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w0051977 asks:

I have been working on a system alone for about four years. I have built it from the ground up. It is not a perfect system. It is very complex, it is buggy, and the business is now becoming aware of this.

After all this time, other developers at the company are getting interested in the project, and they are becoming more involved. I am a bit worried they will blame me for the problems.

Am I being paranoid? Have others experienced a similar situation? How can I soften the glare of the spotlight on my buggy code?

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kkleiner writes "The first NeuroGaming Conference and Expo took place at the beginning of May to showcase the convergent technologies that are paving the way toward gaming with your mind. Tech news has been dominated with stories about Google Glass and the Oculus Rift, which was on display for attendees to test out. Other technologies that utilize EEG are opening up possibilities of a controller-free gaming experience into virtual realities with unlimited potential. 'Deeper questions surrounding the morality of neurogames will be sure to stir debate. As virtual reality technology inches closer to lifelike resolution, should gamers simulate themselves as characters engaged in acts of violence or criminal activity? It’s unpredictable what these games could uncover about the user as neurogames gain insight into a users’ psyche and how they respond to stimuli at a subconscious level. For instance, a game could uncover how its user particularly enjoys shooting at civilians in gameplay. Games might even become expert at diagnosing psychiatric disorders. As computers become exponentially more powerful, game resolution could fully mimic our ever-present reality.'"

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david alan harvey

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Conversation with Joe McNally


David Alan Harvey: You and I met because we were in an educational environment, and here we are twenty-five years later in Dubai for a workshop,  and still in an educational environment  and yet earning our living as photographers. Gulf Photo Plus has brought us together again.

Well Joe, I know some things about you. I know you are great at lighting. I know you like to stand up on top of tall buildings!!I know you are a great guy.

But I want to ask you a couple of questions that I don’t know. I don’t know exactly how you got started in photography or exactly where you got started in photography.

Joe McNally: It was accidental, as these things happen. I knew I wanted to be a journalist and so when I was in school I was literally forced to take a photography class in addition to my writing classes. I borrowed my dad’s old range finder camera. It was called a Beauty Light 3 and I did a couple of classes, and it worked for me.

DAH: In conjunction with your writing? Was it going to be supplemental to your writing?

JMcN: At that point I really decided I wanted to be a photographer, which as you know, back in the day, photographers weren’t really allowed to write anything for anybody (newspapers and what not) generally speaking. So, I stayed in school and I did a master’s in photojournalism.

DAH: Where was that?

JMcN: At Syracuse University. And then I came straight to New York City and my first very grand job in journalism was being a copy boy at the New York Daily News in 1976.

DAH: Oh, that would be an education!

JMcN: I ran Breslin’s copy when he was writing letters to the “Son of Sam”. You know, Pete Hamill was writing at the time.

DAH: Oh really? The classic.

JMcN: I used to take the one star, which came around about seven or eight o’clock at night. Tomorrow’s newspaper..tonight.. and I would go to the third floor press room. I would take fifty papers, put them on my shoulder…

I would not go back to the newsroom…I would continue down the stairs and go across to Louis East and then I would just start putting the papers out on the bar because all the editors were in Louie’s and they had phones, so they would phone in their corrections for the two star from the bar.

DAH: That was back when journalism was journalism.

JMcN: Yeah, it was pretty gritty back then.

DAH: Well okay, did you work for a newspaper? Did you shoot pictures for a newspaper after that?

JMcN: Well, I got fired by the Daily News three years in. I was a studio apprentice. I had made it to being what they called a “boy” in the studio. I was running Versamats and processing film for the photographers, captioning, etc. And I learned a lot about the business.

There was a great New York press photographer name Danny Farrell who took me under his wing. He said “Kid, you have any eye…I don’t think you’re going to make it here, but let me show you a few things”. Danny is a great man. He is 82 now…I just did his portrait.

You know, the Daily News kicked me out the door and I ended up stringing for the AP, UPI and the New York Times. That became kind of a full time gig for about two years.

DAH: How old are you are that point?

JMcN: Lets see, that would be late ’70s, so I am kind of in my late twenties at that point. I was born in ’52. And then, all of a sudden, I got this offer of the strangest job you can imagine. I became a staff photographer at ABC television in New York.

DAH: Really?

JMcN: And that was what introduced me to the world of color and light, because I had been a straight up black and white street shooter prior to that, and my boss at ABC looked at me and said:”We shoot Kodachrome. And we light a lot of stuff”. I was thinking at the time ‘I don’t even know how to plug in a set of lights!’. So thankfully, it was a job that routinely expected failure, and I routinely delivered.

As a still photographer for a television network you’re always the caboose of the operation, the last consideration…they are always doing TV first and foremost and you have to try to squeeze your way in to a set, like a television-movie set or maybe on a news set, shooting the anchors. Or shooting Monday night football. And the interesting part about the job, the things that kind of made me think about technique and be a little bit faster on my feet than I had been before is that I had to shoot everything in color and black & white.

DAH: You had to do both. Now these pictures are going as publicity pictures?

