Prevision: Tengami (ipad)

*Unreleased Concept art

If you have not yet travelled to Tokyo and experienced the burgeoning metropolis, amidst the neon paradoxes and glass architecture are pockets of sobriety; manicured gardens and shrines. They serve as the antithesis to the accelerated pace of the city. These restorative Eden’s are to reflect and slow down, to ponder the relentless influx of sensorial information. Tengami feels like the iPad equivalent of these gardens, the repulsion against the attention deficit apps we hysterically swipe our fingers through.

Envisioned by Phil Tossell and Jennifer Schneidereit, their UK-based company Nyamyam was actualized on the virtues of quality and attention to detail, cultivated from time at the former Nintendo devotee; Rare.

For their first foray as independents they have positioned themselves as paper engineers armed with delicate precision. Tengami is a movable book inspired by Phil and Jennifer’s Japanese excursions, manifested through a shifting visual surface replete with pull-tabs and pop-outs. The fastidious qualities of Japanese paper (washi) are felt with every opened fold and provoke the same carefulness needed for the tangible form. Esteemed recently as an indiecade finalist and as part of the official selection of Sense of wonder night, Tengami’s liquid sandpaper aesthetics are captivating all who touch them.

What perhaps isnt evident in the game is the subtleties of the creator’s dispositions. There is a kindness to this work, fused with carefulness and restraint, Nyamyam want you to be affected by their sources of inspiration; to get inside of the Japanese folklore, the trees and the water, for you to feel what they have felt. If anything, Tengami is a reflection of Jennifer and Phil and their generosity towards their audience. I have had first hand experience with this through a private meeting at TGS and now with the amiable donation of exclusive concept art (which has not seen light outside of the company). Tengami is not about clamouring for the most in-app purchases or cashing in on a 5 minute hook. It is a gift for the user to be alone with themselves to contemplate their surroundings, Nyamyam’s greatest talent so far is to capture benevolence and give it to the world.

Phil was kind enough to discuss some of the intricacies of the development process:

*Unreleased concept art

Please introduce Nyamyam’s philosophy; what do you want to achieve in the industry and what do you think needs changing?

I think there’s two parts to answering this question: what we want Nyamyam to stand for as a company and what we want Nyamyam’s games to achieve.

Whenever I hear the word ‘industry’ applied to games I instinctively recoil. I think this is because the word ‘industry’ conjures up in my mind vivid images of William Blake’s dark satanic mills of the industrial revolution. Days when factory workers were coerced into working inhumanely long hours, all in the name of progress, when of course what they were really doing was making other people very wealthy. And in some respects from what I’ve experienced in my latter years of mainstream development it really feels like not all that much has changed. You may as well substitute ‘game studio’ for ‘mill’. And so in many respects, Nyamyam was born out of our response to this overbearing, stifling and exploitative environment. We wanted Nyamyam to be more of a creative collective than a traditional company, a place where like-minded people can come together around projects that excite them, but without necessarily supplying a long-term commitment. For example, perhaps someone finds Tengami exciting, but what we do after that they don’t. It makes no sense to me to tie people into companies. Parenthetically, I think the way modern companies are setup and run is anachronistic and an unfortunate hangover from the early days of industry, and I really think it needs to change, particularly in the creative space. But I think most of all we wanted a place where everyone is treated and rewarded equally according to the amount of work they contribute to the games.

In terms of what we do, Nyamyam has a simple ideal that we strive for. That ideal is to create beautifully crafted games that express our individuality as creators, whilst also touching people’s lives in a thought-provoking and considered way. These ideas of individuality and provoking thought are central to why I make games. The conventional view in much of modern game development is that people can be commoditized and made to fit in convenient boxes, mostly so that marketing and business people can decide how we make things that will make these groups of people part with their hard-earned cash. But I refuse to see people that way. I believe people are wonderfully intelligent, complex, emotional and utterly contradictory, and so any attempt to fit people in boxes always fails because people are so complex. It’s these inherently human qualities that we want to appeal to with the games we make. Tengami is essentially us saying: “here, these are influences that have profoundly impacted our lives, we find them amazing and wonderful, and we hope that you do too”.

As Tengami is a self-funded project how much creative freedom do you retain amidst the pressure of needing commercial success, was external backing ever a consideration?

Creative freedom was one of the primary reasons that we chose to start Nyamyam in the first place. It is my firm belief that you can’t have creative freedom without financial freedom and it’s naive to expect that you can. So we were adamant from the beginning that we were going to do this fully on our own terms and take the financial risks ourselves. I think that those people who desire creative freedom, but expect someone else to pay for it are being naive at best, and charlatans at worst. If you do not believe in your own vision enough to put at least some of your own money behind it then I would suggest that it might be better to do something else instead.

