The Path Anniversary: postmortem 1

We have written an elaborate documentation of the production of The Path and will be publishing the article in 4 parts, as we proofread and finalize them.

A first introductory chapter summarizes the history of the project: How the idea started. When we got funding. And how long it all took.

In the next part, scheduled for tomorrow, we delve deep into the design of the game, followed by an overview of what went right and what went wrong, to conclude with a look at reception and sales.

We hope you enjoy the read.

The Path Anniversary: discounts!

The Path is one year old. To start the anniversary festivities, we are discounting all our titles by 50%!

For the next 10 days, until Sunday March 28, prices are:

The Path is 1 year old!

One year ago, tonight, The Path was released from a bed in a room in a hotel in San Francisco, where Auriea and I first met in person, exactly 10 years before. To celebrate this double anniversary we’ll be revealing and announcing The Path related material throughout the week. So keep an eye on our blog, facebook, twitter or wherever you’re reading this!

11 Years of collaboration

Today is the anniversary of our collaboration. 11 Years ago, Auriea and I launched our first joint web site on the day when we met in person for the first time. Here’s a selection of one portrait, one project and one event per year.

Our DHTML love letters were presented on as a pay-per-view online exhibition, entitled Skinonskinonskin.

The SFMOMA Prize for Excellence in Online Art was presented to us by Bill Viola at the Webby Awards.

Our web work is featured in the bourgeois exhibition Belgisch Atelier Belge, among that of Belgian art superstars like Delvoye, Fabre and Tuymans.

Tale of Tales is born during a research project at the Jan van Eyck academy.

After their initial refusal, we convinced the Flemish Audiovisual Fund that they should support videogames, starting with our 8.

Unsuccessfully pitching 8 to commercial publishers at the Game Connection in Lyon marks the start of our career as independent developers.

At the Innovative Game Design symposium in Maastricht, we shelved our ambitions to become commercial game developers. Chris Crawford was there too.

We presented the Realtime Art Manifesto at the Mediaterra Festival in Athens.

We stopped resisting Web 2.0 and started the Tale of Tales blog .

Showing The Path demo at the Independent Games Festival to hundreds of colleagues and fans was an exhilarating experience.

We launched The Path at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts with live music by Jarboe and Kris Force.

The Notgames initiative is an attempt to stimulate artists and designers to create interactive entertainment that is not games.

Hover your cursor over the images for captions.

It’s been almost one year…

since The Path was released.

On 18 March 2009, we launched The Path from a room in the hotel where we first met exactly 10 years before. Get ready for celebrating the first anniversary of our six little girls and their very own big bad wolves! Expect an elaborate and revealing post-mortem/making-of, a special limited USB edition package, a nice discount on the regular download, an updated translations patch (now also on Steam!), an interview with a source of inspiration, news about the soundtrack, and of course an Endless Forest bathed in darkness and mist.

Robin's Birthday Room

The Graveyard for iPhone

The Graveyard on iPod touch Now on the App Store: The Graveyard for iPhone and iPod touch. Only 1.99 US Dollars. A free Lite version will be available as soon as Apple approves it (release has been stalled a bit because they disapproved of your use of the word “Trial” and the reference to the full version in the description of the “Lite” one).

The Graveyard on the App Store

From the press release:

The Graveyard offers a player the opportunity to imagine themselves in a certain situation. It’s not a game in the sense that there is a way to win or lose or a puzzle to solve, or even a story to uncover. But the interaction does immerse you in a virtual world filled with narrative, an equally powerful feature of the medium of videogames. The iPhone version of The Graveyard is the same as the PC version. Only a few elements have been removed or simplified to allow it to run on the iPhone hardware. But the fact that you hold the game in your hand and touch it with your finger, adds to the sensation of fragility and preciousness.

Continue reading “The Graveyard for iPhone”

Going underground

We’re embarking on a new project today. Two new projects, actually. It’s an experiment. Instead of working on them in sequence, we’ll work on one one month, then on the other the next. The idea is to increase the development time of both. Because we’ve experienced that not working on something and just allowing it to grow over time, makes it a big difference.

