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Q&A: In The Garden Of Eden: Clive Barker Talks Game, Creative Process

Q&A: In The Garden Of Eden: Clive Barker Talks Game, Creative Process

December 4, 2007 | By Christian Nutt

December 4, 2007 | By Christian Nutt
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Perhaps best known as the writer and director of the film Hellraiser, Clive Barker is also an author, playwright, actor and director, and has recently collaborated on the supernatural horror video game Jericho with Codemasters, while previous titles have included Clive Barker's Undying with EA.

Just before the recent release of Jericho, Gamasutra spoke to Barker at length about his attitude to creating art, his collaboration on game projects, and why, to combat Roger Ebert, those working on game projects should " taking ourselves seriously as artists."

What are your thoughts on your many collaborative partners for Jericho?

The point is, at the end, all I'm concerned with is, "What is the work"? I'm not concerned with the apportionment of blame, or praise, or pats on the head, or a slap on the nuts. I mean, frankly it's, "How good is the work?"

How good is the work?

Codemasters were very open to my saying, "No, I don't like this." I've got my name above the title, and I want it different. And a prime example is the music: they provided me with a cut of the game with music on that I had not heard or signed off on, and I didn't like. I said that it sounds like we're in a gay disco.

And I had a guy that I like a lot, Cris Velasco, who'd done music that you're probably familiar with on games you are familiar with. I like what he does; it has size, it has seriousness.

And I know from the effect that a score has on a little movie like Hellraiser -- a $900,000 movie, Chris Young came in and gave the movie skin. A seriousness of intent that can be signaled by music. And... I don't know how much you are aware of this little exchange of views that I've been having with Roger Ebert.

I was actually going to bring that up, of course.

What I was going to say about that was, if [you're] going to aspire to the condition of art... one of the things that we should do is be taking ourselves seriously as artists. Yes, it's a collaborative art; at the end, you all need to be collaborating toward the same end. And if you're not, you're f*cked.

Do you think that it helps, in terms of that aspiration, to bring people with Hollywood expertise, such as yourself, into games?

I don't think that I have Hollywood expertise. I really don't. I'm not even sure, honestly, what "Hollywood expertise" is.

That is a bit of a vague, meaningless term. But you've had successful films based on your work...

Yes, I'm not sure that's anything but luck! I'm not absolutely sure that the expertise actually is traceable, so that I could actually say, "Oh, this is what I do, this is what I bring." What I will tell you is - I have an opinion. Which is as much drawn from telling stories on the page, as it is from paintings.

There are these demons [in the game] with exposed ribs, and viscera. Obviously you've seen some games, you're familiar with games, and there is no end of shocking violence.

Right. I think, to me, the game is when you get out of the natural into the supernatural. Out of the realistic into the surrealistic. To me, that's when you cross a threshold and something interesting happens. For one thing, you're not making material that needs to be easily copied on the streets; you know, nobody's going to be doing an impersonation of the material of the game. And that's important.

It's important that we be in this area where we're free of the limitations of reality. And we can play; the imagination is at play. It's Bosch; it's Hieronymus Bosch for the 21st century. That's something that I'd like to see.

Have you seen [the Hieronymous Bosch triptych] in the flesh? Tiny! That's what's amazing about it. It's extraordinary -- one of the greatest paintings in the world, as far as I'm concerned. Amazing paintings.

And absolutely using the iconography of Heaven and Hell, and so on -- but then going his own sweet way. I think there's something exciting about the idea of, "This artform hasn't settled into cliché yet."

What would you say about the fact that no one in the paintings was running through, shooting everyone in the painting?

Well, nobody could, because unfortunately he didn't have a camera. I think he would've had a great time with a camera... and you always come back to the root art. What is the root art?

It's writing, and painting, and image-making, and it's sense-shaping... You've got to go back to those things eventually. This is where so often, I think, people lose the track. You've got to know the rules of making bodies real on a page or on a screen.

Which isn't necessarily achieved through photorealism.

Exactly right; exactly right. And any more than Bosch's visions are providing a truthful vision of the world. Bosch is making it up as he goes along. He's having a wild time creating and inventing the rules -- his rules!

Somewhere, remotely, I suppose you could say that The Garden, the beautiful garden, is Eden. But it's a long way from any Eden that the writers of Genesis would recognize.

Games can have a beautiful vision, an excellent story, but at a certain point there is an audience expectation that you'll end up running around, either hitting something with a sword or shooting it with a gun. So how much do you feed into that audience expectation?

I think that's part of Macbeth as much as it is part of Braveheart, as much as it is a part of many of the comic books I read every week. In other words, what I'm saying is, those are the parts, the nuts and bolts of telling stories.

And it shouldn't be too superficial; simply saying, "Yeah, well, that's a cliché." Eh, well, "A horse, a horse. My kingdom for a horse." At what point isn't that a cliché, something that should be better-crafted?

Do you think other kinds of creators -- for example, novelists, or somebody who is used to having a focus -- might worry about what game developers are doing with their ideas?

My point would be: that's the point. Why not? I mean, you're going to be in a collaboration, take pleasure in the collaboration.

Same with a movie. Same with the adaptations. I love collaborations. And I love to write. Every day of the week I go to my desk and I start to write something. To have a day where I actually get to sit around with a bunch of other guys -- whether they speak English or not -- and actually exchange the visions is cool. It's neat.

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