I originally passed this on to my wonderful friend, and often-times muse, Epona Schweer. It's such a good article, I wanted to share it on my shitty little nothing-much of a blog, because it eloquently expresses every half-idea glanced in the periphery that I could never so well vocalise.
If you have some energy today, read this. It's an epic wall of text, and yet one of the most topically relevant, smart, and astoundingly concise summaries of not just cinema, but the entire creative industries as they currently exist. You can replace the word "movie" with "video game" and the word cinema with "interactive experience" and despite our vocabulary not quite being analogous, you could just blanket this entire commentary over the gaming industry and see it nestle neatly into place. The ages old conflict between business and art, and the disease that's eating both up from the top down. As a lover of cinema, you'll appreciate this. As a champion of gaming, you'll appreciate this. It's all of those chats over coffee, late-night musings, and furtive glances at a world gone crazy, put into wonderful words.
I've rediscovered a creative process I used to employ very regularly, and now rarely ever: Dozing off listening to music. I usually choose stuff that has no vocals, something electronic, instrumental, ambient. I feel like vocals impose an emotional context, and usually I prefer aimlessness. My current aural stimulus of choice is Interloper by Carbon Based Lifeforms. I recommend it.
I think this works well for me because it allows me to operate in a much more open state than I usually enjoy while awake, my imagination quickly becoming something of a constantly evolving visual organism. Versus the obsessive, task-laden thing it is when I'm awake and marinated in caffeine.
But there remains a bit of a barrier between getting it from my head to a document. My brain switches gears and I find the act of recording interferes with my memory so rapidly that within minutes all I can conjure up is whatever I've managed to put down. It's frustrating, but over time I've developed a somewhat successful method of establishing a concept in my head first, focusing on critical details and the overall forms and leaving the stuff in the middle to sort itself out.
To do this, I need to ride a wave between sleep and awake, managing my creative state with enough control to stave off sleep, and enough surrender to maintain whatever heightened visualisation occurs just before I lose consciousness. The closer I am to sleep, the more vividly detailed my mental wayfaring becomes, and there is this critical point beyond which I will forget everything except a sense that my head was awash in an ocean of the very best ideas I've ever had. I am not great at staying on the awake-side of that point.
I had this experience last night, and now I have the vague memories of something awesome. But I did manage to grasp a few of the details: Some colours, shapes, contrast relationships, and a general sense of the aesthetic. Something full of motion. The motion is important. I do recall with clarity the way that things move and the relationship between the moving parts, and I think that is what buzzed me about the aesthetic.
In developing Grid, I've got the code base kind of done. I mean, it's working and it's bug free and it's nicely modular in that I can extend the gameplay mechanics with ease. There's still a lot of housekeeping work to be done - implementing a save/load system, and a screen/state manager to handle pausing, among other things. But the architecture of the thing is there, I can see how it functions and I'm digging it. But I was really stuck on what I wanted it to look like. What was the veneer? What did I want it to feel like, this thing, when you picked it up and hit Play and were hit with... what?
The vibe needs to be right, and I think I have enough of the thing I lost to sleep to develop something that hopefully comes close. Here's a taste, in a loose form. Just a bit of the essence.
It's retro-futurism on the surface, but it's also something distilled and pure, an entire aesthetic rather than a collection of aesthetic influences. It's not there yet. It touches on the sleepthing. But I'm off to bed now to try to recover it in its entirety.
Knowing me, in an hour I'll either be staring at the ceiling with raging insomnia, or dreaming about dinosaurs and tornadoes. ~shrug~
So I identified what it was about the particular brand of retro-futurism I had in my skull that made it so nice to me. Photorealism; realistic materials, realistic lighting, realistic shadows and lens imperfections and atmospheric attenuation and all kinds of "I buy this as a real, solid, tactile space" effects. It's an aesthetic needing a very high fidelity. It's great that I've nailed it, but depressing that I've heartset on an art direction that's going to be very difficult to execute in a real-time engine, let alone performant enough for iOS/Android platforms. I might spend some time in Maya/Vray and see if I can nail it down and then reverse-engineer a real-time look from that.
Or maybe I'll just compromise on the "must look real" thing and go for a more illustrative retro-futuristic vibe. I dig retro-futurism, so that's cool. Sucks that I'll probably just look derivative without that unique lighting-guy-obsessive quality. Blargh.
I loved Proteus.
And I was devastated by it; reduced to the kind of painful, emotional system-shock that starts as a hollow lump in your chest and evolves into real, genuine grief. I very rarely cry at anything, especially not video games. And Proteus knocked me on my ass.
