A Self Interview About My Little Humanity
This is a self-interview with some questions I was asked the last few months by different people about this project, My Little Humanity, and some others I completely made up. I’m writing it for two reasons: to organize my ideas and to communicate the project’s status in a short, simple way. I previously did a series of manifestos that you can find here, and they proved very useful as an idea log. Now I find myself in another stage, so I’m going back to putting into words how’s the thing going.
What’s the game about in few words? What’s special about it?
In My Little Humanity we sail a ship with the whole humanity on it, and we have to command it through ideological stances before it wrecks. It’s a strategy game where we identify our position through famous quotes from history and spread our ideas among the passengers. Unlike other strategy games, this time we don’t command from top to bottom, as president, general, emperor, but bottom-up, from the people.
Briefly, what’s My Little Humanity’s history up to this day?
To be precise, it all began on April 16 2014 when I had the first idea, and it extended in a totally interrupted way to this day. I made a prototype for August end that same year, which was presented at an Argentinean videogame convention (EVA) where I received very diverse feedback. Finally, I presented the project to the Ministry of Culture of the Nation and I received funding to work and finish the game by July’s end. This whole time I’ve been better developing the idea and transforming the game into something quite different from its original state.
Why are you making this game? From where is it born?
I entered the videogame world because I found it to be an interesting space, still conducive to exploring new forms. There’s a lot to be done. Besides, it’s a massive medium for easy popularization that still allows the making of experimental, small projects to be sustainable. Then I discovered that by making games I can talk to remote corners of the world and spread different ways of thinking without an economic censorship, like big game and film productions tend to be, when they feel obligated not to take risks with their work’s content. This is the medium where, I believe, there still is independence and the popular in its best expression. With this game in particular I’m trying to bring down to earth some concepts that can be complex in the theory, and through a videogame they can be synthesized and made popular.
Is it an educational game?
At first I thought it could fall into that category, although it would require a content review by some expert in the matter. Anyway, I don’t believe in the educational game genre that much, what goes by that name ends up being multimedia applications for distributing information. I believe games have the potential to delve the player into different worlds, therefore, every game is educational insofar as it opens a perspective on a portion of our reality.
Aren’t you afraid no one will understand it?
Frankly, yes. I know not everybody’s going to get it, or like it, even with the game unfinished I found such divided opinions. I began naturally with the idea of making the game as a way of expressing my point of view about how people born into a particular time face material problems (ecologic, labor-related, etc) and form their ideology based on that. Other generations face a different world with another material reality, the ideology necessarily changes, it adapts organically to what the world needs of them. A big part of the previous generations, with their idea of the world already formed and a stance closely attached to what they already have, tend to interpret the world through a materiality of the past. So my idea was naturally for all generations to understand it. But it turns out that synthesizing, visualizing and making such complex ideas playable is a job that requires many laps. People who played the first prototype could barely draw some conjectures without even being able to really play it. My work today is rebuilding the visual communication and cutting concepts and mechanics that didn’t work out, focusing on what did work or could work.
What’s the hardest part? What are your fears?
The hardest is establishing a schedule for the project. Before this, when making graphic adventures, it was very clear how long every background would take, every set of animations, sounds, etc. I could figure out with quite the precision how much time it would take me (though it would always extend beyond that). In this case ideas for mechanics appear while others get dropped. It’s a constant turmoil. Even as I progress through the project I keep finding that some things don’t work as expected, or interfaces that aren’t conceptually compatible with other sections of the game. As I move forward I also throw a lot of junk. My biggest fear is that it’ll take so much longer than I anticipated because of that.
But then what game’s going to be finished by August end 2015?
The game I initially proposed to the Ministry was much simpler, possibly harder to get, too. However, considering that I didn’t want to be tight with the deadlines I thought of resolving the project I had already presented into something better visually communicated, more complete and comprehensible. In the process I figured a lot of stuff out, ways for avoiding a tutorial, clearer concepts, and other issues that will probably make the project a more intuitive, more widespread and possibly a more commercially viable game. So I plan to make a stable, playable version and then keep at it in order to commercialize it.
Do you expect to make some money out of it? Or is it not a commercial game?