JMcN: Publicity pictures, releases to magazines, covers of television magazines, you name it. On the average week I would shoot sports…I would go down to Washington and shoot Frank Reynolds at the Washington Bureau, and then I would come back up and shoot Susan Lucci on “All My Children”. So it was fast paced, and it really got my feet under me in terms of color.

DAH: So you had two cameras… a black & white and a color camera.

JMcN: Yeah.

DAH: Sounds like my worst nightmare.

JMcN: Yeah, sometimes I would have four cameras at a political convention…I did the Reagan campaign, I did the political conventions and such because they would send me out. I would have four cameras and sometimes I would be juggling three ISO’s or what we used to call ASA.

DAH: So when I see you working now and I was listening to you yesterday talking to your students, and I see you working with your assistants…I mean you’ve got a lot of stuff on your mind. But I guess obviously you are used to it. You grew up multitasking.

JMcN: Yeah, kind of. For whatever strange reason I always allude to the fact that I got raised Irish-Catholic, and editors found out about that and so they knew I was intensely conversant about the whole idea of suffering. Being raised the way I was…if a day passes without some largely undeserved measure of suffering, it’s not a day worth living.

DAH: No good deed goes unpunished.

JMcN: Exactly. And then, if you know how to use lights even a little bit, editors sometimes will zero in on you and say “Okay, that guy is lights”. So, I ended up doing a lot of big production work for whatever weird reason. I did these big gigs for Life …They threw something at me once, a hundred and forty seven jazz musicians all at once. Largest group of jazz musicians ever assembled. It was a riff on Art Kane’s photo, “A Great Day in Harlem”.

DAH: Yeah, I remember that.

JMcN: And my boss at Life was a big jazz fan. And so he engineered this massively expensive thing where all these jazz guys came in to New York to recreate that photograph. We even found the kid who was sitting on the stoop in the original Kane photo, and was probably ten or eleven years old at that time. We found him as an adult and had him into the picture as well.

And one of the great honors of my career during that assignment was that they brought in G0rdon Parks to shoot the original scene on the street, and I got to assist Gordon.

DAH: Wow! Were you with Gordon up at Eddie Adams when he was there?

JMcN: Yeah..

DAH: Yeah, because we were all with Gordon there at one point because he came up there for two or three years at one point.

JMcN: Well, that was the great thing about the early days of Eddie’s, because Carl Mydans would come up and Eisie was there. Eisie would go the podium and lecture, remembering f/stops of pictures he had shot about forty or fifty years ago. The guy was just extraordinary. And that I think is why we still remain educators, because we grew up being mentored.

DAH: We grew up being mentored and then I think we started also teaching at the same time we were being mentored. I mean, both things were happening simultaneously I think.

Okay, it would be great to talk about the good ole days. They weren’t all that great, there were some negative things about the good ole days, but we both picked up the sense of an extended family that we have with each other. It’s amazing. I am seeing Heisler and you and Burnett here for example. And plus meeting a lot of new people, but neither one of us seems to be the type to dwell on the good-ole-days. I mean we are in the new days, and you’ve got young photographers, and people who want to move forward in the business, and here you are as the mentor. How do you account for that? What is that? What is that about for you, personally?

JMcN: For me it is a way to give back, to kind of return that educational base that I sprang from. That is certainly it. It is also part of the mix as a photographer. I always tell photographers now, if they ask, you have to have a lot of lines on the water if you’re going to survive. You shoot for sure, but we also teach, we lecture, publish books, do a blog, the whole social media thing…you have to be as broad based as you possibly can.

For example, I’ve got a couple of young assistants in my studio, and I say look, you’re future is very vibrant…a lot of people are saying doomsday stuff right now, but I think the future is vibrant, it’s just going to be very different from mine. Talk about multitasking! They have to be good on the web, they are going to have to know video, audio, all that stuff. They’ll have to be kind of their own multifaceted entertainment-information package. They are going to have to bring lots of skills to the party. We learned how to do one thing well, and that was how to tell a good story with a camera in our hands.

DAH: Right. Yeah, I never worried too much about the technology changes because I could see always that technological change took people out of every business. Look at radio. Television came along and a whole bunch of radio people just immediately died. And then others, like Jack Benny segued right into it. I never worried about it because I figured there was always some new way to tell the story.

JMcN: Exactly. Heisler was here and Greg being as smart as he is said something to me a couple years ago. He very wisely said:”Joe, this was going to happen whether we liked it or not. This whole digital revolution. So either adapt with it and change with it, or we sit at home and get angry”.

DAH: Well that’s right, and besides that you can still shoot film if you want to for yourself and the stories that you want to tell and the ways that you are going to work are the same. And, you’ve been benefited with a lot of things by the digital ages as well. I mean you’re not running Polaroids just now when you’re taking my picture. I mean those good-ole-days weren’t that great.

JMcN: No, there was a lot of hard work! And auto focus came in at about the right time for me and my eyes, you know. Things change and you have to change with it. I look now at the digital technology and the way its expanded and what you can do imaginatively, and I embrace it. I think it’s a beautiful thing.

