An Interview

An interview: Jack King-Spooner

The collected games of Scottish independent game developer Jack King-Spooner are among some of the most unique, original, daring, gripping, fantastical and dreamlike ever made. Each of his works (from Will You Ever Return to Mitt Romney and the Case of the Sex Doll) are imbued with a genuine creative spirit, and each is better than the last; he’s built his career off of constantly surprising his audience and challenging its expectations. To me, the current high point was his last game, Beeswing.
Beeswing was a beautiful, striking, offbeat and powerfully moving autobiographical depiction of his titular home town in which he explored such themes as childhood, loss, the ageing process, television’s effect on people and, most prominently, memory.
I cannot state enough how much Beeswing means to me. I love it. I love it I love it I love it, so much, so very very much. There was never a dull moment, never a moment that didn’t move me, shock me, surprise me. I could’ve taken a screenshot of any moment in the game and framed it on my wall – in fact, you could say the same for all of King-Spooner’s games. It’s a game that means so very much to me, and it’s one that deserved far more attention than it received, considering how it, y’know, blows pretty much every other game out of the water in terms of sheer artistry and maturity (with a few exceptions).
Jack’s currently seeking funding via Kickstarter for his newest work, entitled Dujanah. A nonlinear, clay-punk exploration of the idea of revenge (namely in how and why it manifests itself), the game promises to be another truly fascinating game from a truly independent indie developer, and perhaps the culmination of all of his talents thus far. He himself believes it’ll probably be the best thing he’s ever made, and I see no reason to doubt that. I mean, how often do you come across a Claymation videogame with an Islamic female main character that explores mature themes in a mature way?
“Never” is the answer to that question.
Not until now, anyway.
I sat down to talk with Jack (in the figurative sense) about Dujanah, politics and the merits of free games.

Imagine I know nothing about you or your game, and answer me this: what is Dujanah?
It is a video game where you get to explore a grungy, tactile world made from clay and paintings. You play as Dujanah, who is out to find answers, and on your journey you will encounter all sorts of strange characters, moral dilemmas and fantastical situations.

What are your own views on politics, religion and the usage of violence to both instigate societal change and as a source of vengeance, and how have they influenced Dujanah?
Politically I am pretty centre-left to full-on left; I voted SNP, but it was a toss up between them and the Green party. I find politicians pretty dull, and most conversations about politics more often than not sound like two walls shouting at each other. I was brought up in a secular environment, being taken out of primary school nativity plays and prayers and the like, and as a result I find religion fascinating. I follow some Mahayana Buddhist practices but I wouldn’t regard myself as anything other than an agnostic.
In terms of the use of violence, I’m not a pacifist but I do believe that most recent military interventions have been destructive illegal messes; I protested the Iraq war alongside 72% of fellow Scots. I have to say that I do think the Scottish Army has done some pretty important work, particularly in Afghanistan. Violence in terms of vengeance is a terrible idea and only ever leads to exacerbated suffering.
I’m not sure how these views have influenced Dujanah. I think there is perhaps a focus on the areas I find difficult, the views on violence, for example, somehow tie into the subverted hero narrative, dying/ killing for a cause whatever the intention. I find criticising religion and politics rather uninteresting really compared to telling odd, morally ambiguous parables.

You’re a man of many talents, Jack. Outside of making games, you’ve proven yourself to be both an accomplished musician and artist. What was it then that attracted you to the world of game development? What have games got that other mediums lack?
From Janice Galloway to Don DeLillo, from Lynch to Kieslowski, the narratives I love have always romanced the idea of non-linearity. When I came to thinking about making a piece with strong autobiographical elements, I felt that I wanted to make it in a medium that embraced non-linear stories. Beeswing started as monologues for a contemporary theatre piece but I soon realised that a game would be a better way to tell it, and a better document. I don’t think games have anything in particular that other mediums lack; they are simply another medium. They do have a way of courting those with short attention spans a little better than a book or an installation though.

You’ve turned to Kickstarter in order to fund your last two games, and have also turned to Patreon in search for more consistent monetary support. You’re hardly alone in this approach; many of your peers and friends also use the same avenues, as they are seemingly the only place where creators such of yourself can hope to find anything even vaguely resembling funding. Do you think the large amount of people who turn to such methods (yourself included) do so out of reliance or preference (or both), and do you believe that more could be done to support independent game creators, and indeed independent artists in general?
I honestly think things are getting better and better for independent game creators. Of course things aren’t perfect, but four years ago I never would have dreamed that I would have a game on Steam. I think the most interesting voices in independent games are interesting because they don’t have monetary gain temptations. Sadly the reality is that money enables things to get made and when making longer pieces the choice is either to designate all my free time to game making, to the detriment of my mental and physical health, or to ask for funding. The crowd funding was largely in preference to asking for arts funding which comes from the tax payer, I like that with Patreon, Indiegogo and Kickstarter the funds come from people who want to support games. I supported a VR game about dolphins cheating in a high school test. I’m not sure if the average tax payer would happily support that. Also, would that even get government funding?

Who would you say are the best developers currently working in games today, and why?
So many cool developers. Stephen TheCatamites is the best because his games are like finding a toffee whilst scratching an itch. All the freeware developers are the best. It is honestly a privilege to play every game on Gamejolt. I like developers who work by themselves on smaller projects; they are the best.

What was the last videogame that you played, and did you enjoy the experience?
The Witcher 3 was the last game I played. My partner is Polish and I lived a while in Poland so the game really resonates with me. I keep thinking it will be boring but it keeps grabbing my interest. I find it hard to comprehend how much work must have one into it.

Many developers express the belief that the game industry is still extremely far behind other mediums such as film in terms artistic merit. Do you agree with this assessment, and if so, what do you believe it is that’s holding the medium back?
Yeah, games often have a different aim, going for fun and immersion rather than meaning and form. It just takes time, I guess.

You are to be stranded on a desert island. You are, for a reason that eludes me, permitted to take with you one book, one film, one album, one videogame and one item just for yourself. Which of each do you bring?
Underworld by Don DeLillo, The Decalogue by Kieslowski, the complete Goldberg Variations, Dark Souls by From Software and some musical instrument; a piano maybe, or a pipe organ.