Over the next 18 months, we will be prototyping two new largish games. None of this work will be published. And even after the prototyping phase, it will take some time before we bring the projects to production and release. So it’s going to be quiet around here for quite a while.

That doesn’t mean we will disappear completely. While working on the prototypes, we will be doing a few small projects too, and we may release some things related to the old projects.

Vanitas. analog.

So we took The Very Broken iPhone. (It was broken when we received it. a gift. made sure it was *really* broken myself, with a very big hammer.)

there was made an octagonal table. Michael spent quite some time making the matching octagonal radiation on the floor.

We created within a physical representation of the contents of the game. A little bird skull, dice, a tarot card, a twig from a tree, a key, dead leaves, a tooth, a shell, etc., and lots and lots of ladybugs. All under glass.

added 4 iPods. and then came the people.

see the whole set here

For all our nervousness it all went quite well. Surprisingly so. I think it created a nice environment for people to view Vanitas. It was exciting and fun to be able to watch so many people interact!

Thanks to:
* Wolfgang Wozniak for the Very Broken iPhone.
* E.K. Huckaby for his kind, indispensable assistance.
* Lord Whimsy for his good advice.
* whoever made the table, we give thanks.

This and all the other games made for The Art History of Games exhibition at Kai Lin Art in Atlanta, GA will be up and playable until March 2nd.

Photo post: Towards an Art History of Games

Various photos of presentations at the symposium. This is a flickr slideshow, if you fullscreen it and choose ‘Show Info’ (top right) you can read context and commentary on each image.

a few personal highlights of the symposium:
* listening to John Romero describe the design choices which lead to the invention of ASWD camera navigation.
* Brenda Brathwaite’s moving confessions of her design process, all that she puts into it and the way game design effects and expresses life.
* And playing her game, Train, at the gallery.
* Jason Rohrer describing how he came to the design of his game “Sleep is Death” and how it grew from a desire to communicate stories that defied telling through words alone.
* Hearing Christiane Paul talk about net artists in the context of art game history.

And finally, yes, there exists a photo of us standing next to John Romero. Amazing!
(yes, we know, we look silly. should have smiled. it was a pretty fun evening though. :))

Vanitas is out!

You can get Vanitas from the App Store now!

Vanitas is a memento mori in your iPhone. A meditative app without rules or rewards with Zoë Keating on solo cello.

“Despite using contemporary technology, we are artistically inspired mostly by pre-modern art,” admit creators Auriea Harvey and Michael Samyn. “In the 16th and 17th centuries, many Dutch and Flemish painters created still lives with symbols that referred to man’s mortality. They were named after a famous quotation from the Bible by Ecclesiastes: “Vanitas vanitatum omnia vanitas”. Or “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity”, implying that everything we do in life is without meaning. Creating a “Vanitas” painting for the iPhone felt like the appropriate response to the commission by Ian Bogost and John Sharp.”

Vanitas was commissioned for the Art History of Games symposium and exhibition by the Savannah College of Art and Design and the Georgia Institute of Technology Program in Digital Media. The symposium opens tonight.

My New Year’s Resolutions

1. More Independence
2. Less games

The start of a new decade feels like an appropriate time to get ambitious. Out with the old, in with the new! Not that there’s going to be any extreme changes around here. My resolutions mostly concern a change in attitude, in philosophy. But, with any luck, they will take us further. And in the right direction.

While these resolutions have been bubbling up for a while, two things were direct triggers: Auriea’s realisation that her favourite games of the decade are all over 5 years old and our recent visit to the Belgian incarnation of the historical Game On exhibition where it became very clear how much more fun the old arcade games are than the new pseudo-narrative shiny next gen titles upon which I had based a lot of my hopes.


We don’t want to make obscure art. This is a big part of the reason why we choose to work with digital media. We don’t even want to make art per se. We just want to share beautiful moments and elegant thoughts with people who are open to them. And perhaps, in our most audacious daydreams, we’d hope to make a small contribution to a more harmonious world.