DAH: Well, everybody is into still photography right now. Everybody is a photographer. It’s a common language, which means you’ve got a lot of people to mentor. You’ve got to be a huge influence. You’ve got an entire audience for your blog, there is a whole Joe McNally fan base out there and picking up all the time because people are really, really interested, and I think lighting is the big mystery.

They can take pictures with their iPhone, they can take pictures with whatever camera right out of the box, but the one thing they can’t do is light stuff. Tell me a little bit about how you look at lighting in the first place.

JMcN: Well, one of the first things I say if I am teaching is you’ve got to think about light as language. Right from the ancient descriptions photography…photo-graphos — the original Greek term — to write with light. Some people are a little surprised by this.

I say “Look, light has every quality you associate with the written word or the verbal expression of speech. It can be angry, it can be soft, it can be harsh, slanting. I mean all those things…it has emotion and quality and character. And you have to look for it”.

One of the things about if you work technically with light, for instance if you experiment with flash, one thing that also develops at the same time is your overall awareness of light in general. Just your sense of light keeps going forward. So the more you experiment, the better you are going to get, and the better you’re going to get with you means your confidence level raises. And if you are more confident you can approach your subject and your subject matter more confidently.

DAH: It’s not just technical because you are telling a story ultimately. You are saying something about somebody by the way that you light them.

JMcN: Exactly. I always say that when you’re lighting something, what you are doing is you are giving your viewer — who you are never going to meet, that person is looking at the Geographic or some web image a million miles away, and is never going to meet you — so you’re speaking directly do that person.

You are giving them a psychological roadmap to your photograph in the way you use light. You’re saying this is important, this is not so much…this is just context, look here, don’t look there. You are not there with your picture. The picture, all on its own, has to speak to them.

DAH: Great. Now that we’ve had this conversation I need to figure out how I am going to light you. I think I am going to use available light.

Well, I think people don’t think about me so much in terms of light, but I always appreciate it because when I was in high school I worked at a studio, so I learned basic studio lighting, and then of course with the studio closed down for the day, I’d make friends with these guys and say “Hey, can I play with the lights after work?”.

JMcN: But your stuff has such a beautiful quality of light. You have feet in all these worlds, you really do.

DAH: Well, I think it is because I learned at an early age at least how to use lights, and I think that helps me with available light because I do look at it the same way you look at light, I just tend to do it with a smaller kit. I am the emergency medical team, you’ve got the whole crew, you’ve got the hospital.

I am the EMS truck out there trying to save a life on the highway. You know, patch it together. You know, put a band aid over the flash, shoot through a beer bottle, do all these things. But it’s still the same thing.

JMcN: Sure. Jimmy Colton, who used to be at Newsweek, which always had a smaller budget than Time but would compete with Time intensively, he would always say that Time was a hospital and Newsweek was a MASH unit.

DAH: I hadn’t heard that, but that’s an exact analogy.

So, I am looking at your assistants who seem to be about thirty years old, and you’ve got one who is moving into your first assistant position, and Drew is moving out on his own…so what do you tell Drew? And what do you tell the readers of Burn Magazine? What is the main thing they need to be thinking about? I know they’ve got to multitask. You have mentioned that already. What is the main thing they need to have going in their head?

JMcN: I think as they take a step into this market place, if you want to call it that, I tell Drew just concentrate on that which he loves, and work will eventually grow to you.

First of all, make it accessible. Too many young photographers think they have to go to Afghanistan to make their mark. I don’t think you have to do that. I think the best pictures live right around you, and are things you grew up with, and are things that you love. And for instance, Drew grew up with rock & roll, and he was a drummer in a band. They actually toured and what not, so he grew up in the world of music and he is absolutely passionate about that. So I said go for it! Do it. No matter the people who tell you, you can’t make a living being a rock & roll photographer…I think you can, because he is already working it in a way that is unique to him, and he is making strides, he is getting success.

The main thing to remember as a young photographer out there is that there is always naysayers, and there is a lot of them out there now, but when you and I broke in there were naysayers as well.

DAH: There have always been naysayers!

JMcN: There are always folks saying, “This ain’t what it used to be!”

DAH: With every move I ever made in my life, even my closest friends would say, “Harvey you’ve really fucked it up this time”. And then, a few months later they would say, “Harvey you’re the luckiest son of a bitch. How do you luck out like that?”. You know, they flip on it. And that is the same thing I tell photographers too. Do what you love, and then let it happen. Somehow it will happen. Listen mostly  to yourself. Even (maybe especially) your closest friends do not really want you to change.

JMcN: It will. And you’ll have to do stuff along the way. To me there is always food for the table and food for the soul. And sometimes, some jobs you’re going to have to do are food for the table.

DAH: Just do it.

JMcN: You’ve got to do it, swallow hard, go make yourself some money, keep yourself alive, so then you can feed your soul. It’s not all like roses out there, that’s for sure, it’s like a patchwork quilt, but you can make it.

DAH: Yeah, well you have and thanks for this conversation. It has been great to see you again.


