thoughts, notes, and examples about strange games

The other day, in a chat with several someones, I stated, “Artists are not interested in games.” As with any blanket statement it cannot be entirely true. Upon reconsideration I think it’s more accurate to say “Artists are not interested in the games industry.” For that is something that will drive all but the most iron-stomached away. I do think many artists can see video games as a worthwhile medium… just not many of them do.

Someone mentioned to me last week, as an example of an artist made game, this work by Mel Chin called KNOWMAD in which one must navigate roads contrived from patterns found in Turkish carpets. I believe the ultimate prize is to find a promegranate.

He says in an interview with ART 21

ART:21: How did “KNOWMAD” evolve?

CHIN: I was interested in the maps that are not written down but created in the mind. And where do they occur? In contemporary culture, they occur with eleven year-olds, ten year-olds, playing video games and winning or getting the prizes or whatever they do, slashing or slaying the beast. And they memorize their path because that’s the one way—it’s the start of memory—and that intrigued me. How can we create this kind of mapping? I’ve been interested in arcade games and in all these things, not necessarily as a player, and not necessarily as one who participates in that, but as it has a profound effect on culture. How do ideas survive in culture? Not necessarily my ideas or anybody’s ideas, but how do ideas stay around long enough to have a conversation? From a conceptual standpoint, I’m interested in that. And knowing that video games probably equal or better Hollywood in their volume of intake of money shows you how much influence it have in the world. And then where is the art? Where is the cultural aspect involved with it?

Interactive video installation with Playstation, vintage carpets and fabric tent, dimensions variable

Last week, when we were asked in a room full of people if there were any progenitors to what we are doing, we didn’t have an answer. I believe we simply shook our heads and said sheepishly “No, there is no one doing what we are doing… There has never been anyone doing what we are doing.” Well, not in the way we are doing it. Put over-simply, some sort of art and video game hybrid with more emphasis on the art than the game.
Again, not _exactly right. Difficult being put on the spot on a subject like that.

We were taken aside after the talk by a performance artist/gamer who told us we need to know about Kenji Eno and his WARP development studio. Apparently we also needed to have a look at D, Enemy Zero, and D2. Sega Saturn and Dreamcast games… youtube will have to do.

A little search yields this fascinating interview

Kenji Eno: I want to go back a little bit and explain a little. Originally, I was an observer more than a game creator, like someone who was looking at the game industry from the outside. That’s why I had all of these different, crazy ideas — like creating a game without visuals. I had all of these kinds of ideas because I was seeing the game industry from the outside. But around the time of D2, I felt like I was getting too close to the inside; I felt like I was turning into a normal game creator. Before, I was more like a producer, trying to look at everything from the outside, you know, like, “This might be fun, this might be interesting, and it might make an impact on people.” And I didn’t like going to any game-related gatherings or anything like that because I was trying to distance myself from it. D2 was a fun game, and the story was crazy and all that, but I still think that it’s a normal game, and I was noticing that it was a normal game. So I wanted to distance myself again so I could be the person outside of game industry so I would be able to create fresh games again. So the reason I stopped creating games was because I wanted to create games again from the outside.

and this history lesson from GameSetWatch. Hard to tell from video, of course, but in every case, cutscenes seem to dominate them. Maybe it was just how things were done then. Enemy Zero looks particularly promising, a game wher eyou must fight/avaoid an en enemy you cannot see, only hear. Aside from all the unfortunate first-person shooteriness there is a soundtrack by Michael Nyman(!) and animations by *gasp* Fumito Ueda.

To recap some things which need to be kept clear (as possible)
* “Doesn’t matter if it is a game or not so long as you enjoy it.” Tattoo it on your inner eyelids kids.
* Interactive art and games have plenty of overlapping concerns.
* Video games differentiate themselves from traditional games (chess, go, hide & seek etc.) by virtue of what they can offer that traditional games cannot. immersion, interaction with a virtual system, networks, realtime/alt-time/non-time (non-linearity etc.), multimedia.

Tales of Play, Adventures of the Unexpected

Today, Video Juegos: Historias lúdicas, aventuras insólitas starts in the Centro Fundación Telefónica in Lima, Peru. It’s an exhibition curated by the lovely and talented Daphne Dragona, with work by yours truly, Brody Condon, Julian Oliver, Eddo Stern, thatgamecompany, Bill Viola and several others. The show runs until 4 October.