Accessibility is one of the reasons why we don’t shy away from commerce. Commerce is an efficient way to distribute things in a capitalist system. And thanks to the abundance of the digital, we can sell our work very cheaply. But commerce also has a way of confusing an artist, of holding you back. Commerce forces you to think about seduction -even when it’s not appropriate- and to favour projects with commercial potential over others that might be more relevant artistically. We like our work to be accessible. But we want that to be an artistic choice and not an economic requirement.

We’re not very good at commerce anyway. We don’t have clever business minds. And our work is just a bit too far away from the ordinary to appeal to people who do. But above all, thinking about commerce -however exciting it may sometimes be- always ends in bogging us down, to slowing us down, to depressing us.

I want us to become less dependent. Less dependent on money, less dependent on success, less dependent on quantity. And focus exclusively on quality. This includes improving the accessibility of our work! While commercial pressure may motivate one to lower the threshold of their productions, it only does so towards a specific target audience, effectively locking everyone else out. It would be possible to optimize our work to be very accessible for hardcore gamers. But at the expensive of other people we might also want to communicate with. We want our work to be more widely accessible. We don’t want to depend on any specific niche.

None of this leads to any radical decisions. This is just a resolution that can guide us when making future decisions. As of now, I want to focus on self-sufficiency. And favour non-profit or break-even operations over commercial ones. Or even figure out ways to make losing money bearable. It’s ok if that means working on smaller projects. As long as they are “big on the inside”.

Games over

This year, I’m going to care less about games. And as a result, I will probably enjoy them more.

I give up.
I give up on my hopes for videogames to become a valid cultural medium.
I’ve been fighting very hard. I’ve been putting my money where my mouth is. For several years already. Almost a decade.

But the games industry is merrily traveling in the opposite direction. Videogames are not changing anymore. They seem to have lost that capacity. Sure, the technology still evolves, so everything gets more shiny. But this is not leading to any sort of evolution, let alone the required revolution. The desire is simply not there.

Because videogames are happy just as they are. The videogame culture is extremely pleased with itself. A few years ago, people were still complaining about “sequelitis”. No everybody merrily plays Hip Shootgame #13 and Cool Jumpgame #26, with no objections. On the contrary! Everybody gets very solemn and deep when yet another war simulator hits the shelves. Only to forget it within the first week of release.

Gamers, publishers, journalists are all very happy! Who am I to spoil their fun? If they feel comfortable in a juvenile ghetto that is irrelevant to culture, good for them. I’m out of here.

Maybe this is another incarnation of my desire for independence: I want to be independent from the games industry. And from the games format.

Games are fun. Let them be fun. And let’s do something else, when we want to be serious. Let’s focus on interactive entertainment that is not games (let’s call them “notgames” for now :) ). With a technology that is so versatile and powerful, why should we limit our productions and enjoyment to the single format of games, a format that has been around for centuries and doesn’t even need computers to exist?

I realize that it has always been our mission at Tale of Tales to explore the potential of the interactive medium. But so far, this has happened in some form of conflict with videogames, based on our misguided belief that videogames had potential to grow, to grow into a medium (which, believe it our not, still seemed possible only 5 years ago). Simply letting go of the connection, will make our job a lot easier as it will help us explore with far less constraints. Leaving behind the idea that we’re making a game, opens up a world of creative possibilities!


But more than that, I want to stimulate research and development of notgames. Instead of continuously having senseless arguments with game fans, developers and theorists, I want to gather together the brightest ideas concerning non-game interactive entertainment. Without the noise and the distractions. Maybe we’ll start a blog about the subject, with news, essays, opinion pieces, debates. A place where ideas can be explored and shared and discussed. I would also like to commission designers and artists to make new non-game interactive projects. Maybe there can be a competition like those ubiquitous game making competitions, but about making interactive entertainment that is not games -far more exciting and certainly a much larger area to explore. And finally, I’m looking into the possibility of starting a sort of label -like a record label- to publish and distribute notgames.

If you would like to contribute to any of this, please post a comment or send email.

Happy New Year! :)