Related links

Joe McNally

Joe McNally: The Estimable Mr. Harvey



Joe McNally, in front of the Burj Khalifa, Dubai, tallest building in the world, which he climbed the same day this picture was taken.


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Nerval's Lobster writes "Wolfram Alpha has upgraded its Personal Analytics for Facebook module, giving users the ability to dissect their own social-networking data in new ways. Wolfram Alpha's creators first launched its Facebook data-mining module in August 2012. Users could leverage the platform's computational abilities to analyze and visualize their weekly distribution of Facebook posts, types of posts (photos, links, status updates), weekly app activity, frequency of particular words in posts, and more. This latest update isn't radical, but it does offer some interesting new features, including added color coding for 'interesting' friend properties, including relationship status, age, sex, and so on; users can also slice their network data by metrics such as location and age." Wolfram users could also use some of that new site-specific searching power to come up with some unsavory results.

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Nathan Pearce

Midwest Dirt

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When I was 18 years old I packed my bags and left rural Illinois. It had been my home my entire life, but I thought in leaving I would find the perfect place for myself elsewhere. In the city everything and everyone I knew was very different from what I knew back home and yet at the same time familiar. The wild and restless days of my youth were in full swing. But when I awoke those mornings I still expected to see my old midwestern life.

Where I was living wasn’t exactly the wrong place for me, and at its core my life wasn’t drastically different, but it wasn’t home.
I came back home to live almost a decade later. I still have no idea if this time I will stay for good, I don’t know if that will ever happen.
The wild restless days and nights haven’t ceased.

Some nights when I lay down in my bed and close my eyes I fantasize that I didn’t ever return. I dream that I could get right back up and go over to my corner bar in the city and have a drink looking out on the crowded street.

But I’m not there. I’m here. In the country.

Now it’s just after harvest time, my favorite time of year. The fields are almost cleared and I’m barefoot on my porch with a beer in my hands. I can see for miles.

This project is about a time in my mid twenties when I can feel the tension between home and away.



Nathan Pearce (born 1986) is a photographer based in Southern Illinois.
He also works in an auto body repair shop.


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Nathan Pearce


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Botinacula, since you asked.

Yesterday Jim wrote a superb piece arguing that games are best when everything is going wrong. That the measure of a game’s potential for generating anecdotes, and its depth of connection to the player, is based in the amount of peril it’s able to generate. Citing games like Day Z, FTL and XCOM, Jim’s argument made one small mistake: it was all wrong. Games aren’t best when they’re stressing you out, piling on the pressure, raising your anxiety levels to breaking point! Games are best when they embrace you into their wonderful worlds, telling you great stories, and letting you get away from the incessant worries of real life.


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[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.

The Graveyard

It sounds like because you're more isolated from the commercial industry...

AH: Perhaps.

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.

AH: Yeah.

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.

When I talked to Ken Levine about one of the inspirations for BioShock, it was during the financial meltdown in America, when Alan Greenspan, who was an Objectivist, said, "I thought this was going to work."

AH: But I was wrong.

But I was wrong.

MS: That's nice. [laughs]

AH: After all those years being the brainiac.

MS: Yeah, but, exactly! That's interesting, isn't it?

AH: That's more interesting than running around shooting things -- that's all we're saying.

MS: Yeah. Can't we express that in a game? That kind of realization, that his ideology failed? Isn't that beautiful? Isn't that more beautiful...

AH: Or more tragic? Than the 10,000 deaths of BioShock? Somehow that is the most tragic aspect of things. And to not get a full expression of that in the game -- in the game. Not just as the project as a whole -- because you get that -- but in what you do most of the time, or what the main joy of that experience is supposed to be. Right now, it's bullet porn.

I have a background in being very much a gamer, and of course I have aspirations of making games. I think most people, at least in their head, do, who play games.

On one hand, I can see the cultural relevance, but on the other hand, I might be another Ken Levine -- not to compare myself to him -- in the sense that I would want to stick with the conventions that I've enjoyed in games in the past.

AH: That's all right, too. But let's just realize that there are two different things that could happen. One is this, and one is that.

It goes back to the industry, right?

AH: Yeah.

People have something... Whether it's a stake in the industry from a commercial perspective, or just a stake in what they've creatively enjoyed for years.

AH: Yeah. I mean, one of the hardest lessons I've had to learn as a female in the games industry is all these guys really like what they make. I did not understand that for years. It was only until I talked to the maker of Alan Wake, and we were talking about it...

MS: Also a typical example of a game that we think could have been a lot more.

AH: Yeah, and I was expressing to him what I was saying about, well, "Yeah, would it have been more interesting without the shooting." And suddenly it dawned to me as I was talking to him, "Wait, he wanted to make the action game where the main thing is killing the zombies," or whatever the hell that was. He made exactly what he wanted.

And suddenly it clicked. "Oh, so, those guys who make Call of Duty want to make a 'sailing down the side of a mountain shooting shit' game." It was like, "Oh, okay. I get it now. This is why everybody seems so happy and creatively satisfied."

I took it seriously when they said "I'm making a game based on Objectivism that is talking about the financial crisis." I was like, "Okay. Let's do that!"

