It appears as an instrumental in several of her novels and films. But she also wrote lyrics for it, sung by Jeanne Moreau.

Toi qui ne veux rien dire
Toi qui me parles d’elle
Et toi qui me dis tout
Ô, toi,
Que nous dansions ensemble
Toi qui me parlais d’elle
D’elle qui te chantait
Toi qui me parlais d’elle
De son nom oublié
De son corps, de mon corps
De cet amour là
De cet amour mort

The remaining songs in the jukebox come in part from my own childhood memories of my parents’ fondness for French chanson. And from Bientôt l’été composer Walter Hus’ suggestion, whose idea it was to play this kind of music in this scene in the first place. They are just wonderfully sentimental songs. Sometimes I wonder what pop culture would have been like of not the Anglo-Saxon but the French had dominated it.

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