Recently Elder-Geek.com had the golden opportunity to ask Michael Samyn & Auriea Harvey of Tale of Tales some questions about their current projects and the industry at large. A huge thank you to Michael and Auriea for their time!
Current / Future Projects
Tale of Tales: Our participation in the groWorld project was just something we did on the side while working on The Path and Fatale. Our work on groWorld is done. At least for now.
We have now started work on two new small iPhone games. One with British designer Alex Mayhew and one for the Art History of Games symposium in Atlanta in February. After that we will “go underground” and start prototyping two larger projects. GroWorld is an initiative of the Brussels artists collective Foam ( http://fo.am ). They are friends and asked us to contribute to the game part of the project. GroWorld is much larger than just a game. It’s a multidisciplinary project that researches the coexistence of humans and plants on this planet. We created some prototypes for a multiplayer game in which everyone plays a plant. But we don’t know how the project is going to evolve further. Or even if we will be evolved in that. It’s a big long term thing that is largely beyond our control.
Would you consider doing a large-scale video game experience if you had the right story to tell?
ToT: That’s a difficult question to answer because the kinds of budgets available for large scale videogame production are reserved for projects that are organized like manufacturing plants. This is not an environment in which we could work well. But if we could design the organisation of the project, then I’m sure we’d love to create a large-scale game.
Though it may need to be more expensive than most. The current development process of big budget games, while disastrous for artistic expression, seems to be well optimized in terms of efficiently using investments towards maximizing profits. I’m sure it’s possible to come to a creation-centric approach that is cost efficient. But I don’t think we have the financial genius to come up with that at Tale of Tales. We do hope somebody out there does, though. Because the current situation is quite sad.
When you first heard that The Path was going to receive and “M” rating, what was your reaction?
ToT: To our knowledge, The Path never received an official rating. It was actually we who decided to put a minimum age (of 15) on it. Because we are worried about younger children playing it, or parents choosing it for their children because they think it’s a fairy tale in the popular sense of the word. We believe The Path can only be enjoyed by a mature mind.
However, the “M” rating in most video games seems just something developers and publishers use to attract the 16-years olds that are their bread and butter. So I’m not sure how successful the rating of The Path is at discouraging children.
Recently, I played the trailer for The Path for a friend. He visibly shuddered in fear at the first spoken words of “Little girls…” Who was the voice actress? Was it Auriea?
ToT: The voice and a lot of the music in The Path (as well as Fatale) is done by American composer/musician/performer Jarboe. She used to be with a band called Swans and has been working solo or in many different collaborations since. Her website is at http://thelivingjarboe.com . Jarboe is quite an amazing performer. Especially her uncanny way of combining innocence and naivety with cruelty and horror made her talent perfect for The Path.
The Path and Fatale are probably best described as literary interpretation, which isn’t done very much in video games.
ToT: Hm. We never thought about it like that. We just like using old stories. But you’re right. Films are very often based on existing literature. Games hardly ever. This is probably because the kinds of mechanics and structures used by most game designers these days are not compatible with many stories. Most literature is simply not about mass murder or collecting gold coins, or even about victory through annihilation of obstacles. Literature and film can be a lot more subtle. Hopefully video games will develop that ability too at some point.
Does Tale of Tales have any plans of releasing The Path or any other ToT title as downloadable titles on consoles?
ToT: There’s no concrete plans at the moment but there is a desire. We are not excessively enthusiastic about games consoles because so far we have always thought of non-gamers as our main audience. And non-gamers do not own consoles. But with the release of The Path we have discovered that there’s many traditional videogamers who also enjoy what we make. So we will probably take that audience a bit more seriously in the future.
Consoles are not very friendly towards independent/artistic development though. There’s a lot of bureaucracy and money involved. And it takes a lot of time to get from development to publication. We love the directness of the PC and the Mac: make a game one day and release it the next. That’s really great. But consoles just don’t work like that.