Of course, this creates an element of pressure, knowing the clock is ticking and the money is running down, but I think this also helps you maintain a focus on what you are really trying to achieve. It’s important to us only that we make enough money to continue doing what we want to do, beyond that money and financial success is of no concern.

The construction of Tengami originated by learning how to make Pop up structures. Are there ideas that you have or want to include that aren’t physically possible to reproduce in paper form?

Paper is a frustratingly hard material to model using computers. It has so many interesting properties; you can tear it, cut it, fold it and curl it, to name but a few. So in part choosing pop-up was a slightly pragmatic approach since pop-up books are typically constructed from very sturdy card that doesn’t fold or bend easily. This is out of necessity owing to the mechanical requirements in pop-up construction. In the initial ideas phase when we were considering paper more generally we did look at these other properties of paper, but decided that they were mostly incompatible with pop-up books.

There are times when we construct a pop-up where it wouldn’t be strictly possible with real paper. Mostly due to the fact that the real paper wouldn’t be sufficiently strong to pull up another part of the pop-up. We model the pop-ups using a purely analytical mathematical solution. There is no physical simulation involved which means that the computer has no concept of the forces necessary to make a pop-up open and whether these would actually work in reality. But we do try to keep the pop-ups as authentic as we possibly can so that you would be able to re-create them in real life if you wanted to.

Whilst studying paper mechanics did you just settle on transformations or have you incorporated volvelles and tunnel book techniques as well?

I hadn’t actually heard of volvelles until you mentioned them, so I had to go and look it up! Volvelles and tunnel book techniques are certainly possible within the framework of more traditional pop-up books, and I think we have plans to incorporate more rotational elements like volvelles later in the game.

Overall though, we wanted to go for a ‘pure’ approach to pop-up books. Pop-up books in their simplest form only support a few key elements and we chose to do this with Tengami as well. We felt that this was in keeping with the overall philosophy of minimalism that the game has.

Has there been experimentation with the destructive qualities of paper as a gameplay element; tearing or cutting for example?

Early on in development, before we had settled on a final direction, we considered all the various qualities that paper has, and this included cutting, tearing and burning. During the process of refinement we kept removing more and more concepts to make the game simpler and more focused, and we ended up with only three primary mechanics: movement, pop-ups and pull-strips. We felt that fully exploring these was more than sufficient to make a compelling game.

With Tengami, we very much adopt a reductionist design approach, with all of the design, the art and the music. Often when you’re making something, the most difficult part is cutting things out. You end up with so many great ideas and you really want to show them all to the player, but its folly to do this. It’s better to keep cutting and cutting until you are left with the absolute minimum possible to make the game out of. Then, if you need more you can add them back in, but it’s rarely the case that you do need more. It was also important to us that all aspects of the game lined up, that the art complements the gameplay and vice versa.

How important is narrative? Tengami would be effective as a contemplative experience without a story.

The term narrative is a remarkably complex one and replete with many different subtly varying meanings. Recently I’ve been reading a book “Narrative and Consciousness” that brings together many different ideas about the importance of narrative to our sense of self. And in reading that it’s greatly expanded my ideas around what narrative is and how powerful it can be. In essence narrative is simply a logical sequence of temporal events that have importance and meaning to us either as individuals or collectively. I think so far that most games have tried to co-opt the explicit narrative approach of films, where the player is regarded as a viewer rather than a participant in the unfolding drama. Whereas I think we should be taking a more experiential approach like music or dance. For example, conventional wisdom says that music doesn’t really have a narrative, but rather the narrative derives from the listener’s own interpretation. The listener creates the narrative, and this approach seems to me eminently more suitable to games. Games are played, they are experienced, and the narrative is derived by the player through that experience. My favourite game of recent times, Limbo, does this extremely well; there is no story to speak of, only the events that happen to you whilst playing the game. And yet in my mind I have a very strong narrative associated with the game through a combination of the images, music and things that I did whilst playing it. With Tengami we try to take this experiential approach to narrative. There is no explicit story, only impressions from which the player can construct their own narrative.

How will the touch mechanics be incorporated in the PC and Mac versions? Have you thought about exploring a Wii u version, the game pad and the TV screen could make some interesting possibilities?

When we began pulling together the ideas that would become Tengami, we had decided from the outset that we wanted to make a game for touch and specifically for the iPad. This decision is what led to incorporating pop-up in the first place.