Fountains of blood

Pietro di Sano
15th Century Italian painting of John the Baptist’s beheading. By Pietro di Sano.

This picture makes John’s execution almost look like an unfortunate accident. Somehow sticking his head through the window -was he trying to escape?- led to a lethal injury. If course that’s if we ignore the man in the middle with the perfectly clean sword. A scimitar, no less, indicating the exotic origins of this person -despite of the Roman regime that had decided on the prophet’s fate. He’s looking at the golden platter. His job is not done yet. I wonder if he’s thinking about how he’s going to fit John’s aureole on that thing. It too looks like it’s made of solid gold. Is that why his head fell off? From the weight of his holiness? Or did it have a sharp edge perhaps? This would certainly explain the cleanliness of the scimitar.

John was wearing his typical outfit of camel’s hair (as described in the Bible by Matthew), often interpreted by medieval artists as camel skin. But in all likelihood, he probably wore woven clothing. And a camel’s hair is probably very rough, indicating a certain inclination towards masochism in the prophet, not atypical for Christian martyrs.

A much more dignified depiction of the saint comes from Jan van Eyck, painted a bit earlier in the same century.

Jan van Eyck
Detail of the 15th century Flemish Alter Piece depicting John the Baptist. Painted by Jan van Eyck.

Judging by the rich cape that covers his camel skin dress, this is probably a portrayal of John the Baptist after his death, in heaven. Looks like Salomé didn’t get to keep the head, after all. And now it is even surrounded by a magnificent aureole of golden rays.

It’s beautiful.

To think that this amazing piece of work is only one part of a much larger, much more complex and breathtakingly marvelous piece that is located at 10 minutes walking from my door! In Saint-Bavo’s Cathedral in Ghent.

Who needs death when heaven is so nearby?

The picture of John the Baptist apparently got stolen together with the panel of The Just Judges. The latter was never recuperated, which is a shame. But I hate how this stupid so called mystery of the lost panel overshadows the splendor of the masterpiece. I mean: it’s got a lamb on a table with blood coming out of its chest!!!

Saint-Bavo’s Cathedral, by the way, is probably the one work of art that has influenced our own practice most. Not just the altar piece, but the entire cathedral, from its gothic architecture and its dramatic staging of baroque decorations to all the paintings and sculptures in it, ranging from the sublime to the banal. In this cathedral we started thinking about non-linear storytelling in three dimensional space.

John’s head

A 15th century Italian painting of the Head of John the Baptist. Painted by Giovanni Bellini in 1464-1468.

This head is very similar to the one Cranach painted almost a century later. That same mix of agony and ecstasy, blood dripping out.

I love that it’s round. Makes me wish we could make round games. The shape reminds of the platter that the head ended up in after Salomé got her wish granted. Similar to how Caravaggio painted Medusa on a round canvas, referring to Perseus’s shield. Both Medusa and John lost their head! John’s hairs look a bit like snakes…

Oscar Wilde does a similar thing in his play by turning the full moon into a recurring theme.

Oh! How strange the moon looks! Like the hand of a dead woman who is seeking to cover herself with a shroud.

Moon, platter, neck, head. Aureola.

Gaming is for bachelors?

While Auriea is away, visiting family at the other side of the globe, I find myself more interested in improving personal skills than otherwise. I usually don’t care much for challenging myself or developing personal routines when I’m with her. I guess the relationship itself brings enough challenges and routines. Plus any free time spend on my own, doing personal things like learning to play a certain piece on the piano, feels like time away from her. Which is not how I prefer to spend my free time.

If I have the choice.

But if I don’t have the choice. If I am alone. Then suddenly those options become available. I do think it’s mostly because it takes my mind off of being alone -something which I deal with very badly, Auriea and I having done virtually everything together for the past 10 years.

And I find myself thinking of the challenges that players of videogames enjoy so much -and that I often fail to understand or appreciate. Maybe they are similar to learning a piece on the piano: trying to do something for no other reason that being able to. Dedicating yourself to the task of developing the skill. It passes the time and takes your mind off of your life for a while. And your death. And your loneliness. And it makes you feel like you’re improving yourself.