It was a rare and wonderful confluence of life and art. Like lonely lyrics at a breakup, or a book full of wonder right when your world is full of shit, the game presented a series of small emotional experiences that perfectly coincided with the greater emotional experiences of my life when I played it. And its colourful exploration evolved very quickly from whimsy to revelation, and there at the end, I copped a sucker punch so emotionally intense I think I put my hand over my mouth like some kind of parody of shock.
It was no fabrication, though. I was deeply moved by that experience.
And for some reason, people have a real problem with that.
There has been something of a backlash towards the positive reviews of the game, with droves of folk calling anyone who likes Proteus a faux-intellectual; an elitist manufacturing a snobbish response to a pretentious, but ultimately vapid, experience. The main argument for Proteus' failure is a line we've heard a million times before:
"It's not a game."
While I commit to an eye-roll of epic proportions, my response to the Proteus-sucks-and-you're-all-wearing-fake-monocles crowd can be summarised in my reaction to that sentence. It comes in two parts (and it's been a long time coming).
Comics are called comics because once they were comical. Does that mean we can't call Walking Dead or Preacher or The Batman "comics"? They're hardly light-hearted hilarity. I think we're all cool with the fact that the language has evolved to accommodate a broad range of expression. Why can't we do the same with games?
Which leads to the second point:
If you're right that we're clinging to semantic antiquities, the question must be asked: If it's not a game, SO WHAT? It's not a bowl of cereal or a Frisbee either. What is your point? That you can't enjoy something unless it fits your narrow and synthetically rigid definition of a game? Fair enough, so you like rules and mechanics and win scenarios. Quite frankly: Woofuckenhoo. Unless you can explain why those criteria are critical to the success of any interactive experience, you're just making the kind of noise that sounds a lot like "I DON'T LIKE PORN SO NO ONE SHOULD BE ABLE TO WATCH IT".
There's no problem with not liking Proteus. In fact, it's pretty obvious from the start that it's going to be the kind of expression that is heavily subjective. But the implication that I - me right here, the guy who was a sobbing mess at the end - can't possibly find any value in it because it doesn't meet your standards is utterly absurd. And arrogant. And pretty douchebaggy.
You can certainly say that Proteus has no value for you, but you can't say that it has no value. Objective statements about subjective qualities are a kind of ideological fanaticism dressed up as critique. All you are contributing to the debate is roadblocks.
Improving technology and tools to build games has facilitated a boom in creative experimentation, particularly in the indie space. Arguably, we've seen an evolution of games from pure mechanical entertainment to a medium for exploring the human experience. I say "arguably" for the sake of fair play, but I think it's an objectively provable point if I could be bothered to gather the evidence. Games are becoming the art that gaming culture loves to wax lyrical about.
You don't have to like it. You're free to go play Tetris or Super Mario Brothers or whatever tickles your fancy and nicely fits your definition of gaming. But to attempt to hold the medium back from exploring its potential due to some preconceived notions of the meaning of a damn WORD seems likely to be (at least in part) the very foolish reason why gaming is not widely recognised as an art form already.
We should be exploring what games can be, not putting down artificial boundaries declaring what they can't.
So please, hate Proteus. Hate it with the white hot rage of the heat of a supernova. Hate it for failing to deliver on a promise, or for inadequately capturing an emotional context, or for something else you can clearly describe and reason relating to the experience it aimed to provide. But don't hate it because it dared to be something other.
Without that daring, I wouldn't have had the experience I'd had, and without going into morbidly personal details, that would be a sad thing for me.
Regardless of how you feel, you should celebrate the shit out of Proteus for trying something different - succeed or fail - because trying new things is critical to the medium's evolution, and when a game can genuinely move a person to the point of permanent, irrevocable change - an evolution of self and therefore the world around them - then that thing is in every way, art. It doesn't really matter if anyone disagrees, because the proof is here.
And if you didn't "get" it, well, that just sucks. Or in the case of the Gamasutra article linked above, bully for you.
If you haven't pledged your awesome support for this yet, your time is running out! It's not like Mr. Schafer is in desperate need of more dollars or anything (what a crazy turn out, at over $3mil!)... But this is about more than just money. Besides the fact that you get to support one of the industry's coolest dudes, and the man responsible for some true gaming culture icons, you get a copy of their to-be-made masterpiece for only $15. But more critically, you contribute to the message of independent optimism that this crowd sourced project represents. The little guys are starving; the big guys laugh maniacally on their mountains of cash... This resounding message that we embrace independent artists is a triumph. It's worth $15 just to say "I want my beloved gaming culture to be about more than World War II shooters".
UPDATE: Time is up, but totally watch this video and then go cyberstalk the Double Fine team. I love these folk.
