Interview – Valerie Dusk –
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Q: What “title” do you prefer to name your games’ creating practice?

A: I consider myself closer to an artist than a game developer, but I use “game developer” in conversations and I communicate that I am a game developer.

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 feel like when I make games, I’m often attempting to make a place that I want to exist in, at least in some capacity. With those places comes a feeling, and to try to make someone feel the way I feel about a place, it’s important for me to try and find what might trigger the feeling I want to convey while existing in that space. 

Q: Could you define the role you give music and/or noise in your games?

A: So, as far as sound design goes, my primary goal is to try and replicate the place and the feeling. I tend to go for looping ambience and focus on the primary sounds for objects while also experimenting with what feels “right” to me for a particular scene

Q: Do you consider your practice as game designer as labour, or as something else (personal expression, therapeutic, emancipatory, etc.) ?

A: Absolutely. It’s a labor of love. It’s therapeutic (Pillar of Rust), it’s expression, it gives me a sense of control over a chaotic world. I always keep in mind that this is still work, and that I need to exist outside of it.

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: Right before making Pillar of Rust, I was coming out of a really rough time. I’m neurodivergent and  deal with anxiety and depression, but the period before Pillar of Rust was especially rough. I joined the Haunted PS1 Discord and ended up being a part of a wonderful community of diverse devs and fans. I made Pillar of Rust for one of their jams, and that drive to create came back strong after that.

Q: Do you feel the term “video game” is still adequate or too limiting for more experimental form?

A: I think over the past few years with micro-indies breaking the mold the term video games has meant a lot more things to a lot more people. However, it’s still difficult to communicate what the things I create are with merely the term “video game” because the term still paints a specific picture of a standard whereas my games often don’t do things in the way they typically do. That’s not to say that I feel my creations are especially unique in the large sphere of video games. So to answer your question, I tend to call my creations art-games and the space they exist in the “micro-indie” scene. Specifically micro-indie horror or horror adjacent.

Q: Do you consider video game design to be a personal/emancipatory/liberating practice?

A: Absolutely. I mean, the high I got after creating my first game, I felt like this is something I always want to do. I always want to be able to create worlds, to actualize my dreams, and to create spaces that I can exist in.

Q: Video games are often considered as very self-referential as a media. Game designers often invoke other games for their own creation. Would you consider it’s true for your own practice?

A: So, it’s a difficult task to make things interconnected. I do imagine in some capacity that the things I create all exist in a sort of shared universe. A lot of themes crossover

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: It’s quite a long story, but basically…I feel like my start in creating games coincides with my gender transition. Part of transition is realizing you have this power to define your own identity and that you don’t have to exist in the confines of how others believe you should be. Much in line with that I saw what others in the micro-indie scene were creating, how these games existed outside of what I believed games were supposed to be. One of the games that comes to mind specifically was Kitty Horrorshow’s Anatomy. I didn’t start creating after that, but it started to mold my perception of game development. As I was able to reshape myself, I reshaped my thinking. I decided after having spent a little time learning Blender, that I’d poke around in Unity. I could use the resources that Unity provides and things I created in blender to make things. Most of how I learned to develop was self-taught, through using the software. I’d look online for information but I mostly learned through experimentation. That, plus encouragement from friends and pushing myself, I created my first game.


Q: You work with various collaborators for the audio, Amon26 for Apolysis for example. How do those collaborations work?

A: For the most part I do my own audio design. Being in a community like Haunted PS1, there’s a lot of collective knowledge and I’ve got to become friends with a lot of really cool people. A lot of times I’ll talk to folks and get advice on how to make my work better. In regards to Apolysis, Amon connected me and offered help in designing the sound for Apolysis. I gave him a general direction for what I’d like and we ended up workshopping it until the results were satisfactory to both of us. 

Q: There’s a palpable evolution between your early games (Blackstead, Desert Dreams and Whispering Rock Thrift) and latest ones. They moved from strange deserts locale to industrial architecture fusing body horror and machinery. Could you explain what drove this change?

A: It’s really a matter of wanting to explore a place. I really like the desert as a setting, but my biggest thing was abandoned or forgotten places. Bleakstead and Whispering Rock Thrift have this similar theme of empty, forgotten places. I think as I’ve continued creating, I’ve kind of found more of what I enjoy in regards to environments. I do picture all of my games as being part of a shared universe. American deserts with abandoned places.

Q: This also came with a switch in audio design, becoming more and more noisy and aggressive. Do you feel there’s a relation between level design and musical choice? (I’m especially thinking about the high pitch noise in the long metallic corridor of Pillar of Rust)

A: Pillar of Rust really marked a transition period for me. I focused more on the audio than I had with any project, though I had previously done some minimal sound design, it was one of those things that was sorely lacking. So, for each area I had an ambient track and noise to fit the mood. With the section with the long walk down the street I was able to work with @Pewkazilla on a really awesome Lo-fi track that captured both the sort of sorrowful mood that I was going for and the Silent Hill vibe.

Q: I feel the Silent Hill soundtrack was for a lot of people their first personal experience with noise/industrial music. Would you consider this to be your case?

Oh, definitely. I think Akira Yamaoka’s compositions were huge inspirations on how sound could be so effective at creating an atmosphere. I am still learning and I feel like sound design is my weak spot, but listening to Yamaoka’s Silent Hill tracks really help pull me into a creative space when it comes to visual and sound design.