MS: Hey, but maybe they do. Maybe they succeed for gamers that are like them, that are used to the conventions.

AH: I know. I'm just saying my misunderstanding of the games industry, as a non-gamer, coming in making games -- I was taking the subject matter and the content in the cutscenes seriously. I was honestly looking for the stories that are on the back of the box, or the media, the propaganda, that they put out about the game.

I was thinking, "Oh, all this content is in there somewhere, and I just have to find it and I'm missing it," whatever. When in actuality, no, they really want to make another fucking first-person shooter. That's amazing to me. Still, to this day, I'm amazed by that.

I mean, they're always talking about creative frustration, and I'm just like, "Why don't you just make that thing you're talking about? I don't understand. Why are you making this other thing?"

It's money, right? And a developed audience.

AH: Well, that was kind of what I thought, but it's more than that. I think people really like it. I mean, they really like these things. So, all these guys get together and go, "You know what would be fucking cool? What would be awesome?" And they really do think it would be fucking awesome to make Duke Nukem Forever. I mean, okay. Now, I get that.

The Path

You talked about people pushing against certain constraints, while still wanting to create games like this. I think that's actually true. I think people who talk about that do feel they're constrained. But at the same time they do have this drive and desire...

AH: To make the thing that they love, from their childhood or whatever. But then I feel like they're just making excuses, often. You know, make a copy of Another World because you loved that game, and you thought it was genius. Go ahead and do that, but don't try to claim, "Oh, but I put this other level on top of it, that smeared some art content on top of it, so therefore I've made something of artistic worth."

MS: You feel that duality in a lot of games, I think, on several levels. That duality between sort of, yeah, like a more mature artistic experience, aesthetic experience, and a more playful, childlike interactive experience. And yeah, the tension is there, just because it seems like the creators don't choose. They want both things to be there, but both things are fighting with each other, and don't want to be in the same game.

Or, at least, expressed as a game. Narrative versus gameplay -- that's another level in which you see this kind of contrast.

MS: Yes, but that's a dangerous path, because then you slide very quickly into linear versus nonlinear, and that's really not what it's about. It's about expressiveness, about aesthetics. It doesn't have to be story. It could be a painting, too, or a cathedral, or a poem.

I think all of those things can be expressed with things that are very much unique to the medium, and all that. And I would actually argue that gameplay is one of the strange components that is not unique to the medium, that comes from that old age-old history of playful interaction between humans, with sports. It, in and of itself, is an alien factor. I'm not against alien factors. I really think we should embrace as much as we can, and mix it all up.

You mentioned a cathedral. Sometimes the visual communication in games is less about communicating meaning, and more about communicating aesthetics, or information. Even though it's such a visual medium. Do you have any thoughts on why?

AH: That's interesting.

MS: I think one of the problems when addressing this issue is that we're dealing with a lot of engineers in this industry, or people with an engineering -- or sort of a more scientific -- mindset.

And when you talk about expressing meaning, they often take that a little bit too literal. [laughs] As in language -- I have an idea, and I tell this idea to you. That's not really what happens in a lot of art. It's often a lot more intuitive, and artists play with the aesthetics. They don't know exactly what this message is.

AH: There's a lot more ambiguity.

MS: Maybe they're making the painting because they want to find out what this feeling is that they have. And I do see that happening in games. There's a bunch of artists working in games, and they're not talking to the game designer or to the programmer, and they're just doing their own thing.

AH: But I think also the deal with games is it's not a visual medium. I mean, it's multimedia, to use a '90s word for it. So the visuals are not really the most important thing. And sometimes you see games that are an overweight of visual sensation to the detriment of, perhaps, the sound design, or the dialogue. I mean, how much bad voice acting have you seen in a really beautifully visually crafted game? So, you need all these things to work together, and to be brought up to the same level, and to support each other, I think.

MS: This is where the cathedral is a good example, because it's architecture, but also painting and sculpture.

AH: And sound and atmosphere.

MS: Theatre also. All these things come together.

AH: And I think that it helps if game developers think about all of these elements together, and don't sacrifice on the words that are being said. It's like you've got these characters that look great, but when they open their mouths, they sound like California surfers in armor or something. [laughs] You're just like, "Why did they write this? What are they saying?" Or the type of atmosphere that is created by the words or the music -- it's like, all these things support the visuals, and the visuals support the rest of it.

Aesthetics needs to be looked at as a larger area -- not just visuals. Personally, we think that aesthetics extend to the interactions that you do, like the way that you interact with the world, and the way the characters interact with you.


Do you think they need to look at it more holistically -- is what you're saying?

AH: Yeah. That's what I'm saying. Exactly what I'm saying.

When you talk about the aesthetics of gameplay, it's not an immediately comfortable concept. People don't think of gameplay as having an aesthetic.

AH: In fact, control schemes are taken for granted. I mean, most games are AWSD with the mouse, or something like that.