For some while we were adamant that the game would only work on touch devices and that we wouldn’t consider releasing it on other platforms. But it became clear after a while that there were a considerable number of people who didn’t have an iPad who were excited about experiencing Tengami. As a creator I want as many people as possible to be able to enjoy what I am creating and so we decided to look into the feasibility of making a desktop version. I think that the final game will still be best played on a touch device because of the tactility that it provides.

The intention with the desktop versions is that the mouse will replace the finger. The mouse already has strong corresponding analogies for the actions used in Tengami, so it should be a fairly straightforward transition. For example double tap can be replaced with a click and swiping can be replaced by dragging. Of course we need to validate these assumptions by actually testing them in the game.

It’s interesting that you ask about a Wii U version. Only last week we had a conversation with Nintendo about the opportunities available for bringing Tengami to the Wii U. The Wii U would definitely be a good fit for what we’re doing, so although we’ve not given any extensive thought to it yet, we are definitely considering it.

*Early concept render

Which design traits learned at Rare have been embellished at Nyamyam?

I think in many respects the design approach to Tengami is almost a counter reaction to the design approach that I saw at Rare. I very much like to reduce and simplify, whereas much of the design at Rare involved adding, often to the detriment of the final game. I considered much of the design at Rare to be too obvious, too much geared towards treating people as children rather than adults. This is not meant to be a criticism per se, since the games we were making were targeted at a younger audience. It’s just that these are not the kind of experiences that I want to make now.

What I did learn at Rare was how to make games, and more importantly how to make exceptionally high quality games. There was an extraordinary craftsmanship to the games that Rare made that very few games studios, even to this day, can replicate.

We discussed that you don’t really play that many video games anymore. Is that because they feel like work or more because of what the industry currently offers?

When you consider the short amount of time that we have available to us in life, I think it’s important that we make best use of the time given to us. This was really brought home to me a few years ago when my mum passed away suddenly from cancer. It made me think long and hard about what I should do with the time given to me. And so I feel that for me to want to dedicate the time to play a game, it has to be something exceptional, which will leave a lasting impression on me. There are so many other wonderful things to experience outside of games: art, architecture, literature, travel. So games have a tough set of competition for my attention. These days I get a lot of inspiration from art and architecture.

Vision: The Unfinished Swan (PS3)

The conjecture when facing a blank canvas makes for a poignant introduction. The environments we step into are usually pre-fabricated with refinement and lustre; to captivate and hold our attention.

The Unfinished Swan inaugurates a white space poised with a central reticule; it wants you to surrender with an impatient button press. Any provisional ideas of exploring negative space are immediately abolished, without some kind of reference point there is no sense of movement or progress. The inevitable yielding launches an insolent black ball of paint; the staining of its target brings a revelation; the appearance of surrounding structures underneath the void. It is a remarkable sight and it sets the temperament of its shooter; the competitive will quickly race to uncover a way out, the completest will reveal the integrity of the structures and the stunned will just stand there, beguiled by the possibilities.

The linearity of your path is equipoise by the freedom to reveal your pathway, there is no limitation to the amount of ink you command, but self-restraint creates an appealing impressionistic view of the landscape. The opposite effect is throwing copious amounts of black onto black which renders everything invisible again. Despite the world’s pre-existence behind the emptiness, it is an ambit you have uniquely revealed. It is all too easy to disclose the intricacies of both the story and the visions, but the central mechanic excels by stumbling upon the wonders rather having an anticipatory mindset.

As you progress; shadows introduced to the emptiness accentuate edges of constructions, the architecture almost begging not to be spoiled by your dye. The developers (Giant Sparrow) later indulge in this unblemished vista by replacing your ink cache with spheres of water. The spectacle of seeing water thrown onto white is arguably more appealing than ink; flirting with insights of the locale and then evaporating into nothing.

In contrast to the initial elucidation, pre-rendered buildings are presented bathing you in a haze of relaxation. The unhurried pace and minimal aesthetic is a pleasure to traverse, reminiscent of a lazy Mediterranean town in the summer. This departure from the opening however has been controversial. The introduction of auxiliary mechanics and change of graphical integrity had some critics unconvinced, citing a mismatch of ideas usurping the opportunities that could have been explored. It is a valid point but does not diminish cohesion, The Unfinished swan is clearly introduced as an imaginative bedtime story. The interrelation of conducting ascendable vines to the latter creation of geometric blocks fits within this whimsical realm of magic, giants and Floating airships.

