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.

Hindsight: Tokyo game show 2012

The dust has settled over the Makuhari Messe convention centre, home of the Tokyo game show. An event to showcase new ideas and ingenuity; the creation of the future and the unimaginable. In hindsight the future was nothing but deja-vu; reminiscent of a prosaic E3 earlier this year. TGS’s main floor was replete with the sequels and micro extensions of franchises found in previous years, all vying for consumer attention. The obliging crowds queued feverishly, not for the creative thinkers however but for the imitators; games already played in some incarnation or another. The lack of basic self-questioning from attendees was bewildering, a simple ‘what am I playing and have I played this before?’ would have redirected hour+ queues to the creative integrity of something like The Unfinished Swan.

Thankfully TGS’s outlet for lionizing innovation was the presentation of SOWN (Sense of wonder night); it brought some much-needed originality to the event and stood as an advocate of individualism.

Objectives of SOWN:

  • To introduce games with a game design and ideas that are experimental and creative, and that cannot be called conventional or traditional
  • To heighten awareness of the importance of creating a game that gives people a “sense of wonder”, a sense that something will change in their world, and to invigorate the game industry
  •  To offer people creating experimental games opportunities for the future
  •  To create new domains in the game industry

Those objectives would make an exemplary template for the whole of the Tokyo Game Show and for E3 for that matter, rather than the plagiarism that filled 95% of both spaces. For that to happen a different mind-set would be required from both the developers and the consumers; where ques were formed for ideas not seen before, rather than the incredulous fraud that seems to be blindly followed each year.

These were the visions of developers that were unique and offered something neoteric

TENGAMI

A company made of former Rare developers delivered understated elegance in the form of Tengami; a paper engineered pop up adventure capturing the tranquility of Japanese romanticism.

MEMORY OF A BROKEN DIMENSION

Ezra Hanson-White’s superlative first person work, proved to be the most unique of the show which can be read in a previous feature here.

THE LIGHT SHOOTER

A Tokyo University of Technology project designed by Masasuke Yasumoto. The work earned an award from Microsoft Japan for its stunning light based interaction.

UNFINISHED SWAN

Shortly due for release by Giant Sparrow, this unalloyed wonder captures the imagination through its paint throwing mechanics.

BREAKS

Takayuki Yanagihara’s visceral lazer show delivers hectic ball play through a touch pad interface.

Prevision: Memory of a broken dimension (PC/Mac)

What was the last videogame that left you completely immobilized, when you stood before something incomparable, that defied categorisation? Questioning not only what was happening visually but how you felt within the atmosphere it generated? The type of sensation that is usually reserved for something unprecedented; like those key revelations that chart the advancement of the videogame.

The summation of my writing has been to ask a simple question; is the videogame still evolving? I search for that answer without equivocation, Ezra Hanson-White of datatragedy has responded to that question and his answer has hit me like a brick.

Originality and innovation are two of the most abused words used in the gaming press, permeating fickle scores and hollow reviews, I would like to use those terms with the sincerity they deserve. This is what originality looks like and how innovation feels, this is Memory of a broken dimension.

Part of the official selection of SOWN (the Tokyo game show’s Sense of wonder night). MOABD’s theme and content, surprisingly, has originated from real world elements. This may seem implausible unless your vocabulary consists of; Hyperspectral imaging, or erudite ramblings of the heliosphere and solar radiation bursts. The images here depict oceans of static transmissions, of information broadcasts and the mining of data, data inspired by NASA’s interplanetary footage amongst others.

Ezra has created a first person tool that allows you to tune into broadcasts, radio signals that need exact synchronisation to capture images. These images forge a landscape which you traverse and explore. The slightest directional movement fragments the similes and you are constantly re-evaluating where you are. The sensation is like having infinite epiphanies; not understanding anything around you but for fractions of seconds; everything solidifies and becomes clear. Tuning in TV channels seems appropriate, but imagine walking inside of them as you are doing it. The feelings this generates are often antonyms of one another; shades of claustrophobic openness or relaxed intimidation. Most of the time I did not know what I was viewing but what I recognised, or thought I recognised was all the compulsion needed to see more. Videogame history has a lot of diverse experiences, but I have never seen anything like this. It is fitting that MOABD was featured at a Sense of wonder because that is exactly what this is; a sense of wonder.

