|Q: How did you get into making
A: I just thought it would be interesting. I was sixteen or fifteen
many years ago, and I got Visual Basic from a friend in Greece. I
thought Iíll make a game, and so I made my first game. I was still
sixteen when I finished the first version of it a hundred years ago.
I liked Adventure games because they seemed like a good medium for
telling a story. I am a writer now, I thought of myself as a writer
then, so I went ahead and made an Adventure game.
Q: Youíre a writer and a software developer and Ö?
A: Iím a writer who accidentally also makes things. I think of
myself primarily as a writer, more than anything else.
Q: And an artist?
A: Artist is a general term that applies. Certainly the idea of
making art, of creating something meaningful, transcendent,
powerful. Thatís part of the intent, Iíve never seen it as a job.
The reality is thereís a job part to it, but itís also always been a
vocation, a calling. Otherwise you wouldnít work yourself to death
like you have to do, for so little money if you didnít really
believe in it at a fundamental level.
Q: Youíre known for your Indie games
A: When I started the concept of indie game didnít exist. Now it
does. I once almost bought the website ďindiegames.comĒ really early
on. It would have been a funny story if I had done that. I regret
not doing it. I was one of the first people to use the term ďindie,Ē
though now itís become meaningless. All my games have been indie
apart from this one (The Talos Principle) but even that is counted
as indie by most people even though Croteam are a big team.
Q: Which games do you like playing
A: I play all kinds of games, I play a lot of RPGs and strategy
games. I like Adventure games when they donít frustrate the hell out
of me! I have a hate love relationship with Adventure games in that
I love story telling in games. I love the potential. I often hate
the puzzles, I hate how itís done. Which is also why Iím making my
own ones! My own take on what would be interesting in a game. I like
Interactive Fiction as well. But I also play the occasional shooter
if it has an interesting narrative of some kind. I do need normally
some sort of narrative hook. The Stalker games for example are
really hard-core shooter games but they have such an interesting
setting and story and freedom to them that I enjoy them very much.
They give me the same feeling as a really good Adventure game does
of being in a place and interacting with a world. Thatís what I look
for, a sense of place.
Q: What influences your game-making?
A: A wide range. Most of my inspirations are literary and poetic. A
big influence is William Blake whom I adore as a poet and a thinker.
But itís a fairly wide range. The game weíre making at the moment
(The Talos Principle) is a mixture of Biblical imagery, and also
classical philosophy and the classical Greek mythology that I grew
up with. I have a literary background in terms of literary studies
so my mind is always getting a wide range of sources and
synthesizing them into new things. Itís everything from William
Blake to Isaac Asimov, writers like that. I know it sounds awfully
sort of pretentious but itís what I like, what inspires me. On the
ďLands of DreamĒ Adventure games which Iím known, influences were
the writings of Lord Dunsany and Lovecraft (who himself was
influenced by Dunsany.) In terms of literature thatís where things
stop for me, early 20th century. Since then post-modernism is not so
much to my taste. Tolkien and people like that were a huge influence
on me, I still adore these people and I read them a great deal.
Q: Do you make
A: At this moment yes. Kind of surprising as Iím still trying to
write, mainly novels. Iím going to try taking some time off soon to
finish a novel Iíve been working on for a very long time. Iíd like
to get into writing screenplays and other things, but right now itís
full-time games. For the first time Iím managing to make some kind
of living making games, which has been really hard.
Q: Who do you make games for?
A: The most pretentious thing would be to say God! Youíre just
making them because you feel they should exist, the sense thatís a
great thing and it should be. I wouldn't say for myself because
youíre so into it that you never consider yourself as a player. You
canít see yourself in that position, you canít play your own games
ever really because you know them too well. I do sometimes write
things because I know my wife will laugh about them or enjoy them,
she might be my ideal target audience in a way! The truth is you
have this story and the feeling it ought to exist. Your
responsibility at the end is to the story, not to the audience,
because you donít know who the audience will be. I donít like the
idea of writing for a target audience, or tailoring things to that.
You just write because you need to.
Q: Are you working on multiple games?
A: I have to. Partially because Iíll just go mad if I donít.
Partially because a project comes along and you canít just say no. I
was working on something very big but this (The Talos Principle)
came along and you canít say no to something like this. Sometimes
itís good to have something to distract you because it gets tiring
to always be sitting in front of the same thing.
Q: What can you say
about ďThe Talos PrincipleĒ?
A: Weíre calling it a first person philosophical puzzler. I think
itíll appeal to an Adventure game audience. In any meaningful way
itís an Adventure game. It doesnít have any particular action
sequences. Itís about solving puzzles.
Itís a first person puzzle game in which you find yourself in a very
strange world. Youíre apparently a robot. You notice after a while
that you have a robotic body. That is if the world youíre in is
real. And a voice which calls itself ďElohimĒ which is one of the
names of God starts speaking to you and insisting that you should do
this. He says heís your creator, and you should do these things and
you should certainly not do that and not go there. Itís a very
strong element of the Garden of Eden in this, mixed in with
classical philosophy and classical Greek mythology. Those who are
interested in William Blake will find a parallel in the ďMarriage of
Heaven and HellĒ. Thereís certainly elements of this. Itís quoted a
few times. Ideas of synthesis are very prominent in this.