The Unfinished swan may have been more impactful following its initial concept but Giant Sparrow should be applauded for exploring diversity over the one visual trick, and perhaps this departure makes that aesthetic even more potent. There is a simple exploitation of traditional game proponents which unifies conviviality, such as walking over a maze instead of through it. It is not innovative but it supplements the simplicity of the puzzles, they are completed effortlessly and feel congenial rather than taxing. Like the visions of relative contemporaries; Thatgamecompany, to whose work this will be compared, restraint is needed from revealing too much.

Ultimately The Unfinished swan takes a stimulating game mechanic and offers eloquence, nurtured through the warmth and buoyancy of its story. It’s virtues lie in the enchantment of a unique atmosphere and this ambiance keeps you seduced until the credits roll. Ian Dallas, Max Geiger and the rest of  the Giant Sparrow team have somehow bottled vivacity; inimitable energy pours from bleached buildings and crystal waters, they serve as conduits of peacefulness, for you to get lost in, for you to uncover reverence.

Prevision: Bientôt l’été (PC/Mac)

Michaël Samyn has made numerous attempts to explain what Bientôt l’été is. Through his development blog the co-owner of Tale of Tales (Auriea Harvey is hard at work on the game: 8) has tried to convey the intricacies of his vision. Not because the work is ambivalent, but because he knows the audience can be capricious at times; nestled cosily in ‘more of the same’. The future of the videogame, for many, must be imbued with the familiarity of traditional ideas, thankfully, Michaël questions that conformist attitude. With inspiration from the novelist Marguerite Duras and her work in Moderato Cantabile he asks us to think and feel.

Bientôt l’été is a program that simulates a fictitious beach on the French Atlantic coast. An empty beach for reflection amidst ocean rhythms, where ideas are crafted and relationships are contemplated. This cogitation manifests into a collection of feelings which you can keep or discard as you wander. Sauntering the stretch of sand uncovers the underlying fabric of the program; data structures and a view of interplanetary firmament. Day and night cycles dramatize the setting, accentuated though an emotive soundtrack by Walter Hus. Set back from the shoreline is a single café which houses metaphors for communication through the internet; that our bodies exist externally of it but our minds forage resolutely inside. A conversation transpires; loaded words shrouding their true intent revealing myriad interpretations and torrents of ambiguity. The cycle of visiting the beach and café continues ad infinitum albeit with subtle changes, but what you do in Bientôt l’été however is almost insignificant next to what you feel and what you can find internally.

I asked Michaël about the minutiae of this current project and what he hopes to achieve with it.

Your development blog explores design concepts that you have wrestled with in bringing Bientôt l’été into fruition, I felt it has given me an extra layer of depth to the experience. How much does your audience need to know about the concept before they play it?

I hope not much. If only because I don’t know exactly how to introduce Bientôt l’été to a potential player. I’m not sure if reading the blog would be equally helpful to all. Some players might enjoy the piece more knowing nothing. Others, of course, may not connect to it without some help. And yet others would enjoy it more deeply if they knew more about the concept and/or the creation process.

Given the references to Marguerite Duras, I can imagine that people familiar with her novels, films and life would enjoy recognizing some elements in the game. Or they might be disappointed that Bientôt l’été is not as good a work of art as the material it draws inspiration from.
There is no perfect way to optimize the enjoyment of everyone. I hope people give Bientôt l’été a chance, perhaps multiple times, in different moods.
The development blog is intended only for people with a more than average interest in this sort of work. I’m hoping that they can function as evangelists of the piece towards people who are less inclined to such deep involvement but who might still enjoy the experience.

It seems very much about the user’s perception of their surroundings; you do not present distractions but opportunities to create feelings. Has this been hard to achieve, are there concerns that the user is usually too busy to notice the space they inhabit?

The creative technology that has emerged out of the combination of computers and games, still has some growing to do. If you make games in this medium, there is a lot of excellent material that can serve as reference. A history from early arcade games to contemporary console blockbusters, but also card, board and folk games that have existed as long as man has, and of course puzzles and sports. But if you try to make something artistic or expressive with this same technology, it’s a lot more difficult to find references. It’s much easier to make a computer version of chess, than it is to make something along the lines of The Birth of Venus or Die Walküre.

Given the medium’s heritage of games, and also some of the inherent quality of interaction probably, one of the major problems when doing the kind of work that we do is to avoid creating opportunities for rules-driven play. One of the tricks you can use for that is the notgames method: reject all game conventions. But this sounds easier than it is. First of all there is a certain doubt about the player’s capacity to enjoy themselves if we don’t give them a task to do or a goal to move towards. And then there is also the inclination that humans seem to have to turn just about anything into a game.

Humans like competition and they like the feeling of achieving something. But the kinds of activities that lead to such emotions can be detrimental to the experience of beauty. Playing tag in the Louvre is not exactly the best way to enjoy David’s paintings. Collecting as many tickets as possible will probably not help you enjoy a concert much.

