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Visualante
Member
(12-10-2007, 08:02 PM)
Visualante's Avatar
Hello GAF, I know it's a long read but I did this interview with some Belgium fellows who like making games. It's really interesting and I think you'd enjoy it if you give it a few minutes. Last time I posted nobody read it because the thread title was rubbish so I'm giving it a second chance with a new title aimed at PC gamers. As that is Tale of Tales current platform of choice.

V: How did the pair of you meet?
Tale of Tales: We met in hell. In a net artists collective on the hell.com domain
to be precise. Back in the days when the internet was a more creative
place. 1999. We chatted, started collaborating, fell in love, left our
previous partners and children and moved house, city, country, continent
to be together. A lot of our earlier work was about this relationship
and all the conflicts involved with it.

What did each of your study before working on games?
Auriea Harvey: Sculpture at Parsons School of Design in New York City, USA.
MichaŽl Samyn: Graphic Design at Sint Lucas in Gent, Belgium.
ToT: We both only started seriously using computers after school.
Discovered the internet in the mid nineties, dropped everything and
"became digital".

When designing The Path what were the first important bullet-points
that you wanted to achieve in it? Have these changed since?

ToT: It's been a long time since we started designing The Path. The idea
originated from when we were working on 8. That was a sweet game
inspired by the fairy tale of Sleeping Beauty. We wanted to have our
main character, the Girl in White, visit other fairy tales as well. 144
was the name we gave our horror game inspired by Little Red Ridinghood.
We didn't have any bullet points. Other than our general ideas about
what kinds of games we try to make (no violence, no words, experience
above gameplay, storytelling through interaction, etc).
We don't really work with bullet points. We start from a narrative
concept, a feeling, a theme, a mood we want to express. Then we tend to
brainstorm ideas, most of which get lost during the process. Originally
we were thinking of having 144 different Little Red Ridinghood
characters. That has been reduced to six. We had envisioned a repeating
structure very early on, but the original ideas were more about looping
through a single story, rather than having six different chapters.
Another early idea was a kind of racing game: Red Ridinghood needs to
get to grandmother's house as quickly as possible. The longer it takes,
the more gruesome the murder scene would be. The player would be
manipulating the environment to either help her or slow her down.
In a first interactive prototype, we had a lot of buttons on the screen
that allowed the player to control the actions of the avatar. We removed
all of them in favour of uncertainty about what she would do when you
stopped controlling her because lack of control suited the story better.
AH: And we wanted to make a game about girls growing up. I guess it's a
semi-autobiographical urge for me... to make something which gives a
feeling of what it's like to be a girl becoming a woman. Red Ridinghood
is a good metaphor for this, at least as an inspiration.
MS: I see the thorny path from girl to woman as a metaphor for life as
such. For the continuously evolving and growing nature of life.
Everybody is a little girl lost in the forest. There's always wolves
around with seductive propositions. There's always choices to make that
never have perfectly happy outcomes. You always end up messsing things
up for either yourself or for the people you love. The path of needles
is not any better than the path of pins. But you move on, with the
guilt, and with the joy, further down the path.

I'm not fond of the idea of pigeonholing games into genres but do you
have a genre for the different acts in The Path?

ToT: We wouldn't even know how to stick to a genre if we tried to. But
the basic interaction of the three acts is different. Act 1 is like a
point-and-click adventure (but it's very short). Act 2 is like a third
person action-adventure. And Act 3 is like a first person rail shooter
(but without a gun). This only says something about the kind of camera
used, really, and how you control the avatar.
We prefer to categorize games according to content rather than
interaction mechanic. That's why we call The Path a horror game.

What do you think of episodic gaming? Is it something you could use?
ToT: We have actually thought about an episodic release of The Path
quite a bit. We haven't even decided against it completely. We really
like the idea of collecting bits of game, and having it grow. Pure
episodes are probably a bit too linear for our taste, but the way in
which, for instance, we continuously add content to The Endless Forest
is something that suits us very well. We are dreaming of a game that we
can develop in public. It would be totally possible with the way we work
because we tend to make the game first and design it later.

Many critics claim the games industry as it stands lacks creativity
and innovation. Do you agree?