Ezra divulges some more information on this already exceptional work in progress.

Your vision is about radio propagation and hacking into satellites to view data signals.
How did this idea materialize?

Its been a slow process, the first bits of inspiration were from experiments with 3D modeling tools, shattering primitives and mapping textures to the camera’s viewpoint. A couple of years ago I started writing design thoughts down in my sketchbook, up until then I had no habit of doing so, over time I began noticing how different fragments of ideas actually tied together with prior ones. That led to the concept coming together as well as discovering how my creative process can work.

MOABD received astonished reactions at the Lunacade exhibition in Sydney. Some of the audience did not know what it was or what to do with it. I view this as a positive thing, we don’t hear that very often; videogames are often derivatives of familiar sources. Was the distinct aesthetics something you imagined or are they true to the source of satellite signals?

It’s cool to consider the aesthetics as being true to the source of satellite signals, thinking of how glitched out data can look when the methods of reading it are unknown, but overall the aesthetics are imagined. Some inspiration comes from the deterioration introduced while making copies of copies, like VHS tapes or types of compressed audio & video. Other things like NASA space footage interrupted by solar radiation bursts, buffering artifacts of late 90’s 160×120 RealPlayer streams at 5.3KBps, half-emulated features of systems.
I’m wanting to get the entrancing effect of watching a fire or waves crashing, fields of tall grass billowing in wind. I’m probably also chasing expressionism or even impressionist ideas, but I don’t think the visuals are there yet, experimental visuals are something I want to see more of in games and interactive media, maybe when Geometry Shaders are standard in all hardware?

Interaction generates a bizarre feeling of travelling immense distances but equipoise by not really moving. A Loss of signal makes the world disappear leaving only the wire frame grid around you. Does the world solidify as you tune into it or is it constantly unfastened?

Most of the world is fragmented and as the user synchronizes with it, becomes physically interactive. I’m playing with having certain rules where parts of the world break apart again when out of range (inspired a bit by WiFi signals). There’s also places that overlap in the same point of space with the user tuning between them. The level in the Lunarcade build is pretty claustrophobic, there will be wide expanses to balance the experience.

How are you going to explore narrative and what do you want to communicate? As the visual elements are so effective is there a danger of diluting the experience with more ‘game like’ elements?

Currently I’m approaching the narrative as a kind of alternate-reality device. The user is interacting as themselves, as they would at their computer. Running the game is fictionalized as running an emulator, the user is booting into an obscure operating system where a haunting PSX-era chime would seem fitting on startup. They scan directory structures for hidden files, exploring the software contained inside while unveiling its purpose. Then the emulator establishes phantom connections beyond the local network and strange things occur…

There isn’t a sense of cutscenes explaining narrative or the Player playing as a character, which is something I had planned on doing at first. I’m a huge FPS fan, ever since finding wolf3d.exe on a shareware disk in the mail, so it seemed natural to treat it entirely like an FPS- disembodied hands walking into the character’s living space, walk up and activate the computer…dive into screen… it probably would work fine but the thought of treating the game as an emulated system just stuck in my head. I like how it wraps up all the common game-stuff, menus and things, and makes them fit into the fiction.
The funny thing is, I added view bob, which helps make it feel even more organic and reactive…so who knows, maybe I will end up putting some disembodied hands in (Fotonica nailed awesome VR hands), maybe part of it ends up being a game in a game or a scientific virtual reality research tool…?

What developments have you made from the code you previewed at
Lunacade?

I’ve been busier with work recently so I haven’t gotten too many major developments, overall just making adjustments based on feedback and also working towards having a set of different interactions that I can structure levels around. The Lunarcade build didn’t include any form of a map system so that is another thing I started prototyping. Since I work on the project in spare time, development is either at one extreme or the other depending on what is happening, crazy accelerated binges or just slow & steady progress.

I am intrigued by a question you posed in the TIG forum: “What if you could access any range data transmission. What is out there that is being studied and not public knowledge? (+ a ton of fictional stuff). Could you elaborate on the relationship of the real world based elements mixed with the fictional?

