Q: What “title” do you prefer to name your games’ creating practice?
A: I always like to stay independent to be true to my original vision, so I’d probably say it’s “indie game development.” My games are mostly free creations, since I’ve ventured into exclusively commercial releases only twice in my whole career (as a way to expand the scope of those two projects by giving them the ability to repay their exceptionally long development times). I still consider my game creation process as a hobby, a side-project I’m passionate about. But I’d love to dedicate my creative view to a full-time job some day.
Q: The reason I approached you for this interview is the strong presence of industrial/noise music elements in certain of your games. How would you define your relation with industrial/noise and game design?
A: I think the industrial/noise can evoke a “hidden action” feeling and thus add an unconsciously perceived depth to a scene, maybe because we know that’s a noise with a purpose, that something meant to move is moving… and when it’s not meant to, the whole scene shifts into an uncanny valley of sounds. Hence, the atmospheric value of noise is based on expectations and how they conform (or not) to their surroundings.
Q: Could you define the role you give music and/or noise in your games?
A: They’re just like the voice of my stories’ narrative. There’s a lot you can tell by using the right music or background noise in a particular scene. Sometimes, even with a partially spoken narrative (like in Sleepthrough or Black Tree Project), it’s better to make the player “feel” what the game has to say (especially during its surreal moments) without breaking the silence of the main character. It’s a way to give space and voice to our thoughts while not leaving them alone in their wanderings. Both music and noise can often act as “safety cushions” for when things get strange.
Q: Do you consider your practice as a game designer as labour, or as something else (personal expression, therapeutic, emancipatory, etc.) ?
A: I consider it as a form of personal expression, and of the most complete kind too. Interaction opens up doors that other forms of expression will always need to “simulate” in order to draw their audience in the story. For example, movies can show and tell you literally anything you’ll ever dream of, but no matter what their sight and sound fidelity is, you’re still a passive spectator. Calling someone (in)to action is one of the greatest (and at the same time, most underrated) achievements of video games.
Q: What is your position about the exponential increase in games published since 4-5 years? Does it have an impact on your practice?
A: Directly, no. The only impact I saw is time related. Along with such a high saturation of new games available, many have started demanding that they would take less hours to be completed. I think that this huge offer of experiences to play has tricked many players into thinking that what’s best for them is playing as many games as possible, often rushing their playthroughs in detrimental ways for the presupposed narrative pace. This is because of the limited amount of time they have to enjoy them, which is understandable. But shorter games are not the solution. You can’t cram a story into a leaflet and expect it to have the same long lasting impact of a novel. Instead, we just need to learn a better way to choose the games we want to play. We’re often so blinded by captivating marketing strategies or “viral sensations” that we just follow where the flow goes (and this is true with other media too), without even beginning to question ourselves if we are “really” interested in that particular content, or if we’re just playing what our favorite youtuber/streamer plays (and even in those cases, there most likely be a commercial agreement behind their choices). In my opinion, the first step towards undertaking better gaming choices is to stop feeling like outsiders when we see something hugely popular on the internet, and we still don’t know its context. But of course, socials, the staple of this hive minded society, do their best to work against all this. At the expenses of niche creators, who often find themselves forced to follow trends just to stay afloat in this sea of giants.
Q: Do you feel the term “video game” is still adequate or too limiting for more experimental form?
A: While “video” is a self-describing prefix that communicates what kind of output we’re dealing with, the “game” part lingers in a limbo of uncertain semantical identity. I mean, I don’t personally hold any grudge against the term “game”, but when you’re trying to push the boundaries of this often belittled medium into experimental lands, “game” can still feel like a chain tying you to “innocent pastime” grounds. You can often hear “it’s just a game”, but it’s much rarer to hear someone not agreeing with your opinion on a movie, a music album, or a book, coming up with “it’s just a movie / it’s just music / it’s just a book.” Maybe they’re experiences that can be played just like a game, but interactive art forms can also be installations in museums (like with Bill Viola’s “The Night Journey”) while still being technically “games”. I think this prejudice is rooted into the generic value the word “game” has, a value that the “video” prefix couldn’t make it stand out as worthy of a higher recognition than what its ancestral “electronic toy” meaning implies.
Q: Do you consider that video game design can be a personal/emancipatory/liberating practice?
A: Yes, absolutely. Nowadays, developing a game has luckily become much easier than what it once was and meant. Thanks to freely available engines and widespread community support, everyone can now design, prototype, and release experiences and fun ideas that would’ve been impossible to share otherwise. Many slices of lives that would’ve gone “unlived” are now out there in the wild and they even managed to pull out from a dangerously burial silence some of their dramatic outcomes.
Q: Video games are often considered as very self-referential as media. Game designers often invoke other games for their own creation. Would you consider it true for your own practice?