In case you didn’t get the message by now, you should seriously back Dujanah on Kickstarter right now. Seriously. Back it. Now
Follow Jack on Twitter HERE.
Visit his website HERE.
Back Dujanah HERE.
And follow me on Twitter HERE. That is, if you’re fond of making poor life choices.
Thanks for reading. Back Dujanah, and have a nice day. Don’t back Dujanah, and have a mediocre one. Your choice.


An Interview: Llaura Dreamfeel

Llaura Dreamfeel is a fascinatingly distinct voice in independent game development. Her work (which is deeply underrated) can be strange, dark, moving, witty and unearthly (sometimes all at once), and is quite unlike anything else out there. Though she’s only been making games for a short time compared to some of the other people I’ve talked to, she has without a doubt made her mark. Whenever you boot up one of her creations you can expect something totally unpredictable, original, and memorable. Her work just feels handcrafted, and in some cases is handcrafted, as is the case with her game Train Song. She’s made several great works, but it was last year that I believe she well and truly hit her stride with Curtain, a pixelated nightmare of noise and colour that depicted in unremitting detail the overbearing and destructive effect an abusive partner can have on an individual.
In the game, you the player are a woman trapped in a relationship with Kaci, a woman who uses and abuses you, a woman who alternates from loving you and totally depending on you to callously disregarding you and dismissing you. Kaci is never seen in Curtain. Not even once. Her presence is represented by a text box, a huge, overbearing and intrusive text box that dominates the screen, and never goes away, even when nothing is being said; you can’t escape from it, or from what Kaci is saying within it. You, the player, are forced to read from it. I shan’t go into more detail because there’s a point in this interview where this aspect is addressed, but believe me when I say that the absence of a physical representation of Kaci doesn’t detract in the slightest from the fear she brings. Kaci wasn’t a monster, at least not in the traditional sense. She was a human being. A broken, nasty, abusive, controlling, terrifying and unpredictable human being, yes, but aren’t there so many people like that? Out there in the world, the real world, there are so many people like her, so many people causing so much pain.
That was the true potent power of Curtain, and if you think I’m banging on about it, that’s because I am. Because before you read what Llaura had to say, I want you to understand her creations, and why I wanted so badly to sit down and talk to her (via email, admittedly, but you get the point). She’s a highly intelligent and talented individual, and throughout this interview she was nothing if not eloquent, intelligent and witty, and she was generally just a lovely person to work with. Even if there are some points on which I disagree with her. But enough of me! Join me as I talk to Llaura Dreamfeel about video game exceptionalism, UI design, Horrible Screaming Murderers and a bunch of other things as well.

Curtain is my favourite of your works for many reasons, but one reason in particular that stands out to me is in the way you depict the player-character’s abusive partner. Instead of showing them in the flesh, their presence is highlighted instead by invasive and emotionally abusive comments shown in text boxes. To me, anyway, the character is given more presence by their seeming omnipotence; you can’t escape from those text boxes, basically. What was it that inspired you to go down this route, and do you think you pulled it off effectively?
That was the point at which I knew I had a game! Curtain was something that had been brewing for a while. I wanted to make a first person game in this vein, and I had been working on the story actively for a bit more than a month, trying to express particular feelings, but it was still missing something to tie it all together. This insight and the last part of the story came as a pair, and I knew I had an experience that could work.
It’s hard to exactly pinpoint any decision but I can mention a couple of things which led to it. The game is in a bunch of ways partly a subversion of immersive sims and a lot of the early ones had these big dirty UIs filling your view. I loved how cramped the screen was. Stephen “thecatamites” Murphy did something similar in a bunch of games like Pleasuredromes of Kubla Khan and Horrible Screaming Murderer IV, and he used this to play around with the narrator. I was also thinking about how I could tell a story with another character at the same time, rather than in the past again like nearly all embedded narratives. There’s no way I could model or simulate a person. Then I realized the textbox could be perfect, it could be an ever present, disembodied character and narrator. I could use my biggest weakness as my best advantage.
At the same time I was thinking a lot about structure. I realized I could have the textbox appear at the end but empty. That is the possibility for Kaci’s voice to return is hanging there for a few minutes, that it never quite goes away. This was super intentional and really important for what I wanted to get across with Curtain, the lasting effects of abuse. Only a few people have commented on this directly, but I think this call-back has an unconscious effect on people. With that the direction was settled. It’s up to others how effective it ultimately was, but I’m happy with it as a form. That, along with the time aspect, has actually made me fairly loathe to make another first person game with an “embedded narrative”. I feel like I killed that trope pretty well.

Train Song is such a weird, wonderful little game, and is quite unlike anything I’ve ever played before, and probably will ever play again (interactive stop motion-animated epistemological timed trained experiences aren’t exactly dime-a-dozen). Where did the idea for that particular project come from? Also, it having been made in collaboration with Dave McCabe, who did what on that project, development wise?
I think the initial idea was a cartoon Dave found of a bunch of people crammed into a train (went back and found it:, and for some reason he wanted to make a game about that somehow. GGJ was coming up, so we met in a pub, The Hairy Lemon, to discuss it. The core idea of Train Song – as a train journey of a certain length you will have to play over and over to see everything – came out of that. I was super into the idea of games like pieces of music that you could dip in/out of but that it would play itself regardless and could score moments of someone’s life. We wanted to make the game in a day and to make all the art (neither of us were artists) out of physical materials (after a bit of discussion of art styles).
On the day (in Dave’s flat) Dave wrote half the characters and made half of them out of clay, as well the clay border guard. I probably did some of the adventure game programming that day, but I mostly got carried away with the sudden idea of making the intro film from found footage, which was really enjoyable. We were talking to Ronan Quigley (the game’s composer and sound designer) remotely from Dundee at silly hours in the morning the night before and that night, for music. Over the next 5/6 weeks it was mostly me finishing the game and created the background & train art from coloured paper. I wrote the second half of characters (the more verbose ones! And the ones with more custom things, like the one that links to the first-person segment) and Dave wrote a couple more bits and pieces like the conversations in the carriages you can’t see into, and Ronan did more sound.
The game was a bit of an experiment. I was starting to realize a lot of stuff about videogames and making them beforehand. This was the first time I put a lot of that into practice. I wanted to make the gameplay as simple & non-existent as possible and instead within a strong structure put the emphasis on characters and the writing, and creating lots and lots of flavour.

