Robin Vilain
videogame designer
author of commotions
créateur de jeu
Blog
Blog
Blog

On Sunset

Tale of Tales just published a blog post about the disappointing sales of their latest title, Sunset; you can read it here. I would never claim to have the knowledge and insight required to know why this happened the way it did, but I do have some guesses which I’d like to share – if only to have them discussed and refuted by people more competent than me.

In the post, ToT say one of their ambitions with Sunset was to reach out to a wider audience than they had been addressing previously; they explain one way they chose to do that was by conforming to the ‘gaming rules’ that more mainstream works abide by. They list a “carefully constructed context of conventional controls, three-act story and well defined activities” as examples of choices that would supposedly make Sunset more palatable to gamers. This was, I think, misguided, in the sense that those are abstract and invisible things related to mechanics and structure; theme and visuals will always do a better job at seducing, especially when the people you’re trying to seduce have been swimming in shallowness for years. Look at the reddit comments about the aforementioned post: the amount of people suggesting Viscera Cleanup Detail as superior alternative to Sunset is eye-opening. “It has blood all over the floor, so obviously it’s better.”

And as ToT outline right after talking about the concessions they made, working on Sunset still was enjoyable, because the theme meant something to them; and sadly “whatever [they] enjoy is never, ever, what the gaming masses enjoy”. I don’t actually think it was possible for Tale of Tales to make a game that would capture the hearts (and wallets) of a large enough portion of gamers. Knowing that, the question they might have been better off pursuing is, ‘how to make something that people who already like our games will like even more?’ (Or at least, how to make it financially viable?)

But then, there’s still the matter of reaching out. People who enjoy ToT’s games form a very tiny niche within the huge landscape game ‘enthusiasts’ (anyone who might regularly visit a gaming-related website, for instance); which in itself is a niche within the general audience of players. Tale of Tales’ fans are people who appreciate their radicalism, within a field that generally loathes any kind of deviation from the norm. ‘Reaching out’, then, would mean somehow breaching through the layer of pre-emptive antipathy, instead of trying to cater to it. Of course, if you’re trying to talk to those who aren’t familiar at all with how games are played, you then face a whole lot of other issues and technical challenges.

On the other hand, I don’t want to be too harsh – there are probably lots of people who have fair reasons not to be appealed by a game like Sunset. I mean, people like different things, and I don’t want to sound like I’m saying ‘if you don’t like the game, you’re wrong and you should die’. The videogame industry is what it is, and of course it’s going to attract people whose sensibilities differ from Auriea’s and Michaël’s. On an individual level, that’s okay. But still, if we’re at a stage where ToT can’t exist, then there definitely is something wrong somewhere, and we should all – regardless of sensibilities – do everything we can to fix it.

Until the wider change happens, what you can do is help Tale of Tales by buying their games and supporting Auriea and Michaël on Patreon.

Work
Work

Hi! My name’s Robin. I’m super passionate about videogames.

I think they can be meaningful on many levels – from the authors' ideas to the players' interpretations, from the intimate harmony of mechanics echoing each other to the booming contribution to greater social or cultural contexts.

I love games that are deep, inspiring, yet still engaging enough for the players to seek out and even analyse these meanings. When the overarching purpose shines through, you know you’re playing something unique and beautiful.

This is what I aspire to create: experiences that make players stop and think. Below is some of my past work, in which I've tried to put this into practice.

Logo JMC

At JMC Academy, I taught game design and development, mentoring students as they worked on their final project: pre-production, planning and management, production, promotion. This also involved teaching them how to approach design critically and meaningfully, rather than conventionally or arbitrarily. I also supervised prototyping and programming classes focused on getting a better understanding of Unity and C#.

Teaching was an opportunity for me to articulate and expand on my design aesthetics, and to introduce students to kinds of games and interactive works that they’d not heard of before. Seeing their horizons broaden was truly rewarding and led them to experiment with new ideas, while still maintaining a sense of ownership and uniqueness. This was a group of people with different outlooks on games and different goals, who taught me as much as I taught them. I encouraged them to cherish their own perspectives, to cultivate their own individuality, and to imbue their projects with it.