ToT: That depends a bit on what one's vision of a future for the games
industry is. We can see two strong more or less opposing forces: one
wants games to be games, toys almost, for a big but limited audience.
For this group of people things are going great. There have never been
more hi-tech and challenging games than now, and there have never been
more fun party games than now. Another force is the one that sees the
future of games next to the other entertainment media, on equal footing
with pop music, cinema and literature. They think that, in the future,
games should offer people many different kinds of entertainment, some
game-like but others not. For the latter vision, things aren't going so
well.
There's plenty of creativity and innovation in the games industry. But
it all takes place within a very narrow pre-defined field. Katamari
Damacy, Spore, Portal are all worshipped for their innovative gameplay.
But they don't really offer new experiences. Just a different way to get
the same game experience. Many people like that kind of experience. And
that's fine. Even what Nintendo has been doing lately is mostly a
reactionary, almost nostalgic movement. They are "putting the fun back
into games". And I guess, to some extent, we are trying to take the fun
out of games. Or at least introduce different kinds of fun.

Where do you think your new project the Path fits inside the games
industry umbrella? Or do you see it as something that would find an
audience elsewhere?

ToT: We always hope that our work gets noticed elsewhere. And it does,
to some extent, as there is a very active interest coming from fine arts
circles. The Endless Forest is always on display in one media art
festival or other. But we would also like to reach people who are simply
interested in our content, our stories. People who don't play games but
do read books or watch movies with similar themes. Sadly, the technology
stands in the way of much of that happening. The average computer that
the non-expert has is simply too slow to run a contemporary 3D game. And
they certainly don't have a games console.
But, lucky for us, within the large community of gamers, there's also a
lot of people who are interested in different types of experiences. And
they do tend to have access to the required technology. If The Path has
a place in the games industry, I would say that that place is in the
audience. Unlike many developers and publishers, most of the audience
doesn't have such a big problem with games that don't fit in certain
genres. They just see something they like, pick it up and play with it.
It's not a big deal.

The Path gives the player, a great deal of freedom as they progress
through the game. Do you think the typical player is ready for that
degree of freedom?

ToT: Depends on who that typical player is. On the web-forums and in the
games press, you often get the impression that the "typical player" is
an adolescent boy (or a grown man behaving like one) who likes nothing
better than blowing things up. But if you then look at what games sell
well, you get a very different picture.
The freedom that you get in The Path is the logical result of how we
think about games. We tend to think of games as virtual environments
with characters and stories in them. If people are attracted to the
story that we are telling in The Path, then they will have no problem
with that freedom. Roaming freely through a scary forest is very much
part of our story. And since the forest is scary, being free in it is
not necessarily as pleasant as it may sound. It's very easy to get lost,
for instance. But that's exactly what we are trying to evoke: the
tension between what you think you want and what you know you should
want, et cetera. The complex psychology of Little Red Ridinghood.

What inspires you?
ToT: There's two kinds of inspiration for us. The first kind is the kind
that sparks an initial idea, a "wouldn't it be cool if..." kind of
thought. Anything can do that really. Seeing a butterfly in the garden,
a lost shoe, feeling the hot water in the shower, kissing. Anything.
Making games is about evoking experiences for us. And any experience has
artistic potential. This is a very inward looking kind of inspiration
based on our own emotional motivations.
The second kind is the kind you need later in the process. When you have
already decided what you want to do and you are trying to figure out
how. This is when we start looking at other art. We learn a lot from
classical figurative painting, for instance. And from architecture, both
modern and traditional. Fashion, movies, comics, music, etc.

Tale of Tales is a very small outfit at the moment. Many larger
studios are currently being acquired by publishers. As you move onto
other projects will you continue to stay little, but think big?

ToT: When we started, we thought we would need to grow bigger and run a
big team to be able to make the kinds of games that we want to make. But
then we realized that this quickly puts us in the position of managers
rather than designers. And this kind of production is also very
expensive. So you're continuously worried about money, rather than
thinking about your work.
At some point, we decided we would simply refuse to grow. We develop
projects on a scale that we can handle. Games that we can make on our
own if we have to (though we love collaborating with talented artists).
I think the main reason for this is that we are still insecure about
what we want to do with this medium. Our work involves a lot of
research. And we have to do this ourselves. Simply prototyping some
concepts is not good enough, a lot of good stuff happens in the
fine-tuning and the polish. We have to be there for all of it. Maybe
later, when we know exactly what we want and when there's more people
around who understand that, we can lead larger productions.