MS: They're taken for granted, but within very strict limitations. Like, you can't really experiment with that. So, if you deviate from the convention, players will respond, "Oh, that's bad!" Try doing AWSD, and change it to AZWD or something. People would freak out! And I would call that an aesthetic assessment, actually. Aesthetic appreciation is also about recognition...

AH: In a sense, that's what's kind of cool about new control schemes like the Wii or Kinect, or something like that, or the Move. You get to start over. There's not this convention in your way, so you can think about how the characters interact with you, how you interact with the environment, in a different way, finally. So, it's not all this weight of convention. And so then that's when your interactivity can become aesthetic, when you make the interactivity suit your world, suit the thing that you're making, and can make that, also, part of the expression of what you're working on.

MS: I really think game designers put a lot of effort in making the controls feel nice. Feeling nice is aesthetics. But I think they do it just for that purpose, and I think that's where, sort of, there's something lacking for me, where you could use these aesthetics to put other types of emotions than just "it feels nice."

AH: I guess that's what they were trying to do with games like Heavy Rain. This is kind of what we're talking about, when we mean aesthetics of interaction.

MS: That's definitely an experiment in that direction. I'm not exactly sure if it's a successful one...

AH: But I enjoy the effort. That it's an attempt at an aesthetic in interactivity.

As someone who's an outsider, what attracted you to getting involved in games?

AH: I just thought I could do it. We thought we could do it. We were making digital art anyway, and then we were playing games just for relaxation. For kicks. We could rent games. We were renting games and movies at the same time. I don't know why. We just did it, because we thought it was like, "Okay. Well, there's this thing in the video store. Let's do this."

It's not that I never played video games. I played Mario as a child once or twice. We had a Game Boy -- somebody had a Game Boy. I played Tomb Raider 1. I wasn't a gamer, but a friend of mine had a PlayStation 1, and I ended up going, "What's that?" And I played that. But it sort of stopped there.

And I moved to CD-ROM games, playing Myst and loving that and loving games like that, that sort of genre of full-motion video CD-ROM games that was happening in the '90s. I played several of those, without really thinking they were video games. So, I still didn't "play video games."

MS: And I think when we started working on the web, those kinds of things influenced us.

AH: Yeah, I specifically wanted to remake games like Myst on the web, but that was impossible at the time, because it was so slow. You couldn't have big images. You could make image maps, I remember.

I experimented with early web 3D stuff, just because I was like, "I could make this environment where you're walking through this..." But then all that sort of disappeared for a long time. When we met, we were working on the internet. And when we started playing games again, after I moved in...

MS: Doom II has been on my mind with every web site I made. Doom II, specifically -- that experience of being in that space, not the shooting and all that -- has always been on my mind with any interactive project I have made.

AH: But I think we still thought of games almost subliminally like, "Well, this is just this thing that people do." Like, it wasn't one of those things where we were really passionate about games, as such. It was just another thing, like, "We're renting a movie. Let's rent a game." Okay. They're sitting right next to each other.

MS: Yeah, exactly. And we also didn't want to make movies.

AH: And we would just look at the back of the box and go, "Well, that sounds kind of interesting!" Like you read a video. And it was interactive. Since we were already interested in interactive things, we're like, "Well, this is interactive."

So, when we were playing all these games, it suddenly dawned on us, "Well, this is interactive, and this is art. Why don't we make a video game?" It was such an innocent and naive thought that I laugh about it now, but it was really like that.

We were like, "Well, you know, how hard can this be, to get Sony to put this on a disc?" We literally thought that if you make something nice, you just go talk to Sony, and they go put it on the PlayStation. You know what I mean? It's, like, so mind-blowingly naive. [laughs]

MS: The transition happened when sort of the early signs of Web 2.0 started to appear, and suddenly this web was changing as a medium, and it suddenly felt a lot less comfortable to us, to make these kinds of artworks we liked to make.

AH: But we also just felt like we wanted to level up -- doing something more formal. I mean, the internet is a very casual thing. Anyone can make a website. We were like, "It's like making a movie, and then you have somebody distribute it, and it's on a disc, and people can go to the store and they buy it." We wanted it on store shelves. And we thought that this could just be something you could do, like, "Start a company, we make a game."

MS: That's true. And that's, actually, sort of personal. Because at that point, we were sort of done with talking about ourselves, only. [laughs] So we wanted to make something for other people.

AH: So, we started thinking, "Well, what kind of game can we make?" We had this little moment where we were doing design research at a postgraduate thing, so we had two years that we could use to learn how to make video games that were basically free years. So we were like, "We can learn how to make this." We already knew a bit about programming, a bit about 3D. We knew we wanted to make 3D games, so we just did it.

But the first thing we did was all the research, of going to GDC, meeting other developers. Because it's like, "Who makes these things? And how do they make them? And why are they made like this?" And reading all kinds of things online.

And sort of, then, that's when my first misunderstanding happened, because the first question I asked is, "Why do games all seem so similar? Why are there these genres? Why is it, like, RPGs and FPS? Why are these genres there?" There's no way to understand that as an outsider.

