I’m lying on the couch, as I have for the past month, restless. I can’t sleep in my own bed; my reconfigured genitalia seep blood plasma far too much to stain my sheets, so we have layers of towels to catch it through the night. And there’s so much maintenance for that room as well; three half-hour stints with stents, one shower, two baths, two scar massages, and a general air dry of the surgical area, every day. It will cease soon (well, it won’t cease very soon at all, but it will be less of a burden!), but I hate lying here. I miss work.
This substantial modification, something I had first prepared for back when Arc Symphony first came out, is just the cherry on top of a personally turbulent, difficult year. Yet it’s felt like the difficult growth phase before flourishing into something stable and better. Like the awkward adolescence of a career and home. My partner Arielle and I entered the year in very different lines of work, in a basement; a year ago today, we toiled away on Forgotten as a hobby, unaware that it would signal the first signs of a desire to enter games proper.
Penelope Evans was my fellow editor-in-chief as a student newspaper editor. We improvised comedic articles to fill space; and once I left my job, within a month she wanted to collaborate with me on a game. I loved working with her then, and I had no doubt we would continue to work well on the new project as well. There was a hiccup at first as I thought I had a blood clot in my leg the first day we scheduled, so she brought me to the hospital.
I was fine.
The next week we tried again, and our world grew and grew with our ideas. I had some spare CSS that didn’t work out for a prior project we could use, and we had to somehow find a way to grow the world out together, to write together, and to make the narrative work beat-by-beat while still allowing some semblance of agency.
Our solution? A lot of physical tools. A sheet with character relationships. A nickname dump list. Several world bibles: one for the game in a game, one for the community around that game in a game. Each one had a three act structure to reference and align.
A sheet for the personality test. A reference pool for story variables and for research materials (by far, personal experience and alt.games.final-fantasy, circa 1994).
It took a month and a half; it wasn’t full-time, however. It was leisurely. It was fun. It was an opportunity to learn about fan culture and fanfic for myself; and for us to grow as collaborators, not as independent authors.
Arc Symphony is known mostly for its marketing campaign – dozens of fake PS1 cases and falsified memories across game developer friends and Toronto influencers confusing the internet – but I remember it for forging one of the closest, most creatively prolific friendships I actually have, with a truly inspirational woman I’m lucky to know.
After Arc Symphony came out, I worked freelance, made some community appearances and volunteer work, but I was consumed by surgery thoughts. I had made the arrangements, gotten the paperwork filled, and now was waiting on an indeterminate date.
I knew what the next project was going to be, but it was big, and it had a lot to do with what I was going to do to myself. I couldn’t commit to it just yet.
So I got to building on our company, Aether Interactive. The name was corny – and deliberately so. Penelope named it during Arc Symphony development, as the company that developed the game within a game. As a fan of the .hack universe, who used their company name as the developer of their fictional game, I wanted to embrace that false, silly name as our serious name. And in turn, I wanted to clarify our values as developers. Compassion, empathy, deconstruction. We seek to be compassionate to our subject matter (whether it’s Sonic roleplayers or forgotten antagonists of yesteryear). We seek to forge empathy with the unempathetic. We want to embrace the image of nostalgia to confront and destroy nostalgia, to deconstruct those feelings, or to use its image for our own purpose.
And myself, as a developer? I became aware of it when I had to describe what I did, every time I was asked. I saw computer interfaces as giving context to narrative-based interactive media. I wanted to tell these stories using interfaces we use every day, because we understand how to take in information from these interfaces. I felt that the interactions that define our use of a computer (like clicking a link, navigating a website) were no different than the interactions that depict a navigatable, three-dimensional world, and that we could make maps of these locations just the same. We could make a semblance of story and feel like we feel from other media just through prompts, chat text and websites, presented as naturally as anything else on our screens.
When you spend every day watching television, you understand how it tells a story. When you spend all day on the internet, you understand how to organize and navigate information through several different templates, and how to find information accordingly, in a way that can be guided to a conclusion, from story beat to story beat. I want to explore that as deeply as I can.
I also joined the board of directors of Dames Making Games. My decision to apply was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, and I’ve tried to do my best to serve my fellow dames in games.
I recalled the story behind LOCALHOST well earlier on this blog; but what I find intriguing about LOCALHOST now, three months later, is its longevity. It hasn’t quite been forgotten; it’s still on the mind for quite a few people. It shows up on ‘game of the year’ lists as something they can’t shake. They reflect on it. I’m grateful we were able to make something like that.
LOCALHOST was when the podcasts really started happening. We appeared on Play Dead, where I gave a real depressing rundown on my relationship with death. We also appeared on Achievement Oriented, where I was pretty candid about the financial aspects of development.
Now this is podcasting
When Mass Effect: Andromeda came out, I was intrigued. I had no context for Mass Effect, and I needed to understand what inspired the rather negative reaction to it. So I spent months playing through the original trilogy before playing Andromeda proper, and I loved it. I didn’t understand the negative reaction whatsoever, and so I took to being an apologist for it. I wrote about it for Polygon. And then the next day, I was on a podcast about Andromeda, a recording I still truly cherish with my friend Ben, who recently left BioWare. I somehow left the recording session having convinced half the room to revisit the game.
And in turn, I fell in love with podcasting. The craft of it. The production of it. Learning how to speak on air, how to not circle my topics or responses like a vulture, how to be succinct but evocative. I appeared on more podcasts in turn, yet again about Andromeda. But I also started a podcast with Christa Lee, as well, about the state of video game news coverage and discourse. I think this is our best episode so far. But every episode teaches me something new, and I think it’s so valuable to me as a developer to participate in these talks.
What’s next? After I recover, there’s more games to make, of course. Beyond that, there’s hope. I hope Aether Interactive perseveres into 2018. I hope I am able to incorporate it properly, and give it a direction beyond just myself. And for 2018, I hope to learn to live with integrity with what I believe.
I hope to make fewer compromises that burden me with bad faith if I can help it, like how I “need” to be a brand presence online to be a game developer; or how I could use Patreon to pay the bills while feeding a for-profit basic income system. I hope to have the courage to make decisions that inspire others to hope in turn and to create, instead of, in despair, making these same compromises. I hope to help others find stability as I have. I hope to continue to better myself, I hope to produce a positive aura. And I hope this makes sense.