Questions About The Industry
As video games are growing and evolving, do you feel the term “video game” is still appropriate? Do you feel it would be easier to rebrand video games or would it be easier to increase public perception?
ToT: The term game is not appropriate for the way in which many people experience video games. They experience them as stories, as worlds, as fantasies. Not just fun things to do with friends. It would be nice to have a new term. But we’re probably stuck with “videogame”. All we can do now is be a bit tolerant about its meaning.
Of course the public perception of video games as something for children is supported by the term “game”. But we think that this perception will change when the industry releases more mature titles. There are many non-video games already that are not considered childish (chess, poker, sports, etc). So why not video games? In the games industry, of course, “mature” is often a synonym for “childish” as it only means that the game features lots of senseless destruction. “Blowing shit up” is not exactly a mature theme.
To use your own question on you, “how do you feel about the Hollywoodification of video games?” Large publishers are pushing developers, or in some cases, buying them out to create canned games that don’t help the medium, except for advances in graphics technology (and maybe some better voice acting).
ToT: Since it is possible to make a lot of money with video games production, and we are living in a capitalist society, it is unavoidable that people will make games for profit. And in a capitalist system there’s only one way to do that: spend money to make money. The more money you spend on production, the more profit you can make.
The current state of computer technology makes developing games inaccessible and difficult and therefore expensive. As a result, the only people who can use the technology to its fullest are people with a lot of money at their disposal. But those people tend to be the same people as the ones who want to make a lot of profit. As a result the evolution of the medium stagnates.
This could lead to a complete collapse of the games industry. And it works against the penetration of games into culture at large.
We can only hope that some clever people will come up with a way to push computer technology into the new century and make developing with it accessible to a much wider range of creators.
In the meantime, independent developers should make a fist and pull and push the medium kicking and screaming to where it doesn’t want to go yet. We should stop making platform games and shooters and really explore the potential of the medium. Because there’s a lot of stuff that can be done already with all these scraps of technology left behind by the relentless industrial machine. Enough even, to create things that put the entire industry to shame.
Which recent titles do you feel were healthy growth for the industry? For what reason?
ToT: Flower, because its first three levels demonstrated clearly how video games could be enjoyable experiences without antagonism and fiero. Noby Noby Boy because it is the first videogame that you could show in any contemporary art exhibition without making a statement about games as art. And Heavy Rain makes us very hopeful. Not so much the game itself, perhaps, but the intention of its creator. It’s very nice to see someone with so much ambition for the medium have access to such a huge budget.
Both art lovers and video game fans can be notoriously finicky. Your medium tries to bring two worlds crashing together. Which group of fanatics do you find to be more accepting of your projects?
ToT: Art lovers, beyond a doubt. Especially people with an interest in media art. These are people who have learned to enjoy the unexpected, a skill that many gamers have a lot of trouble with. That being said, our most devoted fans will probably be gamers, because only they can understand all the different layers in our work. So since our work combines art and games, the people who appreciate it probably will have an interest in both. Or maybe our work awakens a dormant interest in either.
What are your thoughts on American McGee’s Return of Alice?
ToT: American McGee is a very smart designer. We hope that he can finally make the opus that we know he has in him. Let’s pray that the big production budget doesn’t stimulate conservatism too much.
Are there any future releases that you’re looking forward to?
ToT: Bayonetta. We really loved Devil May Cry 1 and even 2. But after that, the series fell apart for us. Bayonetta looks like it might bring back a lot of what we enjoyed in the early Devil May Cry games.
And The Last Guardian. After having been disappointed by Fumito Ueda’s capitulation to action gaming, we’re curious to see if he will be able to get back to the wonderful things he started in Ico.
And of course we’re interested in anything that thatgamecompany and Ice-Pick Lodge release. They’re sort of sister and brother companies to us. While all of our games are very different, we share a certain attitude and ambition. There’s not many people who do.
Is there anything you’d like to cover that we didn’t ask?
ToT: Of course. But we’d prefer to work a bit more on our projects now. 😉