It’s common for many game developers to say that they make games because they can accomplish things that they simply could not in any other medium. What is it in particular that attracted you to that particular field? What can you accomplish in video games that simply isn’t possible in any other medium?
That’s a tricksy question. I guess that’s the end of the easy questions about my work!
So, I really don’t think much of video game exceptionalism, the idea that we should focus on what makes videogames different from other media or that videogames are the one true medium and in the darkness bind them. We’ve seen the same thing with film for example, where people got obsessed with the edit for a short while, but to focus on one aspect above all others totally misses the bigger picture. Video games, like every medium, are a phenomenological blend of senses. What matters is how they mix.
Take Twine, which is often compared to CYOA (that’s short for “choose your own adventure”, in case you were wondering). What’s interesting isn’t choice. Very few of the noted Twine games have much real choice. But the interaction does make a huge difference, it’s another way to express flavour to the audience. It gives you pacing and involvement. That feeling of involvement might not be so different from an engrossing film, but it’s also unique to the specific form of use.
So what makes videogames unique is their specific blend of senses. That completely depends on every videogame and what that particular videogame emphasizes. I like to see the lines between film, music, videogames, poetry, etc, etc as incredibly blurry, and I usually find the most interesting stuff near those boundaries because they are less explored.
Rather than grand sweeping statements, memorized and drilled into us as rote, what I like about videogames at any time is what I’m usually trying to explore at that time. For example last year, I was very interested in creating discongruent textures, combinations of audio, visuals, writing that work at cross purposes and that resulted in Curtain.
Videogames allow us to do different things than other media, not better or worse ones. If anything I make videogames because I think there’s a lot of room for interesting work that isn’t being done. All I can see are unexplored possibilities.

Can you identify any drawbacks with the medium of video games; any unique problems that simply aren’t present in, for example, cinema or literature?
Production! I think video game making as it stands is too finicky and slow and breaks too easily. We spend far too much on things that shouldn’t matter, and what we make isn’t easily and quickly changeable. What’s the equivalent of a jazz band improvising music on stage? I want videogames that break in interesting ways when you make them. Rather than just not running, and needing to be debugged endlessly, make something happen. More analogue. In other less solely digital pursuits it’s easy for happy accidents to find their way in. Videogames emphasize the creator and the design doc far too much. I want to be able to make a game as intuitively and easily as playing music.

This one’s sort of related to the above question: many game developers (including a few I’ve spoken to in the past) have complained that there’s a fundamental lack of progress in video games, and that games have yet to become an art form on par with the rest. Do you subscribe to this particular belief, and, if so, what do you think is the main problem that’s holding games back?
It’s definitely not any kind of technological or design challenge. This question is often associated with “IN THE FUTURE… GAMES WILL BE AMAZING”. This is a kind of techno-utopianism that excuses the way things are right now. We have had great games, and we have great games right now. Some of the most exciting creations in the world are coming out of video games. And we have had incredible games since games first started being made, like Deus Ex Machina (by Mel Croucher of Automata) in 1984. What new breakthroughs/technologies/paradigms give us are simply NEW possibilities, not better/worse ones.
What’s “holding us back” is that we need more people who can write well for video games. To have more really good video games we need to have more really good video game writers. It’s as simple as that. I’d like to see more people consider the structure of what they’re doing. Of course diversity is really important too. We need more diversity of material and theme, but most of all diversity of creators, in background sure, but also diversity of their life experience. The biggest road blocks are the assumptions of what videogames are and who they are for, as promoted by commercialisation of the form since the beginning.

Many game developers whose creations are decidedly niche have turned to Patreon or one-time crowdfunding sites such as Kickstarter as a way to pay the bills and to support their endeavours. Do you ever see yourself going down that particular path?
Yes, it’s definitely a possibility. I would like to find the right projects that I’m committed to, rather than just doing it. For example, I would really love to do a Patreon where I’m travelling for a year and each month collaborating with another person on a small game, and sharing the Patreon with them (a good idea, and one practised to great effect by Jordan Magnusson with his “Gametrekking” project). Or even more specific than that, I could release one graphic adventure made from clay every blue moon. Perhaps when I finish my current main project I’ll think about something like this.
I don’t like ‘decidedly niche’. Niche in terms of the typical audience of video games maybe, but often more appealing to a general audience. ‘Decidedly’ implies people have a choice also. That someone could make money if they just made what the widest audience wants, but that’s a bit of an illusion. At present it doesn’t seem like there’s much room to support many more creators even if they make the most mainstream video game work possible.
That’s why I think it’s really important that these alternate channels for helping make a living from video games exist. If we want to see different kinds of things that what we have, we need to support different ways of making art.

Since I’ve always asked interviewees what their favourite games were in the past, I’d thought I’d try something a little bit different this time round. Here goes: what is the greatest flaw in one (or more) of your favourite games of all time?
I don’t really know if I have favourite games of all time. That question is very loaded with a specific set of culturally correct answers I can’t really relate to anymore as an adult. The work that means a lot to me and I think is special, like Space Funeral, or Dys4ia, or Rat Chaos, I can’t really apply consumer-ish criteria to them, such as ‘improvements’. What would you do to the roof of the Sistine Chapel? It is what it is.
An easier question might be what I’d do differently if I made it, if I wrote Crime & Punishment what might be different, rather than trying to guess the author’s intention. With (thecatamites’) 50 Short Games I think it would have had more impact if they all came out at once, but maybe I’m wrong.

