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Uncertain design in the beginning.
The Path was an idea born with the title 144. It could have turned out very differently.
The name 144 encompassed the spirit of the project. Somehow that number came to symbolize a girl's restlessness, the sound of footsteps on dry leaves, the smell of pine trees, dim sunlight through filtering clouds.
There were thoughts of graphite scribblings and white gouache on paper, of tricky betrayals of lovers, and of parents and children. Fearless naivete, anxiousness to meet your adulthood head-on, in the face and body of a wolf. He-wolf. She-wolf.
The conception of the 144 idea was heady, painful and soul-searching, in both art direction and interaction design, as we tried to discover the core of "what it all meant" in order to communicate even a fraction of these sensations, emotions, and inner stories to the player of a computer game.
In the beginning there were in fact moments when we thought it would be best not to make the project at all.
"Waldeinsamkeit" is a German word which means the feeling of being alone in the woods.
We once had the notion that there would be 144 Red Riding Hoods and the player would play each one. Each time, the story would lead to her death. We came down from that illusion and narrowed the cast down to six girls, each representing a different aspect of a girl's life. The number six was decided upon somewhat arbitrarily by dividing the number 144 and considering the aesthetics the number six provided, and how six girls could fit into a chronology of growing up, from age nine to age 19.
We decided each girl needed her wolf, an alter-ego. And that she should meet this nemesis in a specific place in the Forest. We called these locations "Attractions." There were also to be "Distractions" which are the objects one encounters, that keep you dallying in the Forest instead of continuing on to Grandmother's like a good girl. We thought perhaps each girl should meet each wolf and the player could mix Girl/Wolf/Attraction and match the experience and place.
This also seemed like too much to do technically for us -- too many possibilities to plan for. So, early on the idea was simplified to each girl having a set scenario. A representative area to meet her wolf in and a division of objects and environments some shared and some unique.
Character Design and Environment Design: Artistic impression vs. accessible game: a personal meaning
Regarding the design of the girls, we kept a fairly detailed diary of the making of each girl. We didn't give them names until the game was almost done. All along we'd referred to them by the archetype they represented for us.
The girls got names: Kid Red (Robin), Innocent Red (Rose), Tomboy Red (Ginger), Goth Red (Ruby), Sexy Red (Carmen), and Stern Red (Scarlet). The wolves and other characters remain nameless.
When designing The Red Girls, in addition to too many outside references to name, I (Auriea) did a lot of looking inward. I was not meant to be the sole designer or modeler of all protagonists. I didn't want to do it out of a lack of self-confidence, and also I was worried that I'd put a bit too much of myself into them. In the end that is what happened. And in some ways I think this is what leads to many misunderstandings of the narrative of the game.
Some say blindly that the game is "about rape." And while that could be one of the interpretations -- and I understand it -- for me, those black-out moments after meeting her wolf are the moments of realization. Those are the times when a girl grows. And what happens in Grandmother's House is not a murder but a shedding of childhood and an initiation to womanhood. Each girl one step closer to her fate.
Due to our method of control you do not really control the girl at all. There is a moment where you realize that all outcomes are the result of her choices. And she could have prevented it by not acting for that one moment, by not seeking the "good time" of her nemesis. By staying on the path.
We force the player into that compromising situation much like a film director does. You don't have much choice in the matter. Every time it is a choice of letting her go, or doing nothing, or wandering endlessly in the forest, or shutting down the game entirely. If you play on, we hope that you will draw your own conclusions. Maybe there are things in there that relate to your own life. For many girls and women there were, in fact, and they have told us so.
It is beyond amazing to learn of the many ways these scenes impacted and reflected what people felt about their lives and the choices they have made. The game becomes a tool for this reflection.
And I think if at first I had not also gone through that process, of letting each girl come out of me, no one would have felt anything at all. It is a question of the characters feeling real in an ethereal way. They are mere expressions of what you are already thinking. So, whatever your interpretation, it says more about you than about whatever the situation has meant to me. In that vagary of the blackout lies infinite possibility.
We've never really spoken much about the Wolves. Inspirations for Wolf characters... I couldn't even explain it. Every girl has her wolf, no? I tried categorizing every boyfriend I ever had into one of these archetypes. Not that I believed "all men" are one way; more, it's about the way I had experienced them, and the relationship I'd had, or that I'd wished had been.
Woodsmen Wolves were silent and no matter what, always chopping endlessly at the same tree. They need to be provoked to get any reaction from them at all. Cloud Wolves are silent beautiful spirits. And though they seem skinless and vulnerable, perhaps it is just a lure into a thunderstorm. We wanted our Werewolf to be at once comical and scary -- "cuddly", for lack of a better word. And you have to want to walk up to him and climb on his back for a ride.
The inclusion of one female wolf, one which the Tomboy, Ginger, meets is more a reflection of her femininity. The Girl in Red Wolf disappears as you try to approach her -- bursting into a hundred butterflies. Only when you turn your back and let her come to you do you get a chance to meet her face to face.
In all cases we did not want to make typical male game characters that looked like they would overpower the girls. No, the wolves need to be ordinary -- thus to raise a question in the player's mind about who is exactly in control of the encounters in the forest. We made up stories about each one of these characters, how and why they need each other, and what that meeting does to the endgame.