Maybe I just don’t understand videogames because I’m happily married. Maybe this is what is keeping games from breaking through as a medium. That most people are.

A handsome couple

A 16th century German painting of Salomé holding a platter with the head of John the Baptist. Painted by Lucas Cranach the Elder in 1530.

Notice how both characters are looking at the spectator. Salome is appropriately dressed as a noble woman (though typically anachronistically so). And John is opening his mouth as well as his eyes. In ecstasy? Or to allow his last breath to escape? I guess since his neck is “open”, he might as well open all orifices he has left.

The platter seems like an oversized common kitchen plate. I wonder if anyone ever made the association with food when Salome requests the head on a platter. Like the spider eating its mate. And instead of saying “I have kissed thy mouth, Jokanaan”, she’d say “And I will eat you!”. Little Red Ridinghood popping up again? What’s up with that?

She is holding him like a lover, not like a dish. And the red of her mouth easily leads the eye to the red on his neck. It’s cute how they look at us. Like a couple caught doing something they didn’t want others to witness.

She has an awfully large necklace. I wonder if she fears decapitation herself…

Welcome the the 21st century, Tale of Tales

So, I bought an iPod touch.
Which prompted one of my friends to say “Welcome to the 21st century! :p”
The implication of which being that he couldn’t believe I didn’t have one already.
Yeah, here at (ToT) we’re a *little* slow to accept new technology. Not dripping with ready cash, are we.

Anyway, I got it day before yesterday and have now spent some time figuring it out. And downloading some apps. And games, of course!
Here’s what I’m starting out with:

Top of my list was ZenBound. A good friend of mine, I stayed with in San Francisco during the last GDC, was OBSESSED with this game. She kept showing it to me and even made me get autographs from the team that made it when she found out I was going to be at the conference with them! With such a glowing reccomendation I knew it had to be the first game on my iPod.

ZenBound is indeed a very beautiful thing to look at and interact with. I’m finding it quite inspiring so far.

I guess i like the idea of slow contemplative games (go figure ;)) because I also picked up Ian Bogost’s Guru Meditation. A good deal at €0.79 and while I have not spent enough time with it to see what “happens”… I am willing to bet, based on its theme, that *nothing* happens and that is just exactly the point.

I wouldn’t dream of not having a paint program on the iPod touch. I chose Colors! from Jens Andersson because I had become addicted to his homebrew version on Nintendo DS. I am only too happy to finally be able to give him some money for this. It is a step up for sure from the DS version with the online gallery integrated into the app and several new options for the brush behaviour. Most interesting of which is the use of tilt controls to change the width and opacity in lieu of pressure sensitivity on the screen (which unlike the DS the iPod lacks). Brushes and PaintBook also look interesting. But I like how in Colors! you can calibrate an offset of the brush from your finger so you’re not right on top of where you’re painting. Still, it is going to take some getting used to.

MYST. I am playing MYST. I played it last in 1994, or something. I am surprised to say that I still really really enjoy playing MYST. I think this touch adaptation is very well done. I had forgotten how much of an open world the game is. Somehow even the “slideshow” presentation of it still feels immersive. Is that because of the small screen? I like how perplexing it is to be walking about in this world alone… not knowing exactly what I should do, and then figuring it out; No tutorial necessary, no intro movie. Maybe this game was more of an influence on me as a game designer than I imagined.

PhiLia is an artwork for iphone/ipod touch by lia, who rules. See here for a better description than I can write.

Lastly, finally Eliss. I love its graphical representation and its sound. I am a bit annoyed at its traditional GAME OVER type gameplay but I enjoy it while it lasts. I would recommend at least trying it (there is a free demo version available.) Because its fun to interact with and very well done of indie developer Stef Thirion.

ADDENDUM: Maybe the next version of the iPod touch, coming in September according to some sources, will have the camera and digital compass feature from the iPhone. Sure, I’ll upgrade for that.

Face It (working title..) from zach on Vimeo.

