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Inquisitive Arts (2007-2009)

January 27, 2012

The Little Engine That (Almost) Could

The final chapter of this saga started as a series of discussions I’d had after I moved on from the Longest Journey forums to The Adventure Gamers forums, where I ran into some old friends, but mainly made a number of new friends, including young Deirdra Kiai. Deirdra is an independent game developer who holds a diploma in computer engineering, and has the numerical value of Pi memorized to a fairly obscene decimal point (although she confesses she’s lost some of it in recent years). She’s also a musician and composer, and has written a rather lovely novella for NaNoWriMo, which she has not published as of yet.

About the only thing she can’t do is make me finish a game in a timely fashion, which is unfortunate, because we’ve collaborated on a few really interesting ideas, and only one of them has seen the light of day in any form, and then only because she took the basic concept and redid it as a solo effort called ‘The Play’, a game that will be released shortly* in a Choose Your Own Story-type text format called Undum. But I get ahead of myself. Let’s back up to the beginning, with Dream Job and Jenna’s Tale.

After I had given up working on The Shadow Sygne with Rod and Amanda, I started thinking seriously about whether I had any true interest in making games at all. It seemed that what I was really trying to do was tell stories in a new way, so I didn’t have to keep squeezing all of my writing down into what would neatly fit through a square hole.

It wasn’t so much that I was writing stuff that was impossible to be read as a novel yet. It was more that I was tired of making sure all of my ideas fit neatly into the novel format. I began entertaining the notion that what I had been looking for in all of this was a new storytelling medium altogether, and one that didn’t require me to work with self-important programmers or art directors who didn’t value my contributions enough.

At any rate, Deirdra and I started talking about our ideas about gaming, and found that we valued a number of similar things, even though we had very different aesthetic sensibilities. We found we had mutual respect, which I discovered was something that had largely been lacking in most of my collaborations previously. We each knew that we had strengths and weaknesses,and didn’t presume to tell each other how to do the parts we were strongest at, and neither did we tell each other not to do things that weren’t part of out main skill set. Encouragement and cooperation. Who’d have thunk it?!

Our first project together was my science fiction concept, Metropolis Fallen, which Deirdra and I collaborated on shaping the plot for, because there were things she wanted to say, and things she didn’t want the game to say. Compromise was needed, but I figured it was for a worthy cause, so I started writing like mad to make things work.

The main problem was, if we were going to make a conventional adventure game that had both of our values and ideas in it, we’d need to find someone who could help us make the actual graphical animations and such, because my story ideas wouldn’t work quite as well if we did it using Deirdra’s cartoon techniques, and it wouldn’t get done at all if we waited for me to learn how to do the grunt work myself, because I’m far too slow and flaky to pull off all of the art for a major game project.

So we looked around for someone to aid and abet us, and Deirdra found a guy who had some nice 3D art chops and computer animation skills, and made first contact with him. He seemed interested, and we worked with him for a bit, but sadly, our graphical and conceptual styles clashed a bit, and he sort of fell out of love with the project and drifted off, after having shown the demo to an industry friend who took a pass on helping us along.

It was something of a blow to both Deirdra and I, as we concluded after months of silence that he’d just decided to avoid telling us he’d quit. It was pretty uncool, but I can’t say I blame him. It was a highly improbable project on such a limited budget and using so little staff. Really doesn’t help that I hadn’t fully realized the vision of the project before we brought in an artist, because really, you either are the art director, or you hire someone else to do it, and I wasn’t prepared to let someone else design the whole game without my input. If I had it to do again, I’d design the crap out of it and then hire someone who liked what I’d done and could think of ways to take it and make it better, which I’m more than willing to concede to.

Instead, we decided to recover from the loss and moved on to ‘Stage!’, a much simpler project that we figured I would be able to handle the art chores on. At first it was conceived as a mini adventure-style video game, but when it became clear that I was having trouble making time to sort out the art assets and animation, Deirdra reimagined the project as an interactive comic book, which did theoretically play to my strengths better. Sadly, even this met with problems, as I simply couldn’t make time enough to get beyond the initial layout and design phase to do the actual drawings. I still regret letting this project go stale, and have vowed to finish it in some fashion without forcing poor Deirdra to wait forever to get the art assets. Meanwhile, she has reworked the script again and created her own (superior) version of Stage!, which she called ‘The Play’, and which placed very well in the prestigious Interactive Fiction Competition (IF Comp 2011).

Since then, Deirdra and I have worked together on one of her projects, but I’ve largely remained in the background, offering support and suggestions when and as required. Inquisitive Arts has more or less run its course, largely because it’s clear that I can’t produce a proper video game on the kind of schedule Deirdra needs in order to keep her head in the project. We work better as support to one another, though I haven’t yet completed any of my interactive projects.

What I’ve found most amazing about that period of my life was that, without knowing it, I was devising the medium I was arguing for, even though I hadn’t found the right platform or learned to use the right software. As of this writing, I still haven’t found the ideal tools, but amazingly enough, the technology is becoming available even as I develop my ideas and adjust my storytelling techniques accordingly. With any luck, by the time I have my concepts polished enough, I’ll be able to apply them fairly seamlessly to some delivery system that feels right.

Well, that concludes the history lesson. Hope we all learned something from this. What I’ve learned is, I’m a lousy collaborator. But hey, they can’t all be life affirmations.

Lee Edward McIlmoyle,
Somewhere in Limbo,
Drinking Limboccino, listening to Squeeze, and tinkering with the old Stage! Cayra file in Remote Desktop
Tuesday, January 17th, 2012


* I started writing this article before the release. The Play has been released, and also placed highly in the 2011 IFComp.

One Comment leave one →
  1. January 27, 2012 9:52 am

    Reblogged this on Lee Edward McIlmoyle's Personal Blog and commented:

    Last part of the series where I talk about my failed career as a game developer. Bracing stuff. 😉

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