(Keeping this question because I’m always interested to hear the answer) Who would you say are the best game developers currently working at the moment, and why?
I think it’s most important to look beyond video games for influence, and increasingly I don’t really look to emulate anyone else at all anymore. But if you were to ask me last year I wouldn’t hesitate before I mentioned thecatamites & David Kanaga.
– Stephen Murphy – marries a fathomless and innate understanding of videogames, effortlessly juxtaposing scenes and interaction together, with well-read, wicked writing and language. Strangely empathetic and deeply affecting.
– David Kanaga – composer, game designer, and philosopher. His work on game feel and the music of play and interaction gives me chills. Of course special mention should go to his amazing collaborators like Ed Key & Fernando Ramallo, but mentioning both himself and Stephen for their writing as well as their games.
I would say the above two (polar opposites in obvious ways but brethren in less obvious ways) for me make the most interesting work in games today. Both of them operate very far outside the norms of traditional game making culture.
I haven’t found people who’ve grabbed me as much as them in video games, but there are a lot of others doing really interesting work right now and redefining what games can be like: Stephen Lavelle (form), Porpentine (flavour), Nina Freeman (poetry), Tale of Tales (subject matter), Ben Esposito (style), Squinky (conversation), Anna Anthropy (voice), Robert Yang (sexuality), Merritt Kopas (touch), Holly Gramazio (play & creativity)… Maybe things aren’t so bad!

Would you say you have a particular design philosophy or aim when making games, or do you just go with the proverbial flow?
Oh, totally.
When applied to what we do I dislike the word design! It implies objectivity and ‘good’ design is possible, that somehow you could imagine the platonic form of a perfect game. So rather than assuming everyone is going for the same aims, I think it makes sense to consider whether what you make achieves whatever idiosyncratic aim you personally have. With that in mind, my approach very much depends on the game and what I want to achieve. I’m always evolving so my philosophy is too, and each game is very much an expression of where I was at the time. I believe thinking about things differently is important if you don’t want to repeat yourself or others.
I could make some blanket statements… like that the rules of a game / 30 seconds of fun most people talk about it with regards to games is the *least* important part of interaction, not least because it’s what everyone else obsesses over. That both the kinaesthetic, second to second stuff of how a game feels, and the 20 minute/play session stuff of structure and larger movements, are both more important. Generally though, it makes more sense for me to talk about philosophy in relation to each game, for example Curtain was really influenced by considering the phenomenological texture of the game and how the different elements, sound/art/UI/text all play off each other. Its ending is read by some people as really sad and others as really upbeat. There’s a strong tension between the music and the text and also the prior contexts. It doesn’t resolve easily, so it may stick with people a bit more.
At the moment I’m really considering my process a lot. How what we create is shaped by our processes. I’m trying to create a space where I can make decisions more quickly and be more open to outside influences and chance. This includes working with physical materials, and lots of self-imposed deadlines and leaving space to reflect after the fact. I want to be able to introduce as much opportunity for serendipity and happy accidents as I can.

You are to be stranded on a desert island by a malevolent cavalcade of pirates. For whatever reason, they’ve allowed you to bring one film, one book, one album and one video game along with you. Which of each do you bring?
Let’s put aside the obvious choice of anything that lets me create, like rpgmaker/zzt, a notebook, etc etc, or clever answers to help me escape (Looking at you, Nicky Case), and pick actual complete works by other people.
– Film – The New World. This film, both cuts, is so beautiful. It creates a strange beguiling rhythm of time. Not unlike Tarkovsky but more Hallmark and dip in/out-able. Or maybe I could go with The Decalogue and remind myself of the breadth of humanity.
– Book – The Rattle Bag, edited by Ted Hughes & Seamus Heaney. This is an eclectic and impressive collection of poetry I’ve had since I was a teenager. Although maybe I should take the opportunity to read Remembrance of Things Past. Or perhaps Nevada, about a queer woman in NY, so I can remind myself I’m real.
– Album – Music for 18 Musicians (by Steve Reich). I haven’t listened to it as much recently, but this piece soothes my soul. Although maybe I would go a little loopy listening to it forever and I should opt for something like the ambient recording of a 6 hour train journey.
– Video game – I think I’ve mentioned it enough, so let’s say Space Funeral. It’s clearly the work of a 21 year old, but that’s part of its charm. I would be happy to potter about its worlds for a while. Also for the past few days I’ve been playing a lot of Panoramical by Fernando Ramallo & David Kanaga, then just staring into the distance. It’s pretty amazing. I think it would make not seeing anyone ever again kinda okay.

You can follow Llaura on Twitter HERE.
You can visit her website HERE.
Annnnd you can follow me on Twitter HERE.
Thank you for reading! Do please check out Llaura’s work if you have the time, and have a nice day, wherever you may be!

An Interview: Nicky Case

I was quite the prolific Newgrounds user at an early age. When I got home from Primary School, more often than not I would boot up my parents’ computer and binge play flash games for hours. From Alice is Dead to Haunt the House to No Time To Explain, I spent a lot of my youthful years playing weird flash games that have forever stuck in my mind. One series of games that left perhaps the most lasting impression however was Nicky Case’s :The Game: series, a trilogy of silly, violent and sarcastic interactive things that made fun of politics, the internet and, yes, video games. Despite the fact that they aren’t as proud of it as they once were, the :The Game: series put Case on the map.
They continued to make flash-based games for a while before launching their biggest project yet: a crowdfunded anti-stealth game about internet surveillance called Nothing To Hide. Launched on a custom crowdfunding site not dissimilar to Patreon, the game was able to raise the required funds, partly due to their previous Newgrounds fame, and partly because of an interactive blog post that detailed an aspect of the game’s coding entitled Sight & Light. Although they had now begun work on NTH, he found his interests in game design and what they wanted to make soon began to change.
Recently, their work has gone from being traditionally “gamey” to something else entirely, rejecting traditional game mechanics and structure in order to deliver different sorts of messages.
Case proved their worth as a storyteller with the blisteringly real and fiercely powerful Coming Out Simulator, the IGF-nominated “half-true game about half-truths” that detailed Case’s experiences of coming out as bisexual to their extremely conservative parents, and the subsequent fallout (in my opinion, it’s their finest work). Following on from, they developed the adorable yet powerful Parable of the Polygons, an “explorable explanation” about collective bias, made in collaboration with Vi Hart. Both works were picked up and talked about at length by many major publications. It seemed Case had finally figured out what kinds of games they wanted to make, which was confirmed by the recent cancellation of the crowdfunded project that set the dominoes in motion, refunding backers and promising to make a game about the same topic, albeit in a completely different way than was first intended, fully reflecting the new direction that they have now found themselves going in.
Over their career they have amassed a loyal following, as well as having worked with several notable industry figured and having a successful Patreon campaign (OBLIGATORY DISCLOSURE: I’m a patron of theirs. I was also an NTH backer. Sorry. A thousand pardons. My corruption levels are SKY HIGH).
Join me as I talk to Nicky Case about notgames, procedural rhetoric, and dragons.