Auriea you cover the art and 3D side where Michael covers programming,
sounds and animation. Do you find this relationship works well?

MS: First of all, it's not that simple. We consider "the art" to be the
complete game, all of it, the interaction, the sound, the graphics, the
effects, etc. All of these elements have to serve the larger purpose of
making a good game. Dividing tasks is simply a practical issue. Auriea
is a master at Photoshop and I have a talent for sound editing. So we
each do what we're good at. But we both evaluate the work of the other
against the requirement that it has to contribute to the higher goal.
And the decisions that are taken on that level, are the important ones,
no matter who did the technical execution. And those decisions are made
together.
AH: Let me correct your question a bit though. All our animation is done
by the wonderfully talented Laura Raines Smith. She is the third
collaborator in Tale of Tales when it comes to character motion. We've
been working with her since our very first game, her animations have a
sensitivity of gesture that is rare in games, i think. And we always
work with a composer for the music in our games. For The Path we're
working with Jarboe who is an amazing vocalist and musician. Her
compositions give the soundtrack the deep dark atmosphere we need.
In the games industry the term "art" seems to mean simply what one sees,
but in our work it also extends to how it feels to be in the gameworld
and how the interaction, sound, etc. comes together to get that across.
So, with two people making the bulk of something so complex in this way,
there is never a clear division of labor, we simply do what we must to
finish. And more importantly keep learning new things and pushing
ourselves to make a game of the highest quality we can achieve. Art
Direction takes on new meanings for me. Funnily enough, we tried to make
it a requirement when working with other artists that for each task
there had to be male and female input. In practical terms we cannot
always do this but we find better ideas when there is a balance of
influence.
ToT: We do feel fortunate that we can work together as a couple. Not
only is it very nice to be able to have a studio in the same building
where we live and eat and sleep. It also contributes to the potential of
our work. We don't have any gender issues in our designs, for instance,
simply because they are made by a man and woman together. We also have
different cultural backgrounds. So that enriches what we make as well.
It's almost like we're one person with a brain twice the normal size. So
we get a lot of stuff done right, we think, because of this continuous
feedback.

Has that ever been difficult?
MS: Working together? Sometimes. There's always difficulties when you
work with other people. But we do it anyway because there's a lot of
benefits to doing so. Being a couple adds a layer of complexity to this
of course. Our arguments over work sometimes turn into personal
arguments. That's obviously not a good thing. But we have never made a
big distinction between our personal lives and our work. I think the
fact that we work together is one of the reasons why we like being with
each other. It's been 8 years now. We got married during that time,
started a company, and made many many artworks together. There's bound
to be some difficulties along the road. But that's a small price to pay.

AH: And being together in a live/work space. Not difficult at all. We've
always worked this way. I can't imagine going to an office every day or
not being able to bounce ideas back and forth throughout the day with
each other. And we like having the studio right next to the bedroom...
but i think you have to be in love to make that work ;)

What are your ambitions for Tale of Tales?
ToT: A Big Question. There is no absolute goal that we are striving
towards. We try to remain flexible and adapt to the circumstances. This
is probably because we don't fit very well in any particular industry or
cultural field. We have one foot in the art world and the other in the
games industry. We try and bring elements from one to the other. And
keep our options open.
We have a vague kind of ambition of some sublime experience that we want
to achieve with interactive media. Every project seems to bring us one
step closer to that ideal. But with every project we also learn a lot of
new things. And what was once certain, suddenly crumbles to make room
for new ideas, new opportunities. So while we're moving forward, we're
also getting wider.

The Path is currently stated for PC, what do you think of the current
three consoles? Would you be interested in bringing the Path to them?