A: Yes, more or less secret references and easter eggs are often a way to thank in a more respectful manner the source of inspiration of a game’s creator. And even when it’s not a hidden secret, but just a recurring phrase or a cemented atmosphere (like with the many Silent Hill references you can find in my horror games), it can represent a way to mark a creation’s belonging roots. What’s important is that, whatever reference you put into your game, it must always stay “in-context” with the overall atmosphere. Ruining a game’s suspension of disbelief just for the sake of a secret reference is a really dangerous practice when it comes to narrative cohesiveness.
Q: How did you start creating games? Did you learn by yourself or followed a specific training? Would you consider your workflow as DIY?
A: Yes, learning how to make games was a long but very enjoyable self-learner process that started a couple of years after the birth of my passion for programming (which in turn began when I was about 11 years old), and also yes, it’s still a totally DIY workflow, mainly because the strong artistic connection I feel with my works may be a bit raw, but always honest with the almost self-imposed constraints the original vision has to overcome in order to find both a purpose and a meaning for its existence.
Q: A key element of industrial/noise music according to Jon Savage is the “information war”, especially psychological process, mind control, etc. Those are themes that come back frequently in your games. Could you elaborate?
A: Passiveness is generally perceived as detachment from the content we’re consuming, but this doesn’t happen with games as often as we pretend to. We’re emotionally connected to a substrate of involvement when it comes to “play as” the main character. The illusion of control is only a carefully contained freedom of agency. We’re “allowed” to interact with something only in ways the game has been designed for. As a game designer, I like to extend this control by often breaking the 4th wall, by making the game conscious of itself, or by making the players aware of the game as a living entity they choose to believe in from the moment they double click on the executable’s icon. Sometimes the whole concept of a mind “being in control” can be exploited to achieve a dimensional drift questioning “who’s who?” (like in Black Tree Project), and other times it can be the inner projection of a psychologically troubled mind (like in Lyssophobia).
Q: You are a multidisciplinary artist and a musician. The music from your games is very different from the music you composed independently, you could explain the process?
A: With standalone music, I always focus on how its structure can evoke a synaesthetic response. In basic music composition, we just like to pretend rules don’t apply, but to achieve a professional result, we’re much more constrained than what it seems. In games, instead, you’re free to experiment as much as you like. In most cases, there’s a whole visual concept to back you up, so it’s like a creative exchange of sight and sound where both play on common grounds. Usually, even if music joins my games once they’re fully playable, I start working on it right from the start, often coming up with short snippets to play during the early development phases so I can make sure that the atmosphere I have in mind has a complimentary match with its visuals.
Q: You often play with expectations in your games, changing genres and mechanics, for example. Could you explain the type of experience you want to offer players?
A: When I make a game, the most important thing is how a specific narrative journey gets conveyed, and the road to achieve an original result runs frequently parallel to the gameplay’s path. Game mechanics are only the means to let players be part of the story, no matter how the interactive context changes from time to time, because even the way it changes is designed to represent a different point of view or a switch in perception of reality.
Q: Glitch art also seems to be a strong part of your aesthetic. Do you see a relation between noise and glitch as a gaming experience, immersion, etc. ?
A: Both glitch art and noise put an emphasis on the digital origin of the content created, bringing back the impermanence nature of information. Like a simulation of deterioration, sometimes it can be the only way to show the vulnerable side of digitalization, to stress our endeavors to preserve what we have. But if we take it further, the glitch itself has a semiological value of wanted or unwanted data manipulation. Perfectly apt for those “ghost in the machine” cases of games like “Sealess Mother.”
Q: Lenore’s Birthnight is an absolutely unique experience, with a strong lore behind it. How did you get inspired for this project?
A: It’s since “Leaving Is Remaining” that I’ve been working on this concept of “what if a game’s lore wasn’t separated from the gameplay, but the lore itself was the gameplay?” Basically, a game where the inventory is your mind, where notions and knowledge can be used as items in order to solve puzzles and make progress in the story. That’s what inspired me to take that idea I just sketched in “Leaving Is Remaining”, and to give it a fully explorable world where to live and exist on its own.
About the story, as with most of my strangest games, it all started with a dream. In that dream, I found myself in the same condition players will find themselves at the end of the game. I felt this almost indescribable feeling of knowing in such a personal way all the hardships your life will put you through. It was emotionally devastating, and its effect left an eye-opening awareness in me. It really gives “take care of yourself” a new temporal perspective that we often forget to consider.
Yes, learning how to make games was a long but very enjoyable self-learner process that started a couple of years after the birth of my passion for programming (which in turn began when I was about 11 years old), and also yes, it’s still a totally DIY workflow, mainly because the strong artistic connection I feel with my works may be a bit raw, but always honest with the almost self-imposed constraints the original vision has to overcome in order to find both a purpose and a meaning for its existence.