[In this extensive interview, conducted at this year's GDC Europe, Belgium-based art game duo Tale of Tales discusses how they first got into making games and the extreme frustration that they feel with the state of the medium.]
Auriea Harvey and Michaël Samyn met in person for the first time in 1999. Two digital artists who had used the web as a medium decided, once they became a couple, to dive headfirst into the world of games. In 2005, the two launched their first game: The Endless Forest, "a multiplayer online game and social screensaver."
This week, The Graveyard, previously available on PC and Mac, was released for Android.
Since then -- with the help of collaborators -- the duo has released games such as The Graveyard and The Path (links open up Gamasutra postmortems). These games have provoked much interest and controversy; many gamers say they simply aren't games, while supporters say that their unusualness is what makes them refreshing.
In this extensive interview, conducted at this year's GDC Europe, the Belgium-based duo discusses how they first got into making games, the extreme frustration that they feel with the state of the medium -- both in terms of creativity, and how it might be digging itself its own grave commercially, too.
What appeals to you working in Europe, rather than in the U.S.?
Auriea Harvey: I'm married to him.
Is that the only reason?
AH: I'm actually from the internet. I'm not from the United States anyway. It doesn't matter to me where I'm from or where I'm living. I could live anywhere. But I'm working here because we're married.
Now that I think about your question, I couldn't say that there's anything that appeals to me about working in Europe, but there's definitely something that appeals to me about working in Belgium.
And that's there is no game industry, and you sort of just make it up yourself. You make it up as you go along. Everyone who makes games in Belgium is doing it in a different way. And there's very little common ground amongst us. There's like 10 of us.
You have to make your own community, and the community that we make ends up being this international thing. It doesn't become this local situation -- which I always dislike because it starts to seem homogenous. The community that we make isn't made up with people with our same cultural background, or our same idea about what's fun, or what's not fun, or what's beautiful or interesting or meaningful. We are always reaching out to people in Spain, in Italy, in Austria...
Michaël Samyn: Almost by necessity.
AH: Almost by necessity, to find common ground. But even that common ground... You find where you overlap, like with us and the guy who makes Amnesia, there are places where we overlap, and there are places where we're completely different. And that's in part cultural, and that's part in taste. So, it's interesting where you find that common ground.
MS: You mean, as opposed to the U.S.?
AH: I wouldn't start there. I wouldn't start down that road, but I'm just saying that because you end up making your own community so much in Europe, you end up with an interesting diversity of opinion, and a diversity of game making.
It sounds like because you're more isolated from the commercial industry...
MS: I think not just the game industry. I think, in general, media, too.
AH: Yeah, I was going to say, it's not trendy. The lack of trendiness in our local situation makes us reach out to people who we normally... If there were a whole bunch of people around us making games, we might just go, "Oh, let's get together," and we all end up sort of, I don't know...
MS: Working for each other? [laughs]
Where there would be a mode of approach -- like a movement.
But there's a lack of a movement.
AH: So we created our own movement, you know what I mean? [laughs] And this movement is, like, people from all over...
MS: No, that's true. We meet each other in this movement on the level of what we stand for and what we do, and not just because we have to live in each other's street [laughs]. Which is a big difference.
AH: Which I find appealing, but that, again, may be because I come from the internet.
You were very direct in saying with The Path that you created characters that were pieces of you. Most games are not like that.
MS: But I think the question of content in games -- often games seem to be either about other games, or about other media. I mean, I would say the large majority of games are either about games, or other media, in terms of content.
Maybe sometimes there's a root of an idea that comes from personal experience, but that is often very much expressed in the conventions of media as we know them. There's not a lot of invention of expression in the medium, I find, it seems so far.
AH: It seems to me that often game designers are dependent on their fantasy. I kind of like that, but on the other hand, the content usually comes out better if that fantasy is tempered also by life experience. I guess that's the success of BioShock. In a way, it's like, "Yeah, you couldn't have been in Rapture, under the sea," but the writer tries to inject, I don't know, a bit of their own philosophy, or whatever.
A cultural perspective.
AH: Cultural perspective, yeah, we'll call it that. And that helps. And so in that sense, Ken Levine, his experience affected that.
MS: Yes, but actually it's a good example... My remark to that is, basically, what you do in BioShock is, you run around shooting crazy people. So, the expression has nothing to do with this content, as far as I can tell.
AH: Right. That's the problem.
MS: That's where they fall into the conventions. Instead of thinking, "What is our game about? And how can we express that in interaction, in everything else?"
AH: In something that's not a voiceover, not a cutscene.
MS: Line one of the bullet list of when BioShock was being created was "first person shooter". There was no way around it. It had to be...
And if you start there, how can you possibly hope to even express your theme? You make it hard for yourself, actually, as an artist, putting such restrictions on your form.