Do you think you’ll ever want to return to the crowdfunding platform to find funds for a future project, and do you think you’ll ever want to make a project the size of Nothing to Hide ever again?
As for crowdfunding, I really do still believe in it. In fact, the pledging-in-parts mechanism I used for Nothing To Hide‘s crowdfunding campaign actually proved its own worth, ironically, by the project failing. Because pledging-in-parts was meant to mitigate risk for the backer, should I not deliver all the goods.
So, I think crowdfunding-in-small-pieces is probably the way to go, which is why I’ve been happily on Patreon for the last few months! I just hit 100 patrons a while back (now at 111 at the time of writing). I probably won’t do a large all-or-nothing campaign, like a Kickstarter, for a long time, though. And if I ever do attempt another project on the scale of Nothing To Hide, it will be with a much larger team, rather than just literally me for art + code + design + pretty much everything else.

In a blog post released earlier this year you revealed that you’d temporarily put your project “Riot Cop Selfies” on hold. Considering recent occurrences, do you see yourself returning to the project anytime soon?
Probably not, mostly because I think the message would be better served in an Explorable Explanation than a traditional videogame (this is also partially the reason why I’m ending Nothing To Hide).
Besides, the mechanic of Riot Cop Selfies is fundamentally about the camera, and while that’s a really interesting and socially important dynamic, it’s a very small part of the larger systemic issues regarding police militarization in the US.

What can you tell us about any future projects?
So right now, I’m working on an augmented reality game that messes with your face in real-time. Here’s a GIF of that.
After that, I want to focus a lot more on Explorable Explanations. Right now, I have working prototypes for an Explorable on neurons & learning, and another one on privacy & context collapse. (which I gave a sneak preview in my Goodbye Newsletter to NTH backers!) I have many other topics planned for Explorables, but I don’t want to over-promise stuff.
(Also, for the last 5 days, I’ve been really tempted to make an Every Frame A Painting-like series for the craft of play design?)

Your recent “explorable explanation” about collective bias (Parable of the Polygons) was made in collaboration with the talented Vi Hart. Out of curiosity, who did what in that collaboration? Was it as simple as one did coding and the other did writing, or was there crossover?
Other than code, (which was all me) there was a lot of crossover in art and writing. She actually designed all the in-between-text playable segments. And my favorite: she designed the puzzle where you have to bring all the polygon-people together (resulting in confetti)!

The last people I interviewed (Tale of Tales) recently announced that due to the commercial failure of their most recent release, Sunset, they are bowing out of the commercial market? What are your thoughts on this occurrence, and how do you think it relates to the games market as a whole?
First, huh. I had no idea that Michaël (Samyn) of Tale of Tales coined the word “notgame”. (which my :The Game: series has been described as multiple, multiple times.)
Second, huh. I totally missed the recent news about Sunset. I’ve been nose-to-the-grindstone in the last two weeks over my face-messing-up game, since I’ve got a deadline for it.
I’m reading their post-mortem on Sunset right now, and I’m thinking, wow, I totally dodged a bullet with Nothing To Hide. Because I can so painfully relate to the goal they attempted, “making a game for gamers”. Which was exactly what I was doing with Nothing To Hide, going through the whole… ritual… of indie gamedev. From the crowdfunding campaign w/ demo, to getting press on all the big sites, to the promise of Steam Greenlight and everything, to make a four-hour mechanically-engaging indie game where you’re a lone hero in a dystopian world, yada yada, so on and so forth.
As for how it relates to the games market, I think Chris Crawford said it best 20 years ago in his Dragon Speech (paraphrasing):
“What the customers want is depth. What I want is breadth.”
20 years later, Crawford’s quote still resonates today. Thought I guess every entertainment industry has that conflict between artists wanting to explore the medium, versus customers who want more of the same.

Are there any video games that you hold in higher regard than all the others?
Oh, wow. This is a hard question because I don’t rank things on a single dimension, from 1 to 10, from bad to good. I use several scales when measuring something, and even then I consciously know I’m oversimplifying.
In any case, here’s five games/interactive experiences I consider masterpieces:
-Telltale’s The Walking Dead, for its new approach to interactive narrative design, and punching me in the feels.
Portal (1 & 2) is a masterclass in puzzle mechanic design, going from depth over breadth.
The End Of Us is proof you can tell a powerful story solely with play, using minimal visuals/audio, and no words at all.
Papers, Please for merging gameplay with narrative.
Thirty Flights of Loving is groundbreaking for so many reasons I can’t even list right now.

Who in your opinion are the best game developers currently working today?
Anna Anthropy is at the top of my list! Dys4ia meant a lot to me, and was the game that gave me the courage to publish Coming Out Simulator. But on top of that, Anna Anthropy’s writings show she has a deep and solid grasp of game design, she examines games in a way I’d never seen before, and each one of her games is a self-contained game design experiment. (Triad is my favorite – a puzzle game with level progression yet only one levelHOW?!)
Also, I gotta praise Telltale Games and Simogo. They make consistently great and groundbreaking interactive experiences.

