Unveiling Salome

FATALE: SALOME (gold version)

This is a first look at the first character from FATALE, Salome. And we can tell you now who the artist that we previously listed as “secret” on the Fatale website is! She was designed by Takayoshi Sato, who also modeled her (and another of the characters who we shall introduce at a later date.) As many of you know we have been huge fans of his character design work for years, thus it has been a true joy to be working with him on this project.

We’ve started a gallery on the project’s website. We’ll be publishing more images, along with more information, in the weeks to come. We’re gearing up for release on October 5th! :)

GEE loves the indies

Get your hands on the September issue of Germany’s GEE Magazine! There’s a unique feature story, that we are particularly happy to be a part of. It is documentation of a Skype audioconference that took place between Jason Rohrer, Kellie Santiago (thatgamecompany), Aleksey and Nikolai (Ice-Pick Lodge) and us, Michael and Auriea (Tale of Tales) where we all discussed art, life, each other’s work, and game design philosophy. It was a very honest and frank discussion between developers in drastically different circumstances and with overlapping/contrasting motivations. Should prove insightful to anyone curious about “why do we do it?”

GEE Magazine, Sept. 2009

GEE Magazine, Sept. 2009

Critique of The Path

Red is the colour of blood, and therefore signifies both life and death. We never see the mother at the beginning of the story, but in a sense she is there nevertheless, because the red room from which all the girls start their journey can be interpreted as a womb-symbol.

British writer Edward Picot, well known to us for his wonderful exploration of computer games as art, has published an in-depth review of The Path both on Furtherfield and The Hyperliterature Exchange.

It’s a remarkable article because it goes a lot further in analyzing the content of the game than most reviews have so far. There’s quite a bit of fair criticism as well, which only contributes to the article’s much appreciated sincerity.

GDC Europe -impressions

We left Cologne just when the Gamescom spectacle was getting started. We were there for the Game Developers Conference. We did take a stroll through the fair but were not impressed. It was just a lot of big, fancy and loud booths advertising videogames that are half-broken, outdated and badly designed. Last year’s Independent Games Festival winner Petri Purho made the depressing observation that you could fund development of 20 indy games for the price of one of those booths. Indeed. For the price of one booth at Gamescom, you could revolutionize the entire games industry! But who cares?

While there were not many independent developers presenting at the conference, the few that were there quickly found each other. It’s nice to know that there is a little underground group of people who all resist the big games machine. Together we can look down on the suits with a big grin while they are desperately trying to keep their multi-million Dollar enterprises afloat.

We had a little booth at the GDC, thanks to the efforts of Elfya van Muylem at IBBT, where we were showing The Path (on the iMac, by the way, that also stored all of the production files of our upcoming project Fatale -but nobody saw it). Lots of people came up to us. Players of the game, people who had read about it, students, journalists, game developers, business people. It was fun to talk to them. Made us feel our work really means something to some. So thanks to all of you, in case you’re reading this (leave a comment here! :) ).

As a result, we didn’t see a lot of lectures. But of the few we saw, David Cage’s sermon about the future of videogames probably made the biggest impression. If only because he was almost saying word for word, the kind of things we have been talking about on this blog for years. But in a “for dummies” kind of style, which wasn’t to the liking of all attendees, but still managed to irritate a few sufficiently to make them leave the room.

Basically, Mr Cage was pointing out that the games industry is on a crossroads. Depending on the choices we make now, it will continue to be a successful children’s toy production industry or it could become a mature medium on the level and with the diversity of cinema. His references to cinema were perhaps a bit excessive (personally, I think, we can surpass cinema with a medium that is much more adequate to talk about complex contemporary issues). But in the light of his own work, this is understandable. And his continuous praise of thatgamecompany‘s Flower made it clear that he is broad-minded enough to recognize applications of the theory that are very different of his own.

Speaking of Flower, we also attended Kellee Santiago’s post-mortem presentation of the PSN game, which had drawn quite a decent crowd. She showed several prototypes of the game, made in Processing, Flash, XNA and on the Playstation 3 itself. And she finally explained why Flower changes so drastically half way through -something that had always mystified me.

We had a hell of time hanging out with her in a typical German brewery/restaurant with fellow indies (where the Koelsch beer eternally flows) and on the roof of Microsoft’s fancy new building (witnessing the joint attempts of suits and nerds to combine coolness with opportunism) where we met Steven -Slow Gaming- Poole too. That was nice! :)

The next day, Miss Santiago reappeared in a panel awkwardly called “Designing Women”, also featuring Tracy Fullerton and Sheri Graner Ray. It’s quite sad that women in games (both as players and as creators) continues to be an issue, even if most of the women on the panel do see it in a broader context of lack of diversity, both in development teams as in the games being produced. Which connects the issue quite neatly with David Cage’s plea for greater variety as a requirement for maturity. Ergo: more femininity in games equals more maturity.