So I’d say that this has been the hardest part of the design of Bientôt l’été: to design forms of interaction that complement the mood and the atmosphere without stimulating game-like behavior. One the major revelations that I have had during the development of this piece was that the answer to the question “What should the players of artistic interactive pieces be doing?” is simply “Nothing.” If you create a world and characters and an atmosphere that are intriguing and attractive, people can enjoy them for what they are. Sometimes doing an activity can enhance the feeling of presence in this virtual world. But I think one should be very careful when implementing such activities. And always keep in mind that nothing is probably ideal.

You have said that you have felt uneasy about introducing collectibles into Bientôt l’été. Has there been a desire to deliver your ideas through a Trojan horse so as not to alienate the user?

The problem was actually that it was all too easy to introduce collectibles! The collection activity was part of the early ideas about the design. What has been difficult is removing it. And I haven’t succeeded completely.

We have tried the Trojan Horse approach with Fatale I guess and it didn’t really work for us. Gamers are not fooled by random game-like structures or references. I think they appreciate our work much more if we don’t compromise, if we strive for a sort of purity, if we really go all the way and deliver something that one cannot call a game anymore, in the strict sense of the word. After all, most gamers also like other things than games, don’t they?
The game references are also impossible to appreciate for people who have no experiences with videogames. And we still cherish the dream of creating videogames for people who do not play them.

Ultimately, if Bientôt l’été is a Trojan Horse, the player will have to bring their own Greeks. Because I didn’t put any in it. Bientôt l’été is what it is. There is nothing behind the curtain.

I believe you want us to ultimately fall in love, but in what way? I felt attached to the idea of love through the beach, the holodeck and the soundtrack in addition to the stranger in the café.

I don’t really want that. It was just something I said early in the development. Something, perhaps, I aimed for in the beginning. Not for the player to actually fall in love, but to play with the avatar in such a way that it perhaps falls in love. But I have more or less given up on that tangent. Because I feel the theme of love is approached from many different directions in Bientôt l’été. It’s not just falling in love, it’s also breaking up, or not feeling love, or being confused by love, or desiring love.

Ultimately I don’t have any concrete expectations of how the player will end up feeling through playing. Even though the words and music are carefully chosen to create a rather specific mood, what Bientôt l’été ultimately means to a player will depend more on their own life experiences than on anything in the game. Bientôt l’été is a system, a device, a tool that gives opportunity to look into one’s own heart, to reminisce memories, to consider existence.

As in Marguerite Duras’ novels, you place an emphasis on what is ‘not’ being said in-between the conversations the user has. Is the unspoken supposed to manifest on the beach as more ideas to take back into repeated visits to the café?

That’s a nice interpretation. The text that appears on the beach is all sorts of things to me: distracted musing, doubts about what to say, memories of what has been said or of former relationships, etc. The kind of messy thinking that the violent winds at the Atlantic coast cause in one’s head. Reality still very much happens in between what is being said. This is how amorous conversations seem like a kind of games. You can only really do symbolic moves and hope that your partner understands the emotions behind the gesture and responds in a way that pleases you. When Marguerite Duras refrains from saying something explicitly, I don’t think she is being coy (not most of the time, at least). I think she deeply believes that the not saying or the saying of something that doesn’t seem directly related, more correctly expresses the emotions, the intent, the desire, the love. She was obsessed with precision. Her words are the closest possible expression of the feelings, even if they seem imperfect, incomplete, inadequate or absurd.

If nothing else, her words, and hopefully the way I use them in Bientôt l’été, make one aware of the fact that the literal meaning of what is being said covers only a small part of what is going on. It is a very sad state of affairs if we believe that language is our only connection to reality. To accept only the existence of things that can be said is sad and potentially dangerous. In that sense, pointing out the charming inadequacy of language, pays tribute to the richness of existence. And what nobler goal is their for art?

From following your blog I cannot separate the creator from the creation. I view Bientôt l’été as: An artist creating a love story through the means of his audience creating a love story. Have you thought about your role as a creator within your own vision? All of the elements the audience generates emotion with, have been created by you.

I see my work as a form of sharing. Since we are all human here, I assume that there will be some overlap between my life and that of the players. So I hope that they recognize certain emotions or concepts. But they will no doubt also invent new ones, that I may not share with them. Ultimately, the only thing that matters is the experience of the player. Bientôt l’été is not a tool to help understand its creator. It is not an expression in that sense. I see it more as an investigation.

