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Road To The IGF: Daniel Benmergui's  Today I Die

Road To The IGF: Daniel Benmergui's Today I Die

February 2, 2010 | By Kris Graft

February 2, 2010 | By Kris Graft
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[In the latest Road to the IGF interview with 2010 IGF finalists, Gamasutra speaks with Daniel Benmergui, creator of the "game poem" Today I Die, nominated for the Independent Game Festival 2010's alternative-focused Nuovo Award.]

Today I Die is different from any other finalist in this year's Independent Games Festival. Described by its creator, Daniel Benmergui, as a "game poem," the player manipulates the words of a literary poem in order to advance through the short, web-based game.

Metaphors are expressed through the game's interactivity, audio, and visuals. All of these, combined with what Benmergui categorizes as a "very bad poem," attempt to convey what he felt from the "personal situation" that inspired the work.

Here Benmergui explains how impacting a player emotionally is more important than having his work "classified as game or even a good game," and other aspects of Today I Die.

What kind of background do you have making games?

My true work as a game maker started two years ago, when I jumped into being a full-time indie.

What development tools did you use?

Right now, Flex. But my most valuable tool is all the experience I accumulated all these years as a programmer and manager.

How long has your team been working on Today I Die?

Five months of lots of back and forth, trying this and that and discarding a lot of work, which was pretty painful.

How did you come up with the concept for the game?

The idea of a poem with interactive words was born out of brainstormings with Tembac (www.tembac.com), who came up with the idea of playing with poem words. Some day I was feeling affected by a personal situation and was hit by the impression of a drowning girl swimming up, trying to reach the surface. The poem mechanic just fit into the game concept of struggling against a world view.

Even then, the game shapeshifted a lot during development.

Do you think this challenges the definition of a "game"? Is that something that crossed your mind? Does that even matter?

Today I Die feels like a game, although I know it lacks many of the features of a good "game" like a deeper exploration of the poem mechanic.

The most interesting conclusion of publishing Today I Die is that a lot of people felt the experience of playing it was important to them... which felt to me a lot more important than being classified as game or even a good game.

I believe wonderful experiences can be built without a "story" and conventional puzzles and challenges.

You describe it as a "game poem." There are words there that do reflect literary poetry, but how else do you think the game is poetry?

The game HAS a poem, but if you strip if from the game, it's a very bad poem. It's just a tool for the game, made of simple words to avoid confusion and use expressions that provide the right amount of room for interpretation.

Today I Die is short, it has challenges but it's not about them, it has words but it's not about words, it has audiovisuals but they are not its main strength. It's also a game, but not quite. With more or less success, the game tries to stand on that impression I wanted to capture.

I'm also working on Today I Die Again, a revision of Today I Die, targeted at the iPhone. Today I Die Again, while retaining the spirit of the original, improves on many aspects and explores a little deeper. There's also something many people will find surprising in this version.

Everything's open to interpretation, but what did you intend the player to get out of Today I Die?

I was hoping the player felt at least a fraction of what I felt while I came up with the game. Pretty blindly too, since I had no idea how to do that.

Were there any elements that you experimented with that just flat out didn't work with your vision?

Lots of them! If I added up everything I tried in the game without discarding anything, I would have four small games.

Have you played any of the other IGF finalists? Any games you particularly enjoyed?

I love Tuning... it feels to me like a distillation of the work of Cactus.

Terry Cavanagh (VVVVVV) didn't make it to the finalists this year, but his work is getting astonishingly better each year. He is going to do very important stuff.

I still have to play many other finalists, though. I'm curious about Trauma, and hoping to try Edmund's Super Meat Boy.

What do you think of the current state of the indie scene?

The indie scene is starting to grow and institutionalize itself... which means more money will be around for indies, but it will also crystallize what "indie" is supposed to mean, and there will be people with a lot of power over who succeeds and fails. Perhaps this will give birth to "superindies" someday.

But right now there's a lot of very good will going around, and I am very happy to be involved with such an encouraging example of constructive human relationships.

[Previous 'Road To The IGF' interview subjects have included Enviro-Bear 2000 developer Justin Smith, Rocketbirds: Revolution's co-creators Sian Yue Tan and Teck Lee Tan, Vessel co-creator John Krajewski, Trauma creator Krystian Majewski, Super Meat Boy co-creators Edmund McMillen and Tommy Refenes, and Sidhe's Mario Wynands, who worked on Shatter]


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