Steve Swink On The Art Of Experimental Games
April 8, 2011 Page 5 of 6
You've put like a year into the game so far. How much more time are you expecting to put into it?
SS: Another year and a half or something. I don't even know, really.
So now we've got sort of a general idea of how long these things take to make. The sort of thing you're trying to make, which fits in a certain constraint -- which is a downloadable game that's worth 15 dollars to a lot of people, approximately.
SS: A fair number of people.
That's what I'm saying you're making; the thing you've made has sort of been quantified by the circumstances that you exist in.
SS: Yeah. Certainly ten years ago I would not have been able to find funding, nor would I have been thinking about making a game like this.
When Jon first showed Braid at the Experimental Gameplay Workshop in 2004 or whenever it was, I was like, "Yeah, alright. Well that's it, that's the kind of thing that I want to be making." And it took him another three years or whatever it was to finish the game to his satisfaction and put it out.
And then when he put it out there wasn't necessarily that expectation that that was a viable way to go.
SS: I said to [GDC's] Jamil [Moledina], Meggan [Scavio], and Simon [Carless] before Braid came out, "If there's any justice in the world, Braid will be like the first big indie breakout hit." And I was really happy. Because in my mind, that vindicated my internal conception of quality, in some ways. Like I look at that, and that's exactly the kind of game that I'd want to have designed, and I think it's really an example of really excellent craft married with a great artistic idea.
It's philosophically sound, and constructed in a way... it's like a really gorgeously crafted pot. If you find that from a society, if you're digging around in the ruins of some society and you find this immaculately crafted piece of clay or whatever it is, you know that they had the technology to do that, and it was up to a certain standard. It kind of feels like that -- it's like an artifact of how far people have progressed in a certain direction, which is sort of a weird thing to say.
If you prove to me that you can make a game that is beautiful and contemplative and not about explosions or tits, and people will dig it and some people will get the message and some people won't...
And it's like the opposite of quality is apathy, not hatred. And there are just tons of people out there who just bagged on the story of Braid, and played the demo, and thought it was just a stupid platformer about time rewinding, and didn't get to any of the deeper messages. And a lot of people thought that it was pompous and pretentious and reacted against that and so on. But it just proved to me that it's possible. You can do that.
So you've done a lot of indie experimentation and then you sort of realized like, "Okay, this is what's feasible. Let's spend this much time on a game." You have a certain ethos you talk about, like not wanting to repeat content. You have a picture in your head of the space you can operate in right now.
SS: Yeah, there are a lot of self-applied constraints in this type of design.
That's a rising part of the medium right now.
SS: Yeah. In the past, that sort of constraint has been applied by hardware. Like there's a lot of really interesting Atari games that were really weird, that have no successor in modern games, that maybe we should go back and look at, because they were really interesting and they arose out of the constraints of the medium. Or maybe the limitation is gone now, and something more interesting will come out of it.
You know, Chris Crawford looked at that, and he saw people, not things. It'd be great if there were a 100 more people mining through early weird Commodore games, looking for stuff that just hasn't really been followed up on. Because people didn't know any better, so they would do crazy shit and they'd fail spectacularly. I feel like a lot of people are afraid to fail spectacularly now.
Well, you can't.
SS: Jason Rohrer's not.
Well, Jason Rohrer… he's awesome, but he's an extreme example of how someone is willing to live their life for the capacity to fail as much as they want, and do whatever they want. You say you live like a college student, but he lives like Jason Rohrer. There's no comparison.
SS: Yeah, exactly. It took until now to muster up the courage to make Shadow Physics a full time profession. And it is really, really stressful at some fundamental core level, because if the game turns out to be total crap, then you know I've wasted my time.
I feel like I'm learning a lot on the job. I feel like... there's so many things that I just haven't even thought of, and I'm learning so much as I'm going along, that hopefully the quality will be what I want it to be.
And I think that's part of why I take so long to make a game like this, because you have to have shower time, you have to be thinking about this stuff while you're taking a shower, riding a bike, doing stuff that's totally unrelated, and you just have these insights that pop into your brain, that come from that weird dimension of creativity that no one understands -- but people who make stuff know it exists.
It's recognized. I've heard people talking about this even from a business perspective, where they have to let people get the fuck away from work and just, when they're on their own time, they'll pop out an idea. And everyone who's ever done any creative work talks about, like, getting out of bed and jotting something down.
SS: Yeah. So it's really, there are two things there that are really at odds. One is the need to do that, and just kind of dick around and live your life and do things. Like go hiking, and running, and whatever.
But then also you get funded, or you have a certain amount of money that's burning down in your bank account, and you need to get something out by that time. It's like there's this sort of two... it's typical. So I think most really successful artists are people who can produce on a schedule, whether it's self-imposed, imposed by money, or imposed by an external group or person -- but are also able to not sacrifice quality to do that.
And I feel like I'm only now beginning to understand the parameters in which I'm working, with the ramifications of the constraints that I'm applying to what our design is. And it's not at all clear how to thrive within those parameters.
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