ToT: Absolutely!
Our first love was the Playstation 2. We really wanted to make games for
that thing. But we obviously never succeeded. We're only using the PC
now because it's the most accessible platform (though we hate the divide
between Mac and Windows). As we have been doing that for a few years
now, and we optimized our work for the PC, we've come to like it as a
platform. But still, playing the game on a big TV while sitting
comfortably on a couch would be great.
The only new console that we own is a Nintendo DS, which is a great
little machine. We're getting a Wii because we'd like to make something
for WiiWare. Not just because we like the hardware, but because we think
there is an audience out there for our games. We can't say much about
the Playstation 3 or the XBox 360 because we don't own either.

How have you funded development? Do you think there are enough
initiatives to support independent games?

ToT: We have funded our development mostly through arts funding or other
art commissions. There's not a lot of money there, but it has allowed us
to do some things. We're not sure about "independent games". Some would
say that as soon as they are "supported", they lose the claim to the name.
But we do think that there should be a lot more support for research
into interactive entertainment. And preferably support that does not
expect a return on investment. Interactive technology has such a huge
potential. We're basically wasting it on games. Because that's the only
thing we seem to have come up with that brings in money. It's such a
shame to see all that potential wither away. We think commercial
projects or hobby projects will figure out how to attain their goals,
but artistically ambitious projects really should be supported. Not just
by governments and museums but also by the big developers and
publishers. They have a lot to gain from a rich and versatible medium,
in our opinion.

What advice would you give to aspiring creatives with an idea for an
original game?

ToT: Make it.
Find a way of making the game. If it's too big, find partners or reduce
the scale. But make it. Somehow. And then move on. And make another one.
Or make it again, but better. There's nothing worse than letting an idea
remain an idea. Interactive media are about the things that you do,
about physical and mental experiences. There is no degree of imagination
that can replace that. You have to make the idea a reality, get it out
of your brain and develop it with your body.

Finally, as it's a NeoGAF tradition: what have you both been playing
lately?

AH: I've been so busy I only have time for DS games when I'm not playing
our own stuff. My most played lately have been the new Phoenix Wright
and Electroplankton which, for me, never gets old. Also, after my
Ouendan addiction died down a few months ago I started checking out
what the Homebrew DS scene has to offer and I'd say right now my
absolute favorite "game" is a paint program, Colors! by Jens Andersson
(http://www.collectingsmiles.com/colors/) It is essential actually. The
DS makes a great sketchbook.
MS: Lots of games for research purposes. But nothing for entertainment.
I have been looking for a good game for what feels like years now.
Nothing comes up. I was looking forward to playing Rule of Rose but then
some Italian politicians ruined that. The last thing I remember playing
a lot was Animal Crossing on the Game Cube. I'm starting to feel like
one of those old grumpy cynics who idolizes the Commodore 64. I want to
play Guild Wars, but they insist on having all these stupid missions and
silly puzzles. Maybe I'll play Black & White again. Again.

---

Special thanks to both Auriea and MichaŽl
http://www.tale-of-tales.com/ for more
Danj
Member
(12-10-2007, 09:34 PM)
Danj's Avatar
You're doing it wrong. You're supposed to post the interview on your website and then quote excerpts (with interesting bits in bold) on GAF. Also, it's kinda weird that you just jump straight in there with virtually no introduction. "Some Belgian fellows who like making games" is not enough IMO. Who are these people? What is this "The Path" that gets referred to in question 3 with no previous mention? And, while I know this is going to sound harsh, why should GAF care? These are things you need to address.
Link1110
Member
(12-10-2007, 09:42 PM)
Tale of Tales? Quite the misleading name. I love point and click adventure games, and will probably buy it if it doesn't have Starforce or anything similar, but its not like there's a company called Final Fantasy Final.
Visualante
Member
(12-10-2007, 09:44 PM)
Visualante's Avatar
Well the path is a PC game, and it's quite hard to describe. So I let them describe it themselves. It started off as being inspired by Little Red Ridinghood, and the story arc has 6 different chapters which each represent a different style of game.
It starts as an adventure style game, then moves to third person and eventually first person to change the way the player views the game. It has a fantastic setting and a great sense of freedom.

The interview was more about their approach to game design than the game itself, I used the game as a tangent to discuss the wider industry. As you can see only 3 of my questions are directly about The Path itself.

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