It remain a question if anyone in the games industry even listens to these voices. We have heard the same comments and ideas for years now, and if there has been any evolution, it seems to be an evolution further away from diversification, and deeper into the niche of games for 16 year old boys (or grown men pretending to be). The few exceptions that exist (Wii & DS, independent games, casual games, iPhone games) always clearly manifest themselves as different, as a break with the industry to some extent, as an alternative, while the “mainstream” continues to dig a deeper and deeper hole. Perhaps GDC-founder Chris Crawford will finally be proven right. He has always maintained that the realisation of the potential of the interactive medium will happen outside of the games industry.

The last session we attended was Peter Molyneux’s presentation about choice in (Lionhead’s) games. The thing that bothered me about his otherwise amusing presentation, was that he focussed so much on the formal aspects of game design. Which was confirmed by him calling choice a mechanic. He doesn’t seem to be interested in the meaning and content of the particular choices presented in his games, but only in their emotional effect. Seeing choice as a mechanic does nothing to change one of the major flaws of videogames (and one of the major elements that reduces the target audience to teenage boys): the fact that games are power fantasies where apparently insecure humans can get the illusion of control. I can’t help but find that a sad situation.

Which reminds me of the pathetic display that is grown-ups pretending to play music to the antique tunes of the Beatles on plastic toy guitars. Instead of learning an actual instrument and experiencing the pure joy of interpretation, we can now happily be reduced to sacks of skin and bones that can pretend to be a star with no need to learn any useful skill whatsoever.

This is what the games industry seems to have become: a pacifier for the powerless. No inspiration is required, no imagination is desired. You don’t need to be able to do anything, be anyone. Just connect to the machine and it will make you feel like you are a hero, in control of an empire, on top of the world. You and the legions of pathetic nerds, too lazy or timid to actually do something with their lives, content to just sit there and pretend it all away, proud of the billions upon billions that the industry spends on keeping them sedated.

The Quantic Dream Lecture

Theres a lot to be said about the Keynote speech that David Cage made. But I feel like we’ve said it all before. Basically, when Michael writes the things David said, everybody yells at him and insists what we want to do is game-dev heresy. Maybe they will listen to someone who is making a multi-million dollar project for Sony instead? ha!

read the summary of this talk on GameSetWatch.

ToT @ GDC EU: free posters!

GDC Europe

We will be attending the European Game Developers Conference in Cologne on Monday and Tuesday. We’ll be presenting our work in the Flemish Pavilion (booths 162, 163, 168 and 169) in the GDC expo.

We’ll be bring some posters of The Path with us to give away for free. We’ll bring 6 posters of each girl for every day. So if you catch us at our booth (we won’t be there all the time, we also want to attend lectures and meet people), be sure to ask for a poster of your favourite girl! :)

Poster of RobinPoster of RosePoster of GingerPoster of RubyPoster of CarmenPoster of Scarlet

Thank heaven for little girls

Oil painting by Gaston Bussière entitled Salomé (1914)

Bussière is one of the few painters who has depicted Salomé as a young capricious girl, the way she was described in the Bible. Other painters turn her into a mature woman and, especially in the period of Bussière, a femme fatale, devourer of men, deeply evil, and equally sensual. Bussière’s Salomé is naked and yet any sensual pleasure we may get out of looking at her is a very guilty pleasure. She is just a child, only faintly aware of her femininity.

Her dance seems to be more playful then sensuous. Bussière’s interpretation is supported by DeAnna Putman’s analysis of the character of Salomé:

Two key Greek words in the biblical accounts (Mark 6 and Matthew 14) make it very clear that Salome’s honorary dance was not salacious.
First, Salome is referred to as a korasion, meaning, a little girl not yet old enough to be married. Basically this means she had no breasts and had not menstruated yet. Second, the word used for dance here is orxeomai, which not only means dance, but the playful goofing off of young children.

Obviously this adds a layer of complexity to the story which is difficult to join with Oscar Wilde’s interpretation. Belgian youth author Ed Franck, however, was inspired by exactly this conflict: in his novella “Salome” he describes how a teenage Salomé falls in love for the first time, only to meet rejection.

Is the games industry so business-like because business is so games-like?

Jeff Ward wrote an interesting analysis of the commercial viability of independent games. I highly recommend it to anyone who has any illusions about the Great Era For Indie Games that we’re living in. Because the reality is cold and hard for most of us. Indie games is becoming as much a commercial and hit-driven business as its AAA counterpart (via Game Set Watch).

This, of course, made me immediately think about alternatives. The indie scene is too valuable to be spoiled by banal commercial considerations. There must be another way! But perhaps not within the games industry…

The games industry is -still- largely a manufacturing industry, not a creative industry. What I mean by that is that its focus is on the production of goods that can be consumed, rather than on invention and communication, or even entertainment. One of the oddities about the games industry is that the highest selling games and the games that get the highest critical praise are -by and large- the same. Whereas in other creative fields, the opposite is true: mass market products are looked down upon by the connoisseurs and marginal experimental products often get praised.