But itís very a much a mystery, a science fiction mystery, for the
player to figure out themselves. Itíll be possible to complete the
game without figuring everything out but I think itís nice for
Adventure gamers to go in, find the text and build up theories as to
how they could be connected, and how it all fits together.
Q: What inspires you about ďThe Talos PrincipleĒ?
A: I find it exciting that it is a seriously philosophical game.
Itís a game with literary and poetic and other underpinnings and
references. You donít have to come in knowing all this. Thatís not
the point at all. Itís not supposed to educate you directly or
impress you by being all ďwe know all these things and weíre so
wonderfulĒ. Itís just that like any good work of art itís connected
to the world of Art, and connected to history and philosophy and
science. And you can engage with it, and I find that so exciting
that we can even take all these elements and put them together into
a real story. I donít think a lot of people have done that,
certainly not in games in the way we have. I find it tremendously
exciting to be given the freedom to do that.
Q: Does the story come first in a game?
A: Yes in a way. In the sense that there are games I really enjoy
from the gameplay and all that but if theyíre lacking a narrative
framework I tend to just get sick of them at some point. It can be a
very simple narrative framework. But when thereís no narrative
framework at all like in some building games and survival games and
crafting games... Iíve played plenty of Terraria, for example. But
the fact thereís no context to it -- no reason why Iím building
these stupid buildings and digging into the earth -- robs it of
meaning to me as an experience. All the other elements have to be
there. But without a context, a narrative purpose, it just seems
like a waste of time to me after a while.
Q: How important is contact with Adventure game fans?
A: I donít know because I almost never see anyone. I very rarely go
to any events so Iíve almost never met anyone whoís even played my
games. For most of my life itís been a very abstract endeavour. I
make games, I upload them. I get emails, I get fan mail, which is
wonderful and inspiring. On the other hand itís very abstract, just
an email, just text on a screen.
Q: I was very pleased to see you were at Gamescom.
A: It is very curious, the very idea Iím known to people is
completely alien to me. All Iíve ever done is sit in our flat, I
donít have an office, itís just my computer at home with the cat
annoying me when Iím trying to type and make things. The fact
thereís actually an impact on the real world, that people have
played what Iíve made, sometimes having powerful experiences, is so
divorced from my everyday life that it seems completely unreal.
Q: Would you recommend making games as a living?
A: Only if they really really REALLY want to! Itís fun. Itís also
frustrating. Thereís a million people making games now which makes
it very difficult. Itís not the life saver that people have come to
think that it is. Theyíve come to think it can lift them out of
poverty; it can do all these things. The reality is for most people
itíll never do that. I fully understand the concept that if you need
to make something then you will make it even if it kills you. I
abandoned my studies to continue making art and writing. I was
breaking down mentally, just needing to do something else so badly.
But if you can have an alternative, if you have a source of income,
if you have a way of living (that has to come first) then you build
on that if you can. The idea of the starving artist? Thatís a
reality for some of us. But itís not a particularly nice reality.
Itís not romantic. Itís fairly awful most of the time.
Q: Only the top very few in any Art do well.
A: To me William Blake was one of the greatest poets of all time,
but he died in absolute poverty. He frankly never had a big success
in his own time. He was considered a madman. So if thatís your
experience, thatís not so nice. You should not have a romantic idea
of what being an artist is. If you have to make games, make games,
if thereís no other way for you to live. I write because I have to
Q: Can games have a message, express opinions?
A: Absolutely! Though Iím not interested in opinions as such, Iím
interested in art. Art contains ideas, opinions, but itís not the
same as going and making a statement. People confuse message with
engagement with the world. I think itís a bit more than that. Itís
not just that. Sometimes people, when they confuse that, end up
making things which are boring, because all they are is just
preaching to someone.
Even though my games are very political and very philosophical, I do
think Art has an element of transcendence in it. Weíre creating
these strange worlds and stories. It has to have a reality and a
grace of its own. Thatís incredibly important to me.
Q: Games can be Art?
A: They must be, I canít see any other way of it being.
Q: Games reflect their creator?
A: Yes, by necessity. But not necessarily in any way that anyone can
understand. Itís dangerous to conflate the artist and the Art. The
artist can be an awful person, and the Art can be wonderful. Or the
artist is wrong about everything and the Art can be right about
everything. I do think thatís part of what I mean when I say Art is
transcendent. Itís not just me and my opinions stuck into a game.
Thereís a process which happens between that, in the process of
creation, where the Art becomes independent of yourself. Itís
reflection, itís not autobiography.
Q: Will you still be making games in ten years' time?
A: I donít know, I honestly donít know. I hope to be making games
occasionally in ten years, but not primarily, because thereís other
things I really want to make, like books and movies. I want to
branch out into that.
Q: Will there be more games in the ďLands of DreamĒ?
A: Thereíll be two, of which one will come out soon, a small one and
a medium sized one, then ďIthaka of the CloudsĒ. After ďIthaka of
the CloudsĒ, I donít know.