The other week I was contacted by Wuthrer Osef to check out his game, Evidence. Immediately, his art and style caught my attention and I wanted to know more about his relationship with gaming. Things kind of snowballed and it turned into a full-blown interview.
Wuthrer and I talk about what it means to be indie, what inspires his love for gaming, motivation, and the purpose of games in the world as we know it. It’s pretty in-depth, but there’s certainly some quality discussion about the industry. Wuthrer is one of the most passionate people I’ve met and his insight into gaming is worth reading about.
Piki Geek: So I’m pretty interested in your psychology background. Seems like some of your games deal with looming threats and play on some of the fears we all have (loneliness, lost childhood, death). How much of that is on purpose or a reflection of your beliefs on the subject?
Wuthrer Osef: Ahah, you’re quite right there. I would say I’m trying to communicate personal feelings and experiences by the design of my games. Evidence was some kind of “observation” about stuff I’ve experienced for quite a long time. Not only stuff I’ve lived through, but things I could see all around me.
So yes, it’s really a way to express things I’ve encountered. But the way the story is told, the characters, and some kind of other stuff makes it a bit complex.
I don’t think you’ll get the real topic, unless you get to the end. That’s the best part of Evidence. The game will tell you everything you have to know to understand it. It’s not about that kind of “Deus ex Machina” storytelling tricks : “Everything was a dream.”
I mean, I’m not even sure Evidence has a good story. I’m not even convinced that it could be fun to play (I’ve tested it far too much, believe me), but the real good and awesome point, is that you want to play to understand what’s going on here.
The places are odd, even the graphics. Everything seems strange, but you still can feel these are not random choices. Everything has been set up like that for a good reason. But why? You could so easily guess it. When you reach the end, you get the final word. Only one word my friend, and then… i’m sorry but i’m pretty sure you’ll say it : “Come on, I could have guess it.”
But then… you can go for more reflections… you can ask yourself, “Why was it told this way?” There, is more to understand when you get the topic. And yeah, as you said, when you reach this point, you’ll “get” something about my beliefs
About my Art, let’s say the lack of my painting skills were well paired with my concept .
PG: On that idea that you’re trying to communicate personal feelings and an experience, was video games your first medium to explore those ideas? Have you tried writing/painting/poetry/film? I guess the question is, why a downloadable game?
Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I think more and more we see this younger generation forgo traditional emotional communications and instead pour their heart and soul into programming a game.
WO: I like that kind of question ahah
There’s several points to this answer.
First, I think the first time I’ve got into strong emotional feeling, in an artistic media, was by playing a game. I’ve read, I’ve seen films, but that was nothing compared to playing a game. I’m kind of a “late” gamer. I’ve only begun to play when I was 16 years old. I’ve always looked at my neighbours and friends playing NES and all that those olds consoles with a jealous eye. It was the big thing for me. I think, when most of my entourage were thinking about sex, drugs and alcohol, I was wondering when I would finally get a damn PSX to play FFVII. I bought video games magazine even if I couldn’t play them. I even remembered me buying Occasional Magazines, walkthroughs topics, to be able to imagine myself playing in the screenshots. So I let you imagine how I felt when I finally could turn the lights off in my own room and start playing. It was such an amazing feeling. I could live for myself what I had been waiting for so long. I think, for me, this is why i’m such in love with video games. A unreachable media that I couldn’t get.
Another point is that video games are really complex. Storytelling, Visual, music, coding, all that stuff makes them really enjoyable to create. You always have to learn something. I mean, video games are so young. That’s only the beginning. There’s so much stuff we didn’t discover yet. Man! I want to be part of this. We’re just in a incredible time where a new media is growing. That’s like the beginning of the movies!
Anyway, interactivity is such a big thing to deal with. It changes everything. It’s so young that people haven’t already fully grasped that it’s the greatest liar in our common media. Painting is lying, writing is lying, photography is lying, that’s the same with interactivity. But it’s so young in video games that we’ve not fully figured it yet.