So, all I saw was that there were really delightful things in video games, and lots of opportunities, but people weren't taking them. So, I really thought all game developers were stupid. I literally thought, like, "Were they just really geeky, and into shooting stuff, so that's why it's always like that?" It didn't occur to me that this is what they wanted to make, yet. I still thought that they were trying to tell stories. Because there was so much story in it.

MS: And in all these conferences, people are always talking about that, too -- about wanting that. About wanting more.

AH: Yeah, I mean, we're strictly... I'm not talking about puzzle games, like Tetris and stuff. We really wanted to make this sort of immersive, narrative, 3D thing happen. So, all those immersive, narrative, 3D things were usually about shooting stuff, or fighting, or blowing shit up. I was like, "Why is it always like that?" I can see you want that to exist, but why is it almost exclusively that? Or even in RPGs, why is it always this battle arena, with a random battle?

And I thought they were just dumb. You can not do that, too, you know! It's like, I just want to go up and shake somebody -- "You know, you can not do that!" They kept doing it. Or an adventure game, where it's always like some pre-rendered background point-and-click. It's like, "Why is it always like that?" For years. [laughs]

And so, that's why our games turned out the way they did. Because we immediately decided we were not going to do any of that -- because we don't like that stuff. We're going to do all these other things that we do like.

Things like in Ico, where you hold hands. Like, Ico was one of those perfect games for us. Because it was just like... Yeah, you have to battle shadow monsters, but that's so minor, to everything else.

MS: I couldn't do it. [laughs]

AH: You couldn't do it. I did those parts! But it was still like, that's so minor compared to everything, and you were so overwhelmed with the beauty of it, and everything. I said, "That's where he put the emphasis." I was like, "That's what I'm talking about. You put this emphasis on these things that you're really talking about, that you really want."

Or in Silent Hill 2, I gave it a pass because you don't have to fight at all. Well, except for the boss rounds. But it's like, for the most part, you just run away. I was like, "That's brilliant." Or you get the knife, but you never use it. I'm like, "Fuck! Mind blown. That's beautiful."

And those are the things I'm thinking about. The fact that that happens so rarely, I couldn't understand it until years later, when I realized that they like first person shooters. And then that's it. So they make another one.

We're at a point where industry dollars are going to go to more similar, high-budget games, and fewer games in the middle get budgets. And then indie. I think we're seeing a stratification happening.

MS: I think we're seeing a slow suicide. [laughs] I mean, isn't that like attrition? To always put more and more money on a more and more narrow path? Where will this end? At one point, right? Where there's nothing anymore. Death. Suicide. I mean, I'm not an economist, but that seems to be where it's going, no? Or is it just a console/PC thing, and well, after that, it's all going to be Facebook?

AH: Or is there always a strong undercurrent of things that aren't?

Activision is very specifically doubling down on things like Call of Duty and World of Warcraft, and sort of saying, "We don't need anything else, because we can make these things so titanic that they'll dominate." Whereas a company like EA, its closest competitor, is saying, "We're going to send tendrils out into the different market segments."

And I wouldn't say they're necessarily going to send them out to creative avenues. That's not how it's thought about from the corporate side. So, there are definitely different approaches in the commercial games industry, but it's still about market share, or market targeting.

MS: Yeah, well, the companies you mentioned are publishers. I think in any medium, the publisher's concern will be commercial. There are always, like, small record labels and small book publishers; those exist. But the ones you mentioned are not the small ones. [laughs] So, that's normal.

What's more surprising is, actually, there's not more pushing coming from developers to diversify, to work with other themes, to try and reach other audiences, for instance. Which is just getting harder, and harder, and harder, as things remain restricted to these few formulas.

So hard now that, indeed, if you want to reach a broad audience now, you have to make some FarmVille or something. You can't really make this kind of media game that the games industry has been hoping to make for so long, and trying to get very close to, as well. Now you can only make that for a hardcore audience, anymore. I think that's suicide. [laughs]

There are definitely people saying similar things, that we're going to niche-ify. But I think that's the expectation now, in a way -- that the console space will become a niche.

AH: It already is.

MS: But isn't that stupid? They're already connected to the TV. Build them into the TV! I mean, there's so much opportunity there. That's where I agree with Auriea. You know, a lot of publishers and developers say, "This is commercial. We're doing this for commercial reasons." Bullshit. Commercial would be expanding, and trying to reach everybody. They're doing this because they really love shooting shit up. [laughs] They really love that. It's an artistic choice.

AH: That's good that you love what you do, but don't expect that to get you anywhere.

MS: I think they're happy with it becoming a niche, totally happy with that. That's sort of strange, as a commercial company.

AH: The fun of being me is I get to just look at this and not care too much about it. We're just going to make what we make. I insist that I am not in the games industry, even though I come to things like this, sometimes, to my utter folly.

My point being just that more people need to make this stuff for itself, for the love of the medium, perhaps. And not care so much about where the industry is going as a whole. Because that's sort of like, "Oh, they have a big meeting, and they decide that this is how things are going to be," which is how it always felt about genres, to me.

MS: I think this is sort of something that happens because commerce is similar to games. Winning a game is a little bit like selling a million copies. Maybe this kind of mindset of making games, liking games, is similar to being successful?

