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Postmortem: Tale of Tales' The Path
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Postmortem: Tale of Tales' The Path

July 22, 2010 Article Start Page 1 of 8 Next

The Path was released on March 18, 2009, from Tale of Tales, Steam and Direct2Drive simultaneously. Since then, our Little Red Riding Hood-inspired horror video game has met with both mean-spirited criticism and over-the-top adoration, and not much in between -- a divisive title if there ever was one. And most definitely a breathtaking journey and a deeply personal experience for Auriea Harvey & Michaël Samyn, yours truly, designers of The Path.

This is the story of how The Path came to be.

Through the dark forest

History of the project

1999, San Francisco, Triton Hotel: we meet in person for the first time. We had found each other via our medium, the networked computer, and had a brief but passionate virtual love affair. We got to know each other doing what we loved doing most: making websites and interactive artwork online. We begin living and working together soon after.

2003: Leaving behind careers of and web design, the two of us radically redirect all our creative attention towards the medium of video games. February 2005: After two years of designing and prototyping, our first project, 8, is rejected by games publishers, then the only source of funding. We are devastated but determined to continue and to keep our independence.

Reboot. September 2005: Launch of The Endless Forest. October 2006: presentation of the Realtime Art Manifesto at the Mediaterra festival in Athens. January 2007: Drama Princess engine complete. March 2008: Launch of The Graveyard. March 2009, San Francisco, Triton Hotel: launch of The Path.


The idea for The Path is almost as old as Tale of Tales itself. In a June 2002 business plan, we presented our first project -- 8, a dreamy adventure game based on Sleeping Beauty -- as part of a series of games, each based on a classic fairy tale and with a number as its title. In another description of the 8 project, from October 2004, we express that we have "plans for a survival-horror game based on Little Red Riding Hood". This game would be called 144.

In 2005, we started looking around for a production budget for 144. Some early requests with local Belgian arts funding bodies were rejected. But at the end of the year, the USA-based arts organization Creative Capital came through with an initial grant of 10,000 U.S. dollars.

We were still working on the Drama Princess project at the time, but started directing it away from its original goal of driving the autonomous behavior of the main character in 8, towards the more general character behavior manager required by the new project. Not that The Path was a very clear idea at that time. But motivated by the support of Creative Capital, the design gradually became more concrete.


In July 2006, a first prototype was committed to our 144 repository.

The Deaf Mute Girl in the Pretty White Dress from the 8 project grew up a bit and became the Girl in White in 144.

We decided not only to re-use the Girl in White character from 8 and the Drama Princess engine for autonomous characters, but also the environment rendering system of The Endless Forest. This re-use was one of our ways to reduce the development budget. After not being able to secure the -- for us -- gargantuan sum of 1.5 million dollars required for 8, we were determined to make a game for a budget that was so small that we didn't need the support of the games industry.

For this reason, The Path was going to be a short game that was mostly non-linear (no plot-based narrative, emergent behavior, few cut scenes). And we were going to focus on digital distribution exclusively, not only because it makes sense in terms of technology, but also because it reduces production and marketing costs while drastically increasing the revenue share for the developer (meaning a much smaller volume of sales is required to break even).

At the very start of the project, we weren't really sure if The Path was going to be a commercial title or more of an artistic experiment. As we continued to refine the design, we realized that the concept had several things that spoke in favor of commercial exploitation: it was going to be a horror game, thus easy to categorize by the market (unlike 8, for which the main problem with publishers was that its genre was undefinable.)

In The Path, we knew we were going to have stylish, dark, girl characters at a time where Gothic Lolita style and Pop Surrealism were very trendy. Cult rock star Jarboe had agreed to do the sound track. But most of all, we felt a sort of obligation, to at least try and make this step towards a market, instead of safely playing in the margins. Up until the day of launch, we had no idea how well this was going to work. But we decided to take the risk.

By the end of 2006, we had secured another 26,000 euro from the Flemish Audiovisual Fund and Design Flanders for a first phase of the production. The support of Creative Capital continued throughout the project until the day of launch (which they funded). Ultimately, they have contributed almost 50,000 US Dollars to the budget (sadly, at a time when the dollar was at an all time low).


In January 2007, we implemented the Drama Princess engine in the 144 prototype, which signified to us the start of the actual pre-production.

Making a commercial game and deciding to publish it ourselves immediately meant that we were going to have to work on our marketing. In February 2007 we stopped resisting Web 2.0 and started the Tale of Tales blog.

In March of that year, Michael gave up on his five year old ban against traveling to the USA to attend the Game Developers Conference (GDC) in San Francisco. We were offered the opportunity of sharing a booth with other Belgian developers, cheaply. So we took it. It was then that we decided that we needed a more descriptive title for the game. However dear the cryptic 144 was to us, we felt we had to give up on being obscure and do as much as we can to make it easier for the audience to connect to our work.