As it is today, I don’t believe the game can be commercialized, in spite of the developing time it’s had. At least currently, the ingredient that makes for a commercial game is necessarily the entertainment factor. It’s not easy for a game with experimental gameplay to naturally achieve guaranteed entertainment. So part of the mechanics I’m applying come from the strategy genre, as a familiar world for the player, and I’m gradually taking them to new territories. I believe by starting with a familiar world I set a starting point for the game to be popularized, and therefore commercially viable. For me it’s very hard to read the increasingly unusual videogame market with any clarity, so I’m not making any promises or ruling anything out just yet. With hopes but without expectation.
Why are you taking so long?
It’s my karma. When you have things clear you can take a rectilinear direction to your destiny. When it isn’t so, there are many twists, much to throw out, and decantation. A big chunk of the time is designing, it’s pencil and paper, it’s throwing pages away and going in circles. Feeling enormous advances all of a sudden or losing whole weeks with something that in the end didn’t work out. Every change in the system implicates an interface change, and a lot of the time it loses its general functional logic. Every part is in dialog with every other, and if a part of the system can’t be expressed with visual clarity, I have to rebuild a lot of parts.
Why did you go from making graphic adventures to making a game with a more experimental gameplay?
My goal is the same as always: I use the medium to say something.
The message of my previous game “A Rabbit Fable” was destined to a particular kind of audience, and with a graphic adventure, with a specific visual style, it could manage to make the concept popular very quickly. Sounds pragmatic, I know. Now the audience I’m aiming at is possibly a bit different, and the concept too. I can’t find a simpler or more suitable way to say it using known genres, so if I’m experimenting with forms it’s mainly to be able to better express the content, not for the experimentation’s sake. Sometimes I even think of this approach to tackling a strategy game as a critique of the genre which is usually about expanding and conquering. In my case it’s about becoming free of that conquest.
I see a great deal of written pages but the game for now looks so simple, what’s all that stuff you write?
I’m a person who needs to visualize things, so I write a lot, I get it all out, I write it down on another page in a different order, I throw it away, I start again, I synthesize it, then I’ll probably turn it into an outline on the computer, then when I have to code it, I start again with the page and see which parts of the code are at play, how to make it modular, the time it could take, etc. When the game looks finished it’s extremely important to me that it looks simple, synthesized and intuitive. This process remains hidden to the player. There’s a lot more designed than what actually is applied on this version for August end anyway, my idea is implementing it as quickly as possible.
How would you define success for My Little Humanity?
Success for me is the popularization and discussion of the ideas behind the game, which are unpopular by their very nature because they tend to be in books, rarely in audiovisual format, sometimes not that accessible, and they’re related with philosophy, politics, economy and besides tend to be marked by prejudice or lack of perspective. Through a more sensory medium, and a less rationalizing one, in a fresh, entertaining way, and without setting off the mechanisms of prejudice which tend to reject compulsively. I won’t deny it would also be a success if it managed to sustain itself commercially, which goes hand in hand with the popularization issue.
Can we know the concept/s you’re referring to?
When we think about “the history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles,” we can think of something in particular, when we add that the author is Marx, we can also think another thing in particular. Some people falsely judge an idea exclusively by who says it, and the rational mind doesn’t reflect on it, instead it’s simplified into a social cliche and they pass by without really getting beyond that place. However, when there’s no text, no phrase, there’s a sensory experience (whichever the medium), reason’s left without defensive arguments, there’s no defense for the sensory. These days, when inquiring about the direction the game’s going to take, it’s about that, understanding how is it that the slave (most of humanity) keeps searching and moves very slowly towards their emancipation. In a strong, hard concept, the player can even feel it isn’t what they’re interested in knowing. But the player won’t know it, they’re going to play it which is the important thing. Even once you finish the game you might not draw these interpretations, but, someone who knows will possibly see some human issues with new eyes (and that would indeed be a great success).
What’s the game’s future then?
By August I’ll have an improved, more intuitive version of the prototype I had last year, with finished music, better graphics, a clearer view of the passengers, and more importantly a big cutting down of text, decisions aren’t textual but by colors and we identify ideologies by their color.
A lower bar on the game shows a button with a brain icon that says “Change,” it’s a single action we’re going to perform. I consider that for the player to have more control they need more “verbs,” so a final version of the game will have 4 lower buttons that do different things with the same inventory mechanic of saving little objects we collected and dragging them above others on the screen.
Secondly, the game wouldn’t begin in current times, but it’d show itself linearly throughout history, from prehistoric times (heavily simplified), obtaining different buttons as events unravel. The strategy’s always seen from below, as a slave, with no liberties, but little by little you’re obtaining actions (buttons) that allow you to change the course of history.
And there’s going to be monsters and monkeys.