I feel like I need to restrain myself from elaborating, it’s a mix of real world elements that I’m pulling from, random things you hear from science journals, about the heliosphere, clouds of galactic fluff, the cosmic background radiation, etc. Then the reality that a lot of stuff is transmitted in the electromagnetic spectrum almost invisibly to us, using various devices to observe specific ranges. Researchers use techniques like Hyperspectral Imaging to view into the earth and detect various minerals, similar techniques are probably being used to analyze material on the surface of Mars right now and observe behavior of the Sun.
I guess fascination with stuff like that started with radio when I was younger, that all these different stations can be accessed from a point in space from a small device.. In some ways microscopes had a similar effect, I’d take a sample of muddy water from off the street, drop it on a slide to track down and chase all sorts of weird objects swimming around. I never found out what the different things swimming around were, I didn’t care, all that mattered was that they were in a tiny drop of water pulled from a bigger puddle of water, what else was in the puddle that I hadn’t discovered?
That kind of captures where the question came from and what the fiction of the game floats around with, I’m hesitant of how thorough it will be explained in MOABD, overall I’d just like it to be a contemplative experience that doesn’t over-explain itself, the mystery and strangeness is important for the type of experience I’m creating.

You have expressed that you want the user to feel like they are using a tool. Is this a tool for general observation or will it be imbued with emotional content?

The introduction to computers and DOS had a sense of unknown that was new to me, you’d type in commands and not know what would happen, trial and error, digging around in directories and trying to get games to run with boot disks. The introduction of the internet made this all even more mystical, does the information superhighway exist on this AOL trial disc, what is this thing, a new type of CD-ROM dictionary? The weird sense that your computer is connected to the entire world, what? The internet is pretty common to many people now, and I’d like to create an experience that has a bit of that unfamiliar-technology mystique. So, much like the first time running minesweeper.

Phonically the vision sounds like you are inside an electrical storm, is this purely the sound of the apparatus or do you want the experience to be menacing?

A mix of both, I want the audio to enhance the impact of the visuals, so it is more on the imaginative side, I have no idea why the user can hear all this noise! So far I’ve been avoiding putting in common sounds that would be identifiable a lot of the effects come from FM synthesis which I really like for the digital sharpness it can have. The Lunarcade build was pretty menacing sounding, looking back at it I’d want to make parts of it more serene, I don’t want the experience to be too abrasive all the time and wear down the user.

The menu screen is a really effective introduction, it feels like pirate television. Have you experimented by exploring that as a gameplay element in itself?

Currently the command-prompt style menu ties everything together, the plan is hitting ESC at any time drops out to it, where various programs can be accessed. I’d like the user to have a sense of multi-tasking. Like you’re chilling in a neo-Houston control bunker watching the telemetry feeds and piloting a craft, all while your virtual shadow hangs submerged in the data streams and packet-loss exhaust extending from it…!
The user might have to delete files or rename things as a gameplay element, there is a lot that I want to explore, the map system for example is inspired by the concept of defragmenting drives.

What lessons have you learned from Protekor and PRΔY that you have applied to this project and what do you hope to explore in the future?

Protekor started from a prototype done for Experimentalgameplay.com Drawing theme in Dec 2010, it was the first project I took beyond prototype in Unity, I used it to learn a lot about Unity’s workflow. It turned into a fun exploration of what I consider classic arcade-style balancing, all the waves and difficulty ramping being algorithmic based on the Player’s performance. PRAY is still a super-early prototype, I’m looking forward to continuing with it at some point, it is also a project that I’d use to explore procedural generation in level design.
MOABD has a bit of a generative approach, mainly with the visuals and audio. The visuals are chaotically shifting and organic, different results occur for different players dependant on their position and changes to the environment. The audio behaves similarly, with aspects of it subtly modified by the Player’s mouse input velocity. There’s a chance I might introduce more generative or systemic design into the game, to me, that is one type of perfection in design to strive for. The game that you can keep coming back to that plays out differently each time but behaves under a known set of rules, I’m not sure if MOABD is the perfect fit for that, maybe the next project…

Early experimental footage.

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

20120630-185205.jpg

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.

20120630-185554.jpg

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.

20120630-190238.jpg

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.