More photos...

In May 2007, a first prototype of The Path was sent to our collaborators, animator Laura Raines Smith, and musicians Jarboe and Kris Force, after which they joined the project in earnest. With their help, we created one of the six chapters of the game, featuring Ruby as its main character. This demo was entered in the Independent Games Festival in October 2007. You can watch the first teaser.

In November 2007, we showed this demo to Valve and to Sony in Liverpool, but neither was ready to sign us up for their platform (Steam and PlayStation Network) at the time. They seemed a little bit worried about where we were going to take the rest of the project, afraid that it might turn out to be too much art, and too little entertainment (which was considered a liability back then).

That same month, November 2007, things got really serious when we signed a contract with CultuurInvest for a 90,000 euro loan. As of then, working on a commercial project turned from being an exciting experiment into dealing with a scary Sword of Damocles that would play a part in each and every decision we were going to make. We realized all too well that paying back 100,000 euro (the loan plus interest) is a serious commitment for even the most commercial independent company, let alone an artistically-motivated two-person collective.

Michael in our booth at Game Connection, Lyon 2007

Article Start Page 1 of 8 Next

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Samuel Batista
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Inspiring, and very insightful. I really wish you guys the best of luck, and please keep making games. The Industry needs more developers that aren't just interested in making games for gamers. Not many developers can make a strong influence in the Games as Art argument, I'm certainly not brave, or capable enough to make any significant noise. But you guys got people's attention, and I have a deep respect for the sacrifice and effort that made to create this game.

Brett Williams
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Reading this article actually makes me feel quite ashamed that I never took more interest in this title. It looks like it was a very different approach than most development and although not commercially successful, a success in its own right. Keep it up.

Mike Smith
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The author states quite a few opinions as facts. In would be best to guard against this in the future. Having your article proof read by a third party usually helps catch these things.

For example statements like these:

"To create stylized characters for a horror game that are not cartoony but still attractive is apparently a skill not taught in 3D academies." Try not to confuse skill with style preference.

"Part of the reason, probably, was that we only got male candidates. Our experience with finding our wonderful animator Laura Raines Smith had taught us that it takes a woman to animate girls properly. Maybe it takes a woman to model girls as well. We don't blame the men; we blame the fact that more women don't choose 3D modeling as a career! And that we couldn't find the right person when we needed her." Again, try not to confuse skill with style preference.

"It's easy to market to gamers because they form a very well organized subculture with a blooming press and myriads of supportive blogs. But outside of the niche, the audience is fragmented, and in general fairly hostile towards video games." Casual games anyone?

"We've always found it strange that the small companies are the ones taking the risks, while surely the big ones are a lot more resistant to failure." Nintendo is a good counter for this.

"But so far it looks like the support of non-commercial funding is still required to do this type of work." Other's have been successful even if you haven't.

etc. etc. etc.

Christian Nutt
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@Mike, You don't seem to be having terrible trouble separating factual statements from opinions. That being the case, what's the problem? Guessing it's that you don't like the opinions.

Jala Rocky
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@Nutt: I agree with @Mike, the statements made by the author of this article come off sounding unpolished and presented as though they are reality, when they are in fact just opinions. Just because we can tell what is factual and what is not does not mean that it isn't poorly written.


Victor Gont
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Great read. I was really curious about how the project would turn out for you guys (to be honest I had higher hopes in terms of its financial success) and am glad to see you don't regret pursuing such an unorthodox...path.

The game was by far one that produced the most interesting discussions inside my circle of friends (a guy that does reviews for a local magazine even asked if it's a game at all and if he should write about it). In all, it's been one of the best self-exploring experiences I had with after playing a piece of interactive software so far (even if I am not female, heh) and I surely want to see this incipient art-game genre evolve in this direction.

Best of luck on your next one.

@Mike Smith: I had the impression this article is a piece wrote by the authors of the game, to give insight on the development process as experienced by themselves, not an objective report about the process. So opinions do have their place, as do facts, if it helps one understand a situation better.

Dwayne Mckinney
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This is a great read. I'm actually working on an educational game, but using the UDK and i have had some serious hiccups with it, but i'm still moving forward. Plus as a one man team, its getting very hard and i know that i need help and this article has really given me some extra drive to make sure i get this done. thank you.

Nicholas Burress
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You guys had a good run and the important part is that you learned something, which is stated in the 'What went Wrong' section. Take it with you and keep developing games as you take those lessons with you. You guys seem to have a formula that works for the most part, but could use some changes. Keep up the good work and hang in there! Games as Art is a great industry that I still respect to this day.