Looking back, which one of your projects are you the most proud of?
So, I’m one of those people whose pride in a piece of work quickly diminishes over time. Creative peeps tend to be their own worst critics. The more time after I’ve already released a project, the more I realize I could have done in hindsight. But that’s good! Because now I do those things in a new project. And the cycle repeats forever.
Anyway, right now I’m the most proud of Parable of the Polygons. But that’s most likely because it’s the most recent project I’ve actually done. When my next game or Explorable comes out, I’ll probably be most proud of that.

You are to be abandoned on a desert island by a scheming cabal of cutthroat pirates. You’re allowed to bring one film, one book, one album and one video game along with you. What do you bring?
I’m going to be an asshole, and say I’ll bring some mobile game that has geolocation and a post-to-social-networks feature, so I can get rescued.

Your original flash-based “the game” series is was thrust you into the spotlight. Those games were very political in nature, and expressed many observations about life and game systems. How much have your opinions on all of the above changed since you made that series?
You know how I just said I become far less proud of something over time?
I have really mixed feelings on the :The Game: trilogy. Because I feel it was all fake. It had the same amount of cleverness and wit as a newspaper political cartoon or JibJab video, and yes, I was very hooked on both political cartoons and JibJab videos at the time I made :The Game:. I wasn’t really making insightful observations, I was just taking whatever I found on Wikipedia and presenting it in the silliest (and/or most violent) way possible.

Eh, maybe I’m just being too harsh on myself.

But like I also said, realizing all the things I could have done better in hindsight, drives my future projects. In fact, you could already kind of see this in Reimagine :The Game:. At the time, I felt like an impostor with the first two :The Game: installments because they didn’t have any actual game mechanics, they were all relying on crude humour and parody. Reimagine :The Game: was my first real foray into good game mechanics! (My next game, Gap Monsters, a negative-space sliding puzzle game, is still the game mechanic I’m most proud of making, coz it’s so mindfucky)
Now, all my thoughts on how to do social/political critique better has gone into my work on Explorable Explanations!
But even now, I’m still thinking about what could I have done better. For example, I’m starting to have doubts about Explorables & procedural rhetoric. My mentor Bret Victor recently emailed me, saying the real power in Explorables isn’t to put forth an argument, but to let the reader argue back. Bret proposed that I shouldn’t just focus on rhetoric, but also anti-rhetoric.
It’s a cycle. It’s always been a cycle. And the cycle will continue.

You can follow Nicky on Twitter HERE.
You can also check their website HERE.
You can also follow me on Twitter HERE, if you so desire.

Thanks for reading! Do please check out Nicky’s work, and have a nice day!

An Interview: Michaël Samyn of Tale of Tales

Auriea Harvey and Michaël Samyn themselves. They’d go far in the modelling industry if their games stop selling.

Tale of Tales is perhaps the most unique and divisive developer currently working in games today. Founded in 2002 by husband and wife team Auriea Harvey and Michaël Samyn, this Belgium-based developer seeks to push the boundaries of what games can be, with co-founder Samyn stating that they create their own works out their frustration with how little they believe games to have evolved. Their games have attracted praise and scorn in equal measure, with the duo seeming to take particular delight in the negative criticisms they receive (evidence of which you will find in the interview below).
They’ve been accused of making games that “aren’t games”, or making “overly arty” and “pretentious” creations. They’ve worn their non-traditional nature on their sleeves, however, having even founded a website ( that celebrates games that apparently “aren’t games”, having even come up with a “NotGames manifesto”, challenging developers to think outside the box, and to make experiences that explicitly reject the structure of games as an art form.
The duo has made games that explore various different themes and topics: life and nature (in the incredibly unique online game The Endless Forest), death (in the short interactive vignette The Graveyard, perhaps their most divisive game), childhood (in the dark, disturbing experience that is The Path, their most widely-known work), Biblical history (in the mysterious, Wilde-influenced Fatale), pointlessness and beauty (in the oddly-addictive virtual Skinner Box Vanitas), French literature and space travel (in the hypnotically bonkers and very very French Bientôt l’été), sex and pleasure (in the colourful and esoteric Luxuria Superbia), and finally political tensions, black rights and housekeeping in their most recent and most deliberately accessible work, the Kickstarter-funded Sunset. In said recently-released game, you control American expatriate Angela Burnes, cleaning a luxurious penthouse apartment once a week before sunset, trading flirtatious notes with your employer as a revolution rages in the streets of the fictitious South American city below.
Despite its developer’s arthouse arthouse roots and the decidedly non-commercial and esoteric nature of the games that they have made, Sunset’s Kickstarter campaign was a runaway success, reaching way over its original goal thanks to its 2,228 backers, myself being one of them, as I must now disclose (yes, I’m in bed with the industry, sorry). Sunset has now been released into the wild to perhaps the warmest critical and audience reaction Tale of Tales has received so far. They very kindly agreed to do an interview with me, and so I sat down (in the non-literal sense) with Michaël Samyn, the male half of this most unique of developers, to talk about Sunset, accessibility, and spooky scary ghosts.

The Kickstarter campaign for Sunset was a huge success. You received far more than the initial goal and with it you gained a swathe of new followers. Since the venture was so successful and your games aren’t exactly the most commercial of ventures, do you see yourself returning to the platform in order to fund any future projects?
Yes. Especially since arts funding is drying up as Europe becomes more right wing.

From the beginning of your Kickstarter campaign you made it very clear that you wanted Sunset to be your most accessible game, in order to break free of the “arty” corner you’ve so often been shoved into (hence why you hired Leigh Alexander and Ste Curran for design consultation). Now that it’s out, the reviews have been written and the dust has settled, do you believe you’ve achieved your goal of accessibility?
We’ve achieved the best we can with our particular taste and skills. But people still think Sunset is fresh and original, which is flattering but means that it’s still not accessible enough to reach the wide audience that we would like to reach. But we’ve really worked hard. So we’re quite certain we can’t do any better. If Sunset is still “too artistic” for you then we apologize if that’s a problem for you. We also feel sorry for you if that’s a problem for you. And we encourage you to open your mind and educate yourself before life slips you by without you even realizing its beauty.