Within the games industry, the only criticism on this situation comes from academic circles and small groups of dissident gamers and journalists. Most people in the industry (publishers, developers and audience) are perfectly comfortable with reducing a game’s merit to its commercial success. There is no strong desire to invent new things or expand horizons. In fact, every new idea that comes along is heavily criticised, not for its intrinsic value, but for its potential lack of commercial viability. Even on the indie scene, where most developers are primarily driven by passion and not greed, success is still measured in commercial terms. Up to the point where indie developers congratulate their colleagues when they are bought by a bigger company or funded by a publisher (which, in essence, means they cease to be independent).

Commercial gain trumps everything in the games industry. You can make games that hardcore hobbyists despise, but if you sell well, you’ll be respected (Nintendo’s recent success, for example). But what’s much much worse is the opposite! If you make a game that does not sell well, it is simply ignored, shoved aside and dropped into a bin labelled “irrelevant”. If a game doesn’t make money, it’s considered to be irrelevant!

Even the few exceptions that exist, always carry this mark of shame with them. Any article that celebrates the greatness of underselling but highly praised games such as Ico, Psychonauts or Beyond Good and Evil, will invariably mention that the game did not sell well. As some kind of warning to anyone who would dare to do the same. While, seriously, after all this time, does the lack of sales still matter? In any other medium, first of all, commercial success is all but ignored when discussing a masterpiece. And second, a masterpiece that might have been commercially unsuccessful when it was released, makes up for that over time, after being praised on and on by the critics (Van Gogh being the most ludicrous example of this phenomena).

When it comes to games, it almost feels like commercial considerations are an integral part of the form. And I wonder if this is because of the kinds of people that are attracted to games. Games are competitive activities. And striving to win is a big part of the experience, especially in the prominent single player action game category. Gamers can be quite ruthless. In fact, it is expected of you to be ruthless. Your enemies must be defeated, if not destroyed. That’s the main winning condition of most videogames.

These goals happen to be shared by business culture, particularly its capitalist variety. Morals are set aside, friendship is set aside, care for the community or the environment all have to make way for the desire to win, to beat the competition. Business seems to be in a continuous state of war, where things are permitted that would not be accepted in normal society. When all factors in any issue are considered, profitability is the one that leads the decision. A decision that does not support growth of the company, growth of the market share, increased profits, etc, is considered foolish. Is considered playing badly. And will lead to losing the game.

If the people who are running the industry work from the mindset of gamers, it should come as no surprise that the games industry is not a creative one. In a field where financial gain defines success, there is no room for experimentation, exploration, expansion, maturation. And there certainly is no room for considering the quality of people’s lives, care for the environment, art (only when these concerns coincide with financial gain can they pop up on the radar). Maybe this is why the games industry never seems to grow beyond its confines as a manufacturing industry. An industry that is doomed to cater to the whims of the market, instead of leading the community by example, information and discussion. As a result, games are doomed to be forever shelved in the toy store, between to the board games and the superhero comic strips, never living up to their potential to challenge the crown of fine art, cinema and literature.

The Path is cheaper here!

On both Direct2Drive and Steam you can now purchase The Path at a higher price than normal!

To compensate for your trouble, Direct2Drive is throwing in 4 other indie games (Defense Grid: The Awakening, Democracy 2, Zeno Clash and Cogs). They call this the Best of Indie Bundle and charge 17.75 US Dollars for it. But you can buy The Path for 7.76 Dollars less right here!

Steam is doing a similar -if not even more spectacular- stunt by offering a choice of two bundles, each including The Path, and one more expensive than the other! At Steam you can pay up to 29.99 Euros for The Path (or US Dollars if you are so unfortunate as to live in the Home of the Brave). You do have to accept the 9 other indie games they add to the bundle (Audiosurf, Everyday Shooter, Blueberry Garden, Braid, Crayon Physics Deluxe, Gish, Mr. Robot, Darwinia and World of Goo). If you’re worried whether your hard disk can take all that, you could settle for the 19.99 version of The Path (and only get Everyday Shooter, Blueberry Garden, Braid and World of Goo extra). Steam considers these to be Top Indie Games but remember that The Path is much cheaper here. Only 9.99 weak American Dollars!

So grab your chance to pay more for The Path now! It’s a limited time offer!

Seriously, for those who worry about our well being, we totally approve of these discounts. We only get a fraction of the share that we usually get per sold copy. But the theory is that you sell so many more copies that you end up making more money than if you were selling at the normal price. And so far, this does indeed seem to be the case. I guess this means that there’s a lot of cheapskate gamers. But on the other hand, our work gets exposed to a lot of people who had never considered purchasing it. And perhaps they end up appreciating it anyway. So, its a good thing!