Also, Tim Schafer once called Bobby Kotick a prick. That's a bargain at $15 right there.
- Blogging is a great way to meet people into your thing. Not your thing thing. The thing you do.
- The Zelda Tri-Force, to non-geeks, looks like a gang brand.
- Games are easier to make than I expected them to be.
- Games are harder to make good than I expected them to be.
- Including the words "Nude Celebrities" in a blog entry's title quadruples your spam.
- The TV industry hasn't changed since last I wandered its labyrinthine sanctum of pain.
- Apparently, getting fired one day and offered a promotion the next - by the same person - is a thing.
- Public transport and public toilets are difficult to differentiate.
- There aren't enough hours in a day.
- There aren't enough days in a week.
- I miss my partner
- Being around super creative games industry folk is like having a brain socket into which pure motivation is pumped. Also, that's a gross simile.
- There's a crazy lot of gamedev talent and optimism in Sydney.
- I love being around crazy gamedev talent and optimism.
- City food is cheap and good.
- City accommodation is expensive and smells like mould.
- City shopping looks like a lot of fun from the carriage of a train taking me home because I don't have spare time to do city shopping.
- Optus has horrible 3G everywhere.
- Creative journals are a lot of work to maintain.
I'd like to write an article about this. I think it's an interesting topic, and one worthy of discussion in a future entry. But that's not the point of this particular blog post.
The point of this post is to talk briefly about desires. This is a journal, after all. If you're here for the game development stuff, you can skip this post. In fact, if you're here for anything other than reading my inane rambling, you should definitely skip this post.
I am a craftsman. I think, when I evaluate what I do and how I apply my learned skills, and the relationship between those skills and those things which I innately do well, there's not a lot of art happening.
You know how there's those things which you do well, and then there's those things which you wish you did well? Well, the things I do well, I don't particularly do a lot of. I consider myself a good storyteller; that's something I'm perfectly okay with patting myself on the back for. Even though, ironically, I don't do a lot of storytelling. Except when it comes to explaining to my better half why I spent $200 on video games this week (research!). The onus would be on me to prove that I'm a good storyteller if I were demanding that someone give me recognition, but I'm not. I simply feel comfortable and confident with my abilities to construct a good, strong, driven narrative.
I'm also kind of okay at photography, but it's more pot luck than skill. It's rare for me to point a camera, press the shutter release, and get the image I was expecting. In fact, I often don't expect anything, and then it's a nice surprise when I get something nice. Mad Photoshop Skillz probably helps me look like a better photographer than I really am. But I've yet to take a photo with the intention of making someone feel something. I don't think anyone has ever spent time looking at one of my photographs and then walked away a changed person, beyond perhaps wanting to visit Queenstown in New Zealand (that place is insanely pretty).
When it comes to being creative, I create craft. And I'm kind of okay with that. If my goal was to create art, I'd certainly be concerned that I'm taking the wrong approach. And I don't feel that craft is somehow inferior to art, either: most games, films, books and music are what I would boldly describe as craft, and they bring me and plenty of other people many hours of entertainment. Also, I'm sure that sometimes craft and art can be the same thing, or at least different parts of the same thing.
This is turning into that article I said I wasn't going to write.
To cut a short story long, I feel I lack the fine arts background which would refine my craft, regardless of whether or not I intend to make art. I've felt this for a while, and it bothers me. There's a history of giants on whose shoulders I am not currently standing, and it hurts my work. In hindsight (or with guidance) I would have tailored my university degree towards fine arts rather than communication technology. Had I, of course, known that fine arts training would have served me so much better in my career than learning how to program in Macromedia Director [insert :/ face]. My degree was clearly tailored towards information technology, advertising, and graphic design outcomes, despite being marketed as a course for aspiring animators, game creators, and film makers. I'm a little bitter about it.
But hey, I learned stuff, and I can't say with certainty that said stuff didn't serve me just as well as a hypothetical fine arts journey would have. Also, I'm young yet.
So I'm considering enrolling in a fine arts program. Nothing long term - maybe a 12 months course, or something less. Just something through the TAFE if the circumstances were right. I'd like that fine arts background; even just a loose impression of one. A kick start. Foundations. The kind of stuff that you can't really learn with just persistence and grit (or could learn entirely wrong, or could learn in 10 years rather than 2). I'm not looking for a change in career, and I'm not expecting to become a sell out artist: As I said, the goal is to understand art better so that I might improve my craft, and I feel I can achieve that goal much better in a formal environment.
Being able to draw something that doesn't inspire people to say "AWWW!" and make the ^_^ face and get confused about whether it's a helicopter or a dog climbing a house would be a nice bonus, too.