What was it that prompted you to strive for such accessibility?
The initial impetus was that we noticed that some people responded to our work the same way as we respond to art we dislike (i.e. typical ironic contemporary fine art). We didn’t want our work to be perceived like that because we don’t create our work like that. To us our games are simple and beautiful and very easy to play. And we believe they would be accessible to a wide audience if the game industry wasn’t such a closed off niche. So the problem we were trying to solve was not accessibility in general, but accessibility to people who would actually try to play our games. But there was also a sort of ethical concern: that we should at least try to share our work with as many people as possible and not make it difficult by challenging people’s expectations too much.

Sorry, this is a bit of a generic question but I’m interested in the answer. Looking back, which of your games do you consider the best and which do you consider your worst?
That’s difficult to answer because our work is released in the public sphere and our own opinion is just one of many. There’s also different reasons why a piece can be good. I love Bientôt l’été and Fatale for their deep probing in my psyche. But I’ll probably play The Endless Forest or Luxuria Superbia a lot more because they’re so light hearted and uplifting. Vanitas is very dear to me but thousands of players can’t be wrong about The Path.
We have also always, purposely, tried something different in each game, explored a different aspect of the huge artistic potential that videogames have. So in a way each game is the best game, in the sense of the best we could do, with our limitations.

What’s the current status of An Empty World? (A collaborative project that Tale of Tales announced back in 2013. Little to no information about it has been released since. It has a trailer:
It’s on hold. But we have ideas for it. We need to find funding first.

Do you hold any video game in particularly high esteem above all others?
In the AAA sphere, Silent Hill 2, the first Black & White, Ico of course, the first Tomb Raider, and the work of Quantic Dream. In the indie sphere, I love Nuprahtor‘s work, Noby Noby Boy, Mountain and, of course, Dear Esther, Dinner Date and Amnesia. But to be honest, none of these, however much I may cherish the memory of playing them, can beat experiences in other media. There’s music, paintings, sculpture, film, architecture, literature, etc that has had a much deeper effect on me than any videogame. I think this is a shame because I still believe this medium has great potential. I just feel this potential is not sufficiently encouraged and games never seem to escape the quagmire of pop culture. There’s nothing wrong with pop culture as such. But there is something very scary about a community that only has pop culture and nothing else.

Who in your opinion are the best game developers currently working today?
We are. I wish that wasn’t true. I wish there were people I could look up to. But there’s always something wrong with them. I have plenty of idols in music, painting, film and literature. Enough to not feel like a jerk. I don’t make distinctions between media when it comes to art. I don’t excuse videogames because they’re supposedly too young to produce art. I would if I saw sincere attempts at producing art. But I don’t. In videogames, calling a game a work of art is considered an insult, or at least a warning.

Do you have interest to work in any other forms of media? With your games you’ve proven that you’re more than capable.
Absolutely. We love realtime technology but we hate how videogames limit our audience. Many people have prejudices against them. And games demand quite a bit of technology to run which makes them difficult to access. Also videogames are not taken seriously as an art form and we would love to produce work in a world where we are not freaks and weirdos but actually encouraged to experiment more, to delve deeper, to be more thorough. In videogames all we hear is “wow, hold your horses you pretentious schmuck, make a Mario clone already!” It’s very frustrating for a creative person to have to hold back all the time.

This is more of a question for myself. My favourite game of yours is Bientôt l’été
You have good taste!
-and I couldn’t help but notice something: that game features two lovers communicating lightyears apart in a disjointed manner, not unlike communicating online. You two both met and began creating online, and didn’t first meet each other face to face until some time later. I suppose my question is this: is that aspect of the game deliberately self-referential, or is it just a coincidence I’m reading too much into?
It’s totally and completely self-referential. We make art about our lives. And we are in love with the way we fell in love. Even if it happened within a context of tragedy.

You are to be stranded on a desert island by a dastardly gang of cutthroat pirates. You’re allowed to bring one film, one book, one album, and one video game along with you. Which of each do you bring?
Hartley or Godard?
Duras or Nothomb?
Foetus or Bach?
I don’t need videogames on a desert island. There wouldn’t be any electricity. Let alone a computer to run them.

Many Kickstarter backers (myself included) were extremely disappointed in the dearth of explosions and the complete lack of guns and/or knives in Sunset. Are you planning to patch these in for Sunset version 1.1 to atone for such flagrant false advertising?
We have released 7 games without a single explosion and only one with a gun and one with a sword. I’d say the 10,000% increase in Sunset should be sufficient for now. But we might add some ghosts that can eat you.

Tale of Tales’ website:
You can also follow them on Twitter @taleoftales
Feel free to follow me on Twitter if you lack any and all semblance of taste: @ComedicPerson
Thank you for reading. Please do check out Tale of Tales’ other work if you’re interested, and have a nice day!

An Interview: Tom Jubert

Tom Jubert

“As long as I remember I loved games, I wanted to make games.” -Tom Jubert, pictured here trying (and failing) to dissapear in a puff of smoke.

You only have to glance at the games Tom Jubert has been involved in to know that he’s a man of rare and enviable talent. He’s worked as a narrative designer for a vast array of highly-acclaimed projects such as The Swapper (my favourite game of 2013), The Talos Principle and the Penumbra series, and additionally has written or helped to write the storylines for FTL: Faster Than Light, Lost Horizon (the game, not the Capra film and/or its musical remake), The Organ Trail, Cargo! The Quest for Gravity, and many, many more. In addition all of those, he’s also done solo work, having made the fiendishly clever brain-melting flash-based puzzler Ir/rational Redux, and its text-based precursor ir/rational (singular).
Basically, he’s one of the most talented and prolific writers currently working in games today, which makes it even more remarkable that he agreed to do this interview for me.
Not that I’m complaining or anything.
Join me as I talk to Tom Jubert about video games, storytelling, video game storytelling, and pressing X to sex.