People don’t stop talking about The Path

We may have been a bit quiet lately about The Path, but that doesn’t mean that other people don’t talk about it anymore. Most of the time to share their joy and attempt to express why they think The Path is interesting. The only really negative reviews are passionate expressions of hatred and disgust and disapproval that sadly don’t contribute much to anything -apart perhaps from being amusing in their own right, for some. So please forgive us if we skip those.

This first quote is actually from a comment on an early review of The Path. But we thought it very poignant.

The Path reminds us of how innocent and hopeful most video games are. Look, say, at Doom. Man with shotgun takes on the Devil and destroys Hell. That’s optimism. Unrealistic, but a nice thought to keep you warm at night when things aren’t going well.
Real life is a variable experience where you learn things, have some enjoyable experiences, some nasty ones, and then… you die. That’s The Path.

comment by sagesource

The experience of the journey is what The Path is about. What you find in the forest, who you meet, and your girl’s eventual fate intertwine into an experience that’s almost certainly not a game in the classic sense, but does bring to mind the awesome power of interactive experiences in a way many games simply don’t do.

Matt “Steerpike” Sakey on Tap Repeatedly

There is no doubt that Tale of Tales is showing the gaming world exactly what it needs to see: that there is more to this new medium than what we are familiar with, that video games can be emotionally evocative in their own right, and most importantly that we, as gamers, should expect more from developers than overused conventions.

C.T. Hutt on Press Pause To Reflect

Der Wald kann Spiegel eurer Psyche sein, sofern ihr es zulasst. Es gibt keinen Lösungsweg, keine vorgekauten Richtungen. Ihr selbst seid Teil des Spiels, müsst euch aber darauf einlassen können.

Markus Grunow on The Gamer’s Base

O objetivo de cada uma das irmãs não é chegar sã e salva à casa da vovozinha. Na verdade, o que cada uma delas busca é encontrar o seu próprio lobo mau na forma humana. Enfrentar esta tendência pode ser tão denso e visceral que faz com que ser devorada viva pareça um final feliz.


What if the wolves you meet are not furry creatures with sharp teeth, but rather metaphoric wolves constructed from your past experiences, fears, and future desires that you need to understand and confront in order to be ready to cross the threshold into grandmother’s house?

Michael on VGBlogger

The music and ambiance of the game is the one that will really mess with you. Not only is it suitably haunting, which leaves you feeling a bit unsettled like something is out there watching you (guess what you’re right!), but the sound effects that are playing, while random, always seem to be happening right when your nerves are frayed from the music.

Josh Martin on netGameRadio

What if ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ was not simply a cautionary tale, but a metaphor for life instead?

Brad Cook on

A The Path egy olyan bizarr mese, mely teljesen új megvilágításba helyezi gyerekkorunk egyik meghatározó, mindenki által jól ismert, “happy enddel” végződő történetét. Egy metaforikus költemény, melyben mindennek mondandója van, minden utal valamire, amit vagy megért a játékos, vagy nem. Döntéseinknek súlya van, rajtunk áll mikor és mit csinálunk, és hogy mindezt hogyan éljük meg.

Horváth Tamás on

The Path in c't

Obwohl kein Blut fließt, wirkt “The Path” ausgesprochen
verstörend und unheimlich.

Nico Nowarra in c’t magazine #13

The Path in Power Unlimited

Iedereen die geïnteresseerd is wat er allemaal mogelijk is met games en de manier waarop men op interactieve wijze verhalen kan vertellen, is het aan zichzelf verplicht dit grimmige sprookje te gaan spelen.

Jan in Power Unlimited magazine #186

The Path, while minimalistic, provides a magical setting in which the player’s mind blooms with imagination as they discover the beauty and terror that encircles the safety of the beaten path.

iPawn on Subjective (t)ruth

Indie game developer Tale of Tales’ The Path pulls off the virtually impossible: to create a new genre of video games that is not only addictive in its replayability, but more psychologically challenging, haunting, and disturbing than the average horror game, all at a fraction of the developmental cost and manpower of the average title.

aybendito on Ay, Bendito… UFF DA!

The last article also calls The Path “The Blair Witch Project of video games” which is enormously flattering but sadly incorrect giving the discrepancy between the two in terms sales figures. At least, so far… So don’t stop talking about The Path! :)