Logo Leda

During the same period as when I teaching at JMC, I also worked with Productive Procrastination on Leda, a web+mobile platform for teaching ethical leadership practices and empathy, with a focus on inducing long-term positive behaviour change. While I was initially brought on board as a game designer, my role quickly evolved to include development, art direction and management.

This project was a massive undertaking backed by a university and several major companies. It was crucial to balance the needs of those investors with our mission. I strove to design games that were accessible to anyone (including people usually put off by them), and that included Leda’s principles as intrinsic play elements. This approach then extended to the scripts and storyboards of animated shorts, the motion design of interview videos, and more broadly the UI and UX of the whole platform; all led by the push for consistency and pedagogy across all of the content.

In 2015 and early 2016, I worked on a variety of playful live events: murder parties, pop-up escape games, historical investigative mysteries… I also designed and/or consulted on small-scale videogames and board games. During this time, I focused on how to better introduce play concepts to different audiences, and analysed reactions on more experimental projects. As part of my push to broaden my skill set, I designed and developed several websites (including this one).

This exploration of new fields and desire to step out of my comfort zone led me to move to Melbourne in April, where I was welcomed by the local game dev scene. I continued progress on personal projects and started working at Mind Games, a board game store, which provided yet another opportunity to get a better understanding of the kinds of audiences interested in games – from experts to newcomers.

Logo Innovation

Innovation: Age of Crafting is a mobile game that was recently released on Windows Phone, and will soon be out on Android and iOS. Tiles representing scientific and cultural landmarks of humanity’s evolution through the ages are arranged on a grid; the player must slide them to combine them, discovering more advanced technologies.

I worked on the game as a freelancer; when I arrived on the project, only the basic concept had been determined. I fleshed it out and expanded it, then designed the game’s rule variants and all of 125+ levels they’re used in, aiming for a constantly renewed experience and a welcoming learning curve.

Logo The Crew

In 2013, I worked as a mission designer on The Crew, at Ivory Tower. I collaborated with the environment artists to find beautiful locations within the game world, then defined mission rules that were adequate for the player’s level. I tried to subvert the existing mechanics, to suggest emergent narratives; I took advantage of the game’s features, such as off-road driving, but was careful not to be confined to them either.

I also worked on the exposition of the game’s structure, which had never been seen before. The tutorials and informative screens had to effectively teach the player how to navigate the many systems, without being an obstacle to free-form play. Predicting the player’s progression and timing the delivery of explanations accordingly was crucial.

Logo Rainbow Six

My post-grad internship was at Ubisoft’s Editorial, which oversees the development of the company’s games and ensures a high level of quality, providing advice and feedback to the dev teams – I was assigned to Rainbow Six. I studied the portrayal of crowd panic and tactical squad interventions in films and games, and derived key points and guidelines. I also played each build and offered suggestions on how to make the experience more cohesive and intense.

While I focused primarily on Rainbow Six, I also intervened on other projects, among which Far Cry 3 and Splinter Cell: Blacklist. I helped balance the multiplayer modes of both games; on FC3, I also played the whole game several times to give feedback from an external point of view, and specifically whether the introductory sections properly explained every aspect of the game.

Logo Flux

FluX is my final school project; it’s a 2-player digital board game, played on Microsoft’s PixelSense touch table. Each player owns a base that releases ink; by placing wooden pawns on the screen, they create currents and obstacles. The aim is to lead the ink towards neutral bases scattered on the board to convert them into new ink sources, and then to capture the opponent’s main base.

My contribution was quite broad: I elaborated of the main concept, designed board layouts, programmed a vector field and fluid mechanics to handle ink propagation, and implemented the pawn identification system – using PixelSense’s virtual reality API within Unity 3D. This project started out as an art installation motivated by a question: how to make human-human interactions through a digital medium feel natural, transparent and even physical?