I think that is one of the reasons why I like this medium so much. It puts creator and appreciator on an equal level. And the artistic experience really only happens when we collaborate. I make something and you do something and it is through your energy that the work gets electrified, so to speak, that it becomes alive and beautiful and meaningful. This is true of every art form, but much more concretely so for realtime pieces running on computers.

There is a strong autobiographical basis to Bientôt l’été in the sense that I met the love of my life on the internet, and we have done many attempts to meet each other “in cyberspace”. I am also very familiar with the kind of seaside portrayed in the game as my family lived near the North Sea in Belgium and we visited often when I was young. But I don’t see Bientôt l’été as an expression of these events and experiences. I don’t have anything to say about them. They simply come natural to me. They are more material than content.

So even though many elements in Bientôt l’été come directly out of my own life experience, I do not feel that the work is about me in any way. I feel very impersonal as an artist. I don’t feel like an individual. I feel more like a conduit for things that happen outside of me, a channel. I believe Elizabeth Grosz expressed it well when she called art a sort of framing of chaos (which is the word she uses to describe raw existence, encompassing everything, far larger than anything in the human scale – hence the need for frames).

Would you be interested in creating an augmented reality version of Bientôt l’été? The user could use real world elements such as walking on an actual beach with the projection of the phrases and the holodeck through AR glasses.

In principle, no. Because I think we already look at reality far too little. Reality is amazing as it is. I don’t want anything to cover it up. I would like my work to inspire a new way of looking at reality. But preferably in sequence, not simultaneously.

It’s a cute idea, though. I think it would also be interesting to use the audio of the game to respond to your position on a real beach. It might be a nice thing to do next to playing the game or walking on the beach. But I would be horrified if it would replace the latter.

It’s also quite essential for me that the scenery in Bientôt l’été is synthetic. It is presented as a holographic projection. I would not want to reduce actual reality to such a charade. And I think the game is more meaningful with this layer of falsehood present.

What do you think of the terminology we use to describe this medium you work in? Game, fun and play seem quite limiting to convey the ideas you are exploring here.

I do use those words. There is a game-aspect in all art. And fun could be used to describe all sorts of enjoyment, if a bit irreverently. Play is a very useful word because it has been far less tainted by the games industry than the word game. We can still easily imagine many forms of play. But you are right that these words would not suffice to convey the ideas behind the creation of Bientôt l’été or the concepts and feelings explored in it. This is why I am half-considering asking journalists not to review Bientôt l’été. There doesn’t seem to be much point to talk about it in conventional game terms. Not that I think it is so immensely different. I think many videogames have suffered from the minute vocabulary that the games press generally employs. The players have missed a lot of great experiences as a result of this, and the developers have been pushed into a Metacritic corner where they lack the energy and the courage to emphasize anything other than what can be reviewed as graphics/mechanics/sound effects/narrative or what have you.

The medium I feel I work in is not video-games, in the sense of games made with computers. My medium is that technology that video-games also use. And its (potential) audience. The more mainstream videogames are deviating from strict game structures and fluctuate towards a more general entertainment medium, the more overlap starts to exist between what we do and what they do. Our work has probably more in common with contemporary mass market blockbuster videogames than with hardcore retro games or clever puzzle games.

It’s a bit annoying that we are stuck with the word “videogames” for this medium, but we will just have to get over the literal meaning of that word and embrace the broad reality that it already represents. That will take time and effort.

Do you think the medium needs more diversity in themes and content? We know how to effectively build zombies and soldiers etc. but what about the things we do not know how to build, who is exploring those and are they important?

The zombies and soldiers that the games industry creates rarely convince me. Most often they are just pawns or tokens on a virtual game board. They do not really function as the creatures they represent because they are created as visualizations for otherwise abstract tokens in a game system. I don’t know a single videogame that was actually built around the idea of what a zombie really is, or could be imagined to be. They just use the poor zombies as something to shoot on.

I wouldn’t want to encourage everyone to try to use videogames as an expressive medium. If people are drawn to creating games, they should just do that. They shouldn’t feel pressured into making art. I do find it a problematic that some of these games use realistic looking presentations. Because it is easy to mistake such games for actual expressions. They look like art. And that is confusing and misleading.

But I do hope that people who really feel the need to actually investigate certain topics or create beauty for others get more opportunities to use the medium of videogames for this. And I think the games industry would be wise to open its arms for such people and create methods that allow such people to do their work. Because they will enrich everything, open up videogames for all of humanity and establish that coveted respect that videogames will never earn if juvenile action hero fantasies remain the central output.