So I’m quite excited how it will change in the future. Will it be artistic indie developers who would try to dissect the media to understand how it works, or shouldn’t work? I’m pretty sure there will be artistics currents, like punk developpers, classical developpers. In fact, there’s already some of them. I hope it will grows up.
So that’s part of why. Not because i don’t like the other medias, but because I fell in love with video games :’)
PG: That’s an interesting perspective on video games. I never thought about them in “different movements,” but now that you mention it, I guess it makes sense. We’ve seen a recent trend where a lot of developers who grew up playing games are now creating retro-style games (2d, pixels, chip tunes). I’m really interested to see what a “punk” phase would look like in video game form!
I think something that has helped other mediums grow is that it’s become more accessible and the barrier of entry became lower. Unfortunately, that means there’s a lot more “low quality” games out there. Do you think that ultimately hurts the game industry? I can’t imagine how many good games go unnoticed.
WO: So you should try to take a look at Tom Sennett’s works. Or even Cactus made some games in that mood I think. That, for me, is some part of what it could be. Fuck off graphics, fuck off music, I just want to play! I would love try to do something like that when I finish my new project.
But anyway, how does it works with the other medias nowadays? Without Internet I wouldn’t have discovered a lot of very interesting stuff. In music by example. Now, it seems like anybody has access to the tools to make interesting electronic music. Anyway, there’s still bands that came out because of this “more accessible” stuff. People spread the word, amazing works don’t stay in darkness. It’s even more easy to look for them, cause you don’t have filters or labels that don’t want to publish them. They’re indie. Even if I don’t know a lot about this topic, I’m sure a lot of awesome works wouldn’t be popular if those barriers hadn’t been cropped up.
That’s the same for indie games. The three last years were just incredible. There was a lot of stuff coming out, it wouldn’t have been possible without those changes. As you said, there’s more “low quality” games, but that’s part of it. I don’t think that’s the problem. There’s still passionate journalists that will explore video games to help the best of them to come out. Even if it is hard, devs have to persevere. We’re talking about passion here.
No, for me, the most threatening statement is the video games status, the way it’s evolving. I don’t know if that’s what you were thinking of, but I’m talking about all those casual games. Video gaming is everywhere. Smartphones, in our living rooms, computers, there’s so easy to play them now. The magic is dying. How can we compare Shadow of Colossus and Farmville ? Is it still the same media? I mean, there’s software you play cause you love them, and some other ones you play not to be bored. I’m afraid people forgot it. I don’t want to see something like “Holywood gaming.” Even if I think it’s going that way. I’m not very interested in big productions anymore. There’s still great game designers among them, but I’m afraid of thinking there will always be a fight for “best graphics,” “epic useless gaming devices.” But nostalgia is perhaps the reason why I’m thinking like that. Don’t really know.
PG: On the note of “Hollywood Games” it’s almost becoming unstable. After a AAA game ships, if it doesn’t sell 4 million copies we end up hearing about a ton of layoffs and devs out of a job. It’s not a practical or sustainable environment. I think that’s what gave rise to casual games, but now those are like weeds in the marketplace. Luckily, things like Steam Greenlight and the Humble Bundle exist to promote these games that may go unnoticed, but still there’s so much to get through to be noticed, ya know?
So, reeling this back in, in your games do you work to refine a single aspect or mechanic? Or explore a world or story?
WO: yeah of course. But I’m quite optmistic. I want to believe that good ideas, great game designs, will reach their public. I want to hope so :’).
The way I’m working is quite unusual. For Evidence, I came up with that idea while I was taking my shower, and then something just pops in my mind about some experiences I had in the days before. You know, something like a lightbulb going off, like a spirit going through your soul. That was awesome. Then I grabbed a paper, began to draw and everything just went in place nicely. It was like…It had to be so. I had ONE idea. Everything wraps around it nicely. It was logical.
For the work I’m on right now, that was different. It was a feeling. Something that bothers me for quite a little time. I was drawing some stuff at the same time and again pieces just began to fill in together. But as always, there was an IDEA first.