20120630-191337.jpg

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”.

20120701-144137.jpg

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.

20120701-144349.jpg

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?

20120701-150413.jpg

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

;Follow my blog with Bloglovin;

Is the term videogame obsolete?

20120415-201738.jpg

“If a ray of light falls into a pigsty, it is the ray that shows us the muck and it is the ray that is offensive.”

The initial inauguration of this medium started with an invention called a cathode ray tube amusement device. Beguiling as that was, we adopted a term that has stayed with us for over 40 years; a convenient marketing tool for a child’s toy. At the time it was effective and resolute, I place emphasis on ‘was’ because today I feel that description is completely inapt and this holistic language has limited creativity. It prompts me to question:

Is the term videogame obsolete?

This industry’s heritage should be venerable, but not to the extent of becoming enslaved by it. We have given society an inaccurate view of the medium, their opinions formed by the themes and language we repeatedly subscribe to. Why should we care about what they think?

Because we move in contradictions; we have a voluminous desire for this instrument to be respected yet still support its disposability and child-like sentiments.

This is how the media has achieved its unremitting scapegoat; holding games responsible for every teenage related crime and death that they can be vaguely linked to. This has culminated with dire repercussions; the levying of taxes to censor and regulate game content.

When people believe that videogames are still like Pong, as some do, it is easy to refute their opinions as uneducated. When negative perceptions derive from malicious content however, it is not so straightforward… because we revel in it. What was the last game you played that didn’t feature violence? (sports and simulations non-withstanding)

Should games be censored to appease ignorant politicians? No, they should not, but maybe that is not the real source of their ignorance. Perhaps their unfamiliarity is misdirected, could it be that the contents affiliation with the word ‘game’ is problematic, this and the relationship with the terms derivatives such as; play, fun and joy?

When you think of the word game it brings all of this baggage with it, it is intended for the purpose of amusement and to entertain. Our terminology states that to engage with the medium we must ‘play’ with it. Play, fun, amuse and entertain, are words that are embedded every time we speak of it, especially in the context of the mediums antiquity. Games are even critiqued in such a way that the ‘gameplay’ has to be fun and enjoyable, especially to be a superlative experience.

When the media or a politician witnesses the content of a violent game, for instance; people being murdered in sadistic and grotesque ways, these blatant contradictions arise. They see that fun is aligned with murder, play is associated with torture, and amusement relates to suffering. As the sole requirement of the medium is interaction it makes matters worse that they have direct control of those aspects. We use a vocabulary that generates erroneous messages, it is not surprising that it besieges the non-playing public’s consciousness.

The film industry has had its fair share of censorship issues, but it is less likely to receive the same backlash as a videogame does, the difference is; the content is viewed in a compartmentalised way.

The word ‘Film’ on its own has no fixed messages; it describes the medium simply as a tool. There are no preconceived notions, about who its audience is, or what its content contains, it is a generalised term like music or art. The appropriate genre is inserted to clarify that it is; a horror film or an adult film, because of this any censorship is limited within its genre and not directed at the medium as a whole.

Videogames are classified into genres and there are guidelines to appropriate who they are for, but there are contradictions between the content and the perception of that content, that word game again is prevalent. The word is obtuse, I do not have a problem of what it stands for, more the fact that it doesn’t represent a cohesive description of the medium.

The vehicle has advanced far beyond the confinements of its lexicon, it produces myriad emotions in addition to the expected fun, it should not be held back from exploring other avenues, especially by its language.

So to answer the question: I do feel the term is obsolete, it feels out-dated and somewhat suppressive.

I have coined a term to articulate what this medium is rather then who it is for. I do not expect it to replace the word we have used for the last 40 years, (even though it is slightly more catchy than its predecessor: cathode ray tube amusement device) it is merely a new way of thinking of the medium, as a creative tool rather than a stereotypical child’s toy.

The term is the name of this blog: Interactive visions.

The idea behind it is; your interaction with the developers thoughts trough their vision. Regardless if those thoughts are of fun, hate, fear or love, it is all encompassing.

This term is to think of the future and what might be possible. It is not to repeat something that has been made before, but something that has not yet been made.

To some, this is the ray that is offensive.