I am still hopeful that at some point the console makers or the big PC game distributors will get their act together and understand that they should pour massive support in this project. Just imagine AAA budgets for videogame productions that are not about playing with guns or dolls! Mind-boggling! Revolutionary! I don’t understand why the videogames industry does not see the massive potential of such a venture. If one of them realizes this, the impact will be huge. In the mean time, we can keep an eye on what the small developers are doing and simply support them as players. If they don’t end up infusing the larger industry with more diversity, they will simply become their own thing at some point. And probably grow so big that all but the hardest core will forget about that thing that was once called games-industry.

You have stated that you want to stop being an artist and to produce for other people rather than yourself. Don’t you think that you have already been creating for others; even inadvertently, through realising your own ambitions. What you have been doing is important to the advancement of the medium.

I feel flattered that you think so. And I know that there have been a few occasions where our work has inspired the design of videogames that reached a much larger audience. But I would like to see if I can’t make something on that level myself. I’ve always more or less accepted that I’m simply too weird to ever make something for anyone outside of a small elite. But through the work on Bientôt l’été, which I consider one of the most extreme cases of elitist game design I have been involved with, I have started to think of overcoming my handicap as a sort of challenge.

Maybe I’m finally old enough to be mild and kind now. Maybe I’m just sick of rebelling. Maybe this is just a phase. Or it’s simply a form of vanity. This change in attitude may not make much of a difference to anyone but myself. I just want to make something nice now. Try to avoid my contrary nature and make something that people find pretty and fun, something that moves them without having to be very erudite or jumping through all sorts of ambiguous hoops. If only for a change.

I guess I also feel that I can do this now, because there’s so many more developers now than ever who are exploring this medium in sincerity and with ambition. Only a few years ago, it probably felt like a holy duty to me to make these kinds of experimental videogames. But now there’s several very interesting developers exploring the underwater part of the proverbial iceberg, from many different directions. So I can relax a bit. It’s very exciting!

Through the output of Tale of Tales both Michaël and Auriea have certainly earned the right to relax. Bientôt l’été however you interpret it stands as a testament to two innovators who fell in love through the internet; whose lateral thinking is often the subject of misconstrued sentiments. In my search for neoteric thinking I have not yet found the Howard Roark of videogames, but Michaël Samyn exudes many of his qualities. When we look back on the history of this medium and of the people who helped advance it, it would be nice if those who fought conventions were encouraged rather than vilified. Please support Bientôt l’été and purchase it.

For further insight view the excellent blog and Tumblr archive (excerpts below)

Footage of work in progress:

Prevision: Among the sleep


In Hamar Norway, Krillbite studio quietly works on evolving the first person space. Among the sleep is a unique vision that ventures into the hallucinatory depths of the imagination. Touching on Achluophobia (fear of the dark) and hinting at Automatonophobia (fear of anything that falsely represents a sentient being) Krillbite wants to bring you to your hands and knees. Literally; because Among the sleep is entirely viewed through the eyes of a two-year old child; from the struggles of scaling household obstacles to the manifestations of childhood fears.

Adrian Tingstad Husby vehemently discusses why it is important to challenge conventions. He and the team at Krillbite stand poised to offer something we genuinely have not experienced before.


Among the sleep delivers a great hypothesis especially next to traditional First person experiences. How are you approaching user interaction, will the environment generate emotional content similar to what Dear Esther did?

The environment will definitely follow the surreal nature of dreams and imagination, constantly mixing the real world with mental elements. But our interaction is more similar to Amnesia for example rather than Dear Esther, because we want people to interact with the environment not only analytically, but also very physically – with actions like push, pull, climbing, open and closing doors and drawers. We really want to get players immersed and feel part of the world, so we are working hard at optimizing all these mechanics so they don’t break immersion.


How will the child’s perception manifest into something unsettling? Will it be through the unseen or through everyday objects that exhibit sinister nuances?

A combination of both! You will definitely encounter familiar objects that take an unsettling form, as well as creatures and environments where the imagination has twisted it into something completely unrecognizable. Some things will be clearly visible, and others might depend on you to fill in some gaps.


Everyone has these ambiguous memories of being scared when they were a child, but are any of the team parents? As a father I had this paternalistic feeling when I watched the gameplay trailer.

Unfortunately, no one on the team has their own children yet, so our firsthand experience is mainly with our nieces and nephews. But we are consulting people with both academic and practical competence on the field of young children’s development and psychology, which we hope will provide some valuable insight into these topics. I guess the paternalistic feeling is inevitable in many cases, but we hope most players will be able to fully immerse themselves and think “I should avoid this danger” as opposed to “I should help the child to avoid this danger”.