I find that a lot of developers that I've spoken to over the years, to some greater or lesser extent that I cannot obviously say, but I perceive, have been co-opted by the marketing departments of the companies they work for.

MS: How do they get co-opted?

I think they get enticed by the idea that if they listen to these people, they will make a game that people like better.

AH: Rather than listening to the people themselves, or listening to themselves, listening to their own hearts, their own minds and desires, beyond mechanics. It just seems like, in no other medium is it so focused on this. I mean, yeah, there's really commercial writers, but there are tons! Most writers, it's coming from someplace else for them, and that's what this medium needs more of.

MS: Yeah. What he is saying is, the paper and pen is much easier, and accessible as a tool for creating in this medium, than computer stuff.

AH: So what? I mean, that's part of the passion.

MS: That's true. That's true. You have to want it even more.

AH: But a writer's craft, it's like -- don't undersell that. I mean, to be a good writer is a lifetime of suffering, in a way. Yeah, there's the technology, but perhaps their technical hurdle is honing your mind, to be able to express something universal for people, that is going to be timeless, in a sense. That's not necessarily easy. I mean, I've known a lot of writers, a lot of musicians. There's a larger history to both of those media, but...

What I'm saying, actually, is I don't think the major hurdle to making video games is technical. I think that is what everybody will tell you. Even though I know it's damn hard to make a video game, the harder part is being able to get to the essence of what we're trying to make for people.

MS: Yeah, but doesn't it go hand-in-hand? That if you're more comfortable with your tool, it will be easier to shape yourself?

AH: I don't know. Perhaps we all make it too complicated for ourselves. I know that, essentially, I'm still naive about everything to do with video games, and I like that about it. But I do think that sometimes -- and we've known this for ourselves -- that game developers make it harder for themselves than is necessary.

Certainly the games that we're talking about, the BioShocks and the Alan Wakes, the technical hurdles there are tremendous.

MS: It's enormous.

AH: But they've created that shit for themselves. They created the technical hurdle. They're the ones saying that it has to be ultra realistic lighting and normal maps and all this shit, you know? You don't need that. That's something you want! Yeah, okay. You want to see technology go further. But it's not necessary.

To the detriment of the content! That's what I'm saying. They see the technical hurdle as being all-important, to the detriment of the meaning, and the content, that they're trying to express, in my opinion. So, all the money goes toward that, rather than going to good voice actors, or a writer who can write something other than Star Wars, or some copy of some Stephen King novel.

To the detriment of seeing that as your art form -- all of those aesthetic practices as part of the art form, and not just CryEngine 3, or whatever the fuck. That's my naive perspective, actually, is that it's a poor medium, because they pour all the money into all the wrong things, or they see it as about being pouring money into it at all.

What I find very interesting is that I can sense your passion for a medium that you're also tremendously frustrated with.

AH: I do this for a living. What I mean is, I do this full time. We make our projects, we spend months and months iterating, and prototyping, and whatever. I mean, there's been plenty of times where I've said, "I don't want to fucking work with this stuff anymore. I don't want to do it!" [laughs]

But I think all independent developers have those moments because, you know, you don't have that much money, you're spending all your time on something, and seeing little incremental rewards every day. The only real payoff, and the only reward, is at the end, when it's done, and that's when all the joy happens for you. Maybe I'm just moody today. I think I'm just moody today. [laughs]

MS: A lot of passion also comes from, I think, just being an artist. Being an artist is not something that you do. It's something that you are. Whatever we do, is what we are. So, hurt my game, and you're hurting me. [laughs]

AH: I just want to be able to make what we make, and not get the sort of criticism we often get. I want the criticism to be based on things other than "Oh, what you make is not a game," I guess. Or "What you make shouldn't be made. You shouldn't make things like that."

Isn't that easy to blow off that kind of criticism?

MS: No. [laughs]

AH: Not for me. It should be, perhaps. But I think that it's not, because I see it as being a failing of this as a creative medium... to not be able to have deeper criticism, or see a larger picture...

MS: It pains me, not so much personally -- I mean, yeah, it does. But it's an expression of a very deeply ingrained conservatism within gamers.

AH: Right. We've always called it conservatism, and people are like, "How can you say that?" We're like, "Well, because, you..." [laughs]

MS: I mean, it's always like whenever somebody tries to change something, it's like, "You're wrong!" It's like "Violence!" And that is supported by, indeed, narrowing down the niche and making everything more the same. But we also know that this is probably just a bunch of kids anyway, and maybe they don't mean it as extremely as they express it. Actually, we recently received an email apologizing!

AH: An apology. [laughs]

MS: A kid who grew up, and a few years later read his comments, and said, "Oh no. I'm sorry that I said that back then."

AH: Wow, the trolls grow up! How does this happen? [laughs] "I reread what I wrote in 2006 on your blog" -- or whatever it is -- "and I'm really sorry that I said it that way. I've changed my mind since." I'm like, "Whoa."

[Originally posted on sister site Gamasutra.]

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