I don’t think it’s about gameplay, or something like that. It’s perhaps about concept. I can’t quote Edmund McMillen exactly, but I remember him telling something like this: “Get one idea, one concept, and focus it, since the beginning to the end.”
And then, everything you’re designing has to communicate your main focus. I mean, if your gameplay has to be boring cause it will serve your main idea, just do it. That’s the same point with graphics. Remember Lone survivor? Isn’t that awesome of getting scared and feel oppressed by some kind of pixel-art? Yeah it was, cause sound design were great, and graphics were strange, and you could figure for yourself all the details of those creepy creatures. That was risky, and awesome.
All the media you’re using to communicate your main focus/idea. That sounds quite abstract, but when you got this, working is going so well and you get excited by every feature you’re adding. It’s part of YOUR game. It’s not there cause it’s cool or trendy, it makes sense.
PG: What you described is great for an indie-game, but do you ever wonder “Okay, if I worked to refine some mechanics and maybe add a layer of leveling or character growth I could really get my hooks into people and see a large amount of success?” I’m not saying every end game of a developer is to make a ton of money, but does that thought ever cross your mind?
WO: I want to be honest here. At this moment, I’m not working on video games to make monney. I’m developing video games cause I love that. I enjoy creating universes, worlds. There’s nothing more enjoyable for me than to launch the “beta” of my games and to see my character moving, being alive. And most of all, I can see stuff I got on my mind, getting real. I just love that.
Anyway, I don’t think you can get hooks into people just by adding “non-sense” mechanics, cause these seem cool in other games. I mean what’s the point? Your game just will seem to copy other ones, but with no reason. That kind of stuff reminds me about musics videos. WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH SLOW-MO? We can see it everywhere, it’s like a new standard. People use slow-mo because you have to do it, because that’s so cool.
I don’t give a single fuck about that kind of stuff. I don’t even understand why you would try to do the same as someone already did. What’s the point? That’s the worst think you could do, at any point. Even if you’re doing it very well, you have to add something.
Inspiration. Get feelings, about ANYTHING. In other video games, movies, life, comics, even newspaper. You have to think wild and open. Everything that makes you smile, remember it and try to understand why it give you such a feeling. After you analyze, try to do the same, in your way.
I have a golden rule. Everytime I’m doing something, I’m asking myself, “Would you love it, if you never knew about it? Be honest?” And quite a lot of times, I have to admit : “Fuck, this is boring.”. So I try to do better. You have to be enthusiastic about your work. If you’re doing it for yourself, in some way, people would get it. They can feel you’ve done something incredible there, cause you gave everything you could. And then, this becomes awesome. That’s kinda optimistic, but I love to think that way.
PG: That’s some pretty powerful stuff, but I suppose that’s the kind of mentality that’s fueling the indie revolution, isn’t it? One question I’d be interested in hearing you answer is what you think an “independent game” is? That term gets thrown around a lot these days in an effort to build goodwill with the community and sound like an underdog. It’s almost teetering on a marketing ploy.
WO: Yeah, I hope that’s the mentality. Making games to make games, and not money.
I think you got the interesting thing there: “sounds like underground.” I think, most people of my generation have grown up and can be considered adults now. They’ve already played a lot of video games. They know a lot about all this stuff, right? So, it seems like bigger productions tends to copy, over and over again, the same mechanics, gameplays. So, it’s becoming quite boring when you’ve been in that stuff for years.
And another point is the community. I’ve got the feeling that most of indie games tend to use more original mechanics that require intellectual effort from the player. You have to learn more, to think, it’s not always “immediate fun.” How many indie puzzlers have we got? I would say, A LOT ! So, I got the feeling that people who spend more time on building stuff in Minecraft than owning people in Call of Duty, are more able to form a “smarter” community. The less accessible is a game, the nice the crowd it seems. I’m not sure this works with every game, but it seems like it has often be that way for me.