How significant is the teddy bear as a gameplay element or is it more of a companion?

Teddy will have a significant role as a story-driving companion, mostly hanging on your back and occasionally talking. But at times he will also factor into the gameplay to a certain degree. We are still playing around with these elements though, so we don’t want to be too specific on this point yet.


Please talk about your design philosophy. Why is this medium important to you and why are you exploring ideas unfamiliar to the conversant?

I’ll speak for me personally, but I think most of this reflects the rest of the team as well.

We all grew up glorifying the entertainment video games provided, and over the years it became an important and really substantial part of our childhood and personality. If we ask our parents about their childhood they light up, and I think it might be hard for many to imagine us having the same feelings towards video games. Strangely though, because I find it the most interesting form of communication ever devised by humans. Action is our basis, and the interactive nature of video games really has the potential to reflect the human mind. In other words, if I think I have something important to say, if I want to drive a change in attitude, if I want to inspire and engage, and in the end (at the risk of sounding pompous) if I want to change the world – games is an important and effective place to be!

Unfortunately, a lot is sacrificed on the altar of the industry mindset. Future civilisations will analyse our culture to decipher what we were thinking about, what was important to us, and what problems we faced – what will they find? 600 versions of Medal of Dutyfield and Angry’ville?


I think it is easy to rebuke mainstream developers for their lack of innovation. Do you feel that maybe it is the consumers who should have a responsibility to support iconoclastic ideas, after all, isn’t the mainstream just supplying consumer demands? How can we enlighten them?

I think this is kind of a “chicken and the egg” problem. The responsibility comes with power, and it’s debatable who’s got the most power in a consumer/business relationship. If consumers organized in groups with a potential for substantial impact, we could absolutely be able to change a few things. We’ve seen a number of fascinating examples of this recently, especially regarding the symbiosis of social networks and financial alternatives like Kickstarter. But big business possesses great power as well, and should not be able to cynically disclaim all responsibility without resistance. The people screaming the loudest while milking their annual cash-ins will probably continue to reach their market. But as long as the diversity of games continue to grow I’m satisfied, and we are already starting to see signs of the indie scene influencing the direction of the mainstream.

The team at Krillbite are passionate about creating for the advancement of the medium. Please follow their blog to see how they intend to do it.

For further insight into Among the sleep view some of the early concept images

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The new language of videogames

The purpose of my writing is to lionize the videogame and its future.

This will be achieved by promoting content for the advancement of the medium, through neoteric thinking and innovation. My aim is to present experiences that we have not played before; alternatives to the oversaturated genres we have wallowed in for too long, games that challenge perceptions, which can enlighten the ignorant as well as the conversant.

Some of these experiences will look atypical; not fitting politely into the mould of what we call a traditional videogame. They may not be cohesive under our current mode of evaluation either, which rates experiences by their control mechanics rather than emotional content. This interactive medium is important socially, culturally and academically, it should not be viewed as a mere disposable toy or as a scapegoat for the ignorant.

I respect that a lot of people have no desire to look beneath the surface; to many, games are just a convenient escape and nothing more.

Please try to understand though: this is a medium that other modes cannot replicate; one that offers an abundance of opportunities. Videogames are conduits of expression and instruments of ideas; they stand as benefactors of creative thoughts. This creativity needs to be supported, unhindered and not supressed or pigeonholed.

The book, the song and the film are widely respected channels of ideas but they are generally passive experiences. As a user your interaction does not alter the course of the content, you watch, listen or read with the option of stopping or continuing. With videogames we can have direct influence inside of those ideas, creating, touching and manipulating them in a way that generates visceral expressive content. There may be a linear path towards a final goal, but that path can be deviated from and played with.

The criteria for selecting the games I present revolves around one element; they must offer something original, either through interaction or by innovating; aesthetically, phonically or through subject matter.

Progress does not come from repeating the same things over and over again; it comes from experimentation and risk taking with a high degree of failure. The games I present will not be criticised for their attempts to innovate, especially because they might not play or look as good as other games. They will be commended for their struggles to forge new paths, because this is how the medium moves forward, through trial and error, it grows through innovators and not by plagiarism or imitation.

In addition to the content and ideas I present I will introduce a new term instead of videogame; one that encompasses more than the current vocabulary we use.

This term is: Interactive visions (or visions for short)

My reasoning behind this phrase will be examined more in depth in another post, but I feel that it simply conveys the essence of the medium without placing restrictions on what or who it is for.

I hope to challenge our perceptions of what a videogame is, what they can do and what they can be. It is important to open up debates as to what this medium is capable of, and what they could be like in the future.

Thank you for joining me.