What drew you to video games as a storytelling medium?
The better question is what drew me to stories as a video game medium. As long as I remember I loved games, I wanted to make games. Everyone has that moment when they click with something – realise that they are in some way built for this. The possibilities of video games blew my young mind, and the wonderful thing is that every year we get closer to delivering the sorts of experiences that I originally (and rather optimistically) dreamed video games could be. Add to this a fascination with classic sci-fi and fantasy literature and you have a career path.

Are there any video game storytelling techniques/tropes in particular that really irk you when you’re playing a game?
– Unnecessary recaps
– Obviously switching to pre-rendered cutscene
– You village was destroyed by an evil power
– You are either a very cool, buff gentleman, or a highly approachable tomboy
– Diary entries
– You have dialog options, but they reduce to good, evil or tell me more
– Press X to sex
– So many more

In a blog post discussing the usage of slavery in FTL: Faster Than Light, you concluded by saying this:
“…it would be irresponsible of anyone to put out a game…without thinking at least a little about the stance they are necessarily taking by making a game at all. Subjects like slavery and war are not simply there for our amusement – when we deploy them in interactive fiction we also need to design the choices and outcomes in a way that doesn’t undermine their seriousness, but instead uses it to express something worthwhile.
Keeping this in mind, do you think that there are any games that don’t use their subject matter to express something worthwhile? Are there any games that go too far?
Absolutely. I find Call of Duty, and everything in that general area to be not only quite stupid – which is forgivable – but also morally and politically rather unpleasant. I don’t think I need to spell out why. Silly can be fun. Shooting dudes can be fun. Glorifying war is just stupid. And I know the guys make efforts to add an edge to CoD – to simultaneously question the machinations of these huge military organisations – but it always falls back on ‘You’re an American shooting bad people for America!’

FTL is a procedurally-generated game, and as such the story is too. How did you approach the challenge of writing a consistently compelling storyline while having to juggle with the fact that most players will die and start over a lot before they ever reach the end?
To be honest most of the principles were in place when I came on board, and I followed Justin (Ma, co-creator of FTL)‘s lead. We kept the length of the texts down, tried to provide more variation in more commonly encountered scenarios, and to subvert clichés. That being said, I learnt a lot I’d like to take to the next project!

How do you often write a game story? Do the developers explain their universe to you and just have you fill in the gaps, or do you aid the creation of said universe in the first place?
Depends if it’s a narrative design gig (e.g Penumbra, Swapper or Talos) or a writing gig (e.g FTL or Driver). For the latter I just get told what story has to be on the page, and I write whatever’s needed. For the former I come in when the game is in concept stage (ideally) and the studio says for instance ‘We are making a first-person puzzle game set in a digital world, and we like religious and psychological themes.’ I then develop a bunch of different one page plot pitches for discussion, we select something to develop, and we move forward from there. Narrative design is the real deal – you’re involved in game design, regular team meetings, you control the story and how it’s implemented.

Whatever happened to Ir/rational Investigator? (Ir/rational investigator was a planned commercial sequel to Jubert’s free 2011 game Ir/rational Redux, announced in 2012. News about it almost completely dried up 2013-onwards)
So here is the full lowdown. We had ready and submitted a vertical slice of the first 20 mins of gameplay to the 2012 IGF competition. We released The Swapper in May 2013, and I went back to planning out the remainder of Investigator. Unfortunately at that time I was offered two jobs I didn’t want to turn down – Talos, and something else that didn’t go so much to plan. Fast-forward a year, and the moment I get off Talos Croteam (developer of The Talos Principle) is ready to go on the DLC. In addition to this I have another personal project on the go, and the truth is that I am currently prioritising the other project over Talos, because I think it is both closer to what I really want to do, and commercially a more promising venture.
All of this is basically pretty damning of my ability to finish Investigator, but it remains on the list. The team is still out there, somewhere, and I know at least some of them are happy to come back and finish the job.
In the meantime, I actually emailed Valve the other day to see if they would consider releasing the vertical slice as a way to repay the fans who have been waiting so long for a game that’s never officially been canned or delayed. I don’t think they will take me up on it, but one way or another I will get that demo out to those that want to play it.

Is there any one particular game that you believe is better than the rest in terms of its story and how it tells it?
Nah. I’m not a believer in excessive quantification of aesthetic value. I think about it this way. If the world were ending tomorrow and we could only save three pieces of art to represent humanity to whoever comes along in the future, we wouldn’t go about deciding which pieces by trying to quantify their value and then selecting the three ‘best’ pieces. The sensible thing to do would be to select three pieces of recognized value, of course, but also of very different aesthetic form and sentiment. We would want to show the great variety of what we can do, because there is no one best way to go about things in practice.

Bit of an obvious one, but here goes: what’s your favourite game of all time?
I am duty bound to say Planescape: Torment, but I refer you to my previous answer.

Who in your opinion is the best narrative designer/writer currently working in video games?
Good question. Again, I’m not going to fall into this objectivity trap, so I’ll name a few. Chris Avellone, Erik WolpawJordan Mechner, Dan Houser, Lucas Pope, Paolo Pedercini.

Final question: you are to be stranded on a desert island by a dastardly gang of cutthroat pirates. You’re allowed one film, one book, and one video game. What do you bring?
For the book I suppose I would take something vast and non-fiction, because as I grow older I will find new passions within it of every possible kind, whereas a novel will be strictly limited in tone and topic. I have never read it, so maybe The History of England by one of my favourite philosophers, David Hume. I believe it comes in some pretty lengthy volumes. For the film I suppose I would take something which made me feel in good company. Something classic from my childhood that helped me understand my place in the world. Let’s say Clerks. No, Breakfast Club. There, I had two. For the game… god only knows. I think after enough years there are very few games I wouldn’t want to cast into the ocean. I want to say Tetris, but I think I would regret it immediately. I suppose I could finally get into Dwarf Fortress.

Follow Tom Jubert on twitter: @TomJubert
He also has two websites:  Here and here!

You can also follow me on twitter if you lack good taste and/or common sense: @ComedicPerson
Have a nice day/night/midday/afternoon/dawn/helpmeI’mtrappedinanendlessgapingvoi-