Anyway, defining “independant game” seems really hard. I don’t even know if it seems relevant to define it. I don’t think it is about development team, money, motivation or business plan. Some time ago, I would have said it’s a single man working in his garage, with a lot of cofee. But this is kind of fantasy.
The term indie in video games is becoming the same mess as in music industry. We don’t really know anymore, but finally, should we care? I think we should consider it as a kind of “tag.” A tag that communicates values and intention. For me, indie means that you want to do something different, smarter, and not afraid of taking risks.
PG: You mention that indie is more “doing something smarter, different, and not afraid to take risks.” Is there a game out there that you wish you could improve upon and do better? Do you end up playing through modern games just dissecting their mechanics and thinking “Oh, I would have done this” or “There’s a much better way to have implemented this”?
WO: You got a very interesting point there. I have to admit, since I’ve tried to roam all around the indie place, I’ve become more critical. Like a lot of doors have been opened, like you realize that games should be something else than just what some people offer to you. I’m trying to analyze gameplays, mechanics, story-telling and everything that makes games games.
I remember friends playing in some music bands. While listening to music, they easily go through debate about what makes it great or what could have been improved. They were able to question themselves, share opinions, and compare. Of course, you can do it with all other medias, writing, photography, etc. But the point is, the more you’ve experienced/view/read, the more you’re able to share interesting point of views. Finally, isn’t it all about culture? I think that’s the same with video games. Because hell yeah, video games have their own culture, languages, codes and even history!
But I’m not saying people that don’t play “indie games” don’t know anything about video games. Let’s say, by experiencing more of an “underground” video game, you can more easily ask you some questions about this media. It can helps to open your mind. AND, this works in the reverse. I mean, indie devs can learn a lot of bigger productions. And… I suspect in some points, that’s even why they exist
PG: The music comparison is apt, and I wonder if it’s something that hurts more than helps. For instance, I’ve been in the situation more than once where I’m playing a game that’s built perfectly from top to bottom. The UI is a pleasure to look at, the controls work, the mechanics are intuitive and unique, and it’s just a dream. My first instinct is to share this game with someone, so I find the closest person to me (usually my SO), and ask her to play this amazing game. She’ll humor me, but after a few minutes in she’ll be bored or get hung up on one element of the game. It breaks my heart! I don’t expect her to fully enjoy it, but it’s interesting that someone could make something so outstanding, but have it go unnoticed and unappreciated by much of the population. I wonder if that sort of thinking is what started this casual revolution? “No one is going to notice or appreciate this mechanic, so we’ll work on making it simple.”
One final question for you since it’s getting kind of long – what is your game developing habits like? I know we kind of talked before about your inspiration, but I’m always curious into the daily life of an “indie game developer.” Do you code all day? Work another job?
WO: I kinda know this feeling. When you just found something awesome and try to share it, and it seems like you haven’t play the same game.
I don’t know if it has something about “casual revolution.” For me, it’s more about “opening of mind.” And there’s the same stuff with music or other medias. If you don’t want to discover something new, if you care only about the topics you already know, so you’re going to miss a lot of great opportunities to encounter new experiences. That’s life
But there, I want to be optimistic. I want to believe that people who discovered video games through casual gaming at its peak (I mean, smartphone games, stuff like that), are people who could get interested in other kind of games more than if they’ve never played anything before. You have to start somewhere :’)
Right now, i’m trying to look for a job, cause I’ve finished studying. Not that I care about eating pasta for every meal, but I’ll need some cash very soon. So, if I could find something like 60% / 70% worktime job, that would be great. So with my free time I could continue developing. But the best situation I’m dreaming of, is being able to live by working on video game making.
But I prefer to finish on a fun fact. I’ve been on quite a lot of coding those days, and sometimes, when I’m getting desperate because of my lack of skills, I go on my balcony. I’m wearing my ugly Ronaldo’s soccer jersey (don’t even ask why i’ve bought this, I’m absolutely not interested about any football topics), and I wrap myself up in some green cover and smoke cigarettes while talking to myself, trying to understand why my code doesn’t work. I feel so weird. I love that. I think it’s part of indie game development too.