When I was a kid, I loved taking macro pictures while walking in nature. My dad would take me to the coast, where we would stay at my uncle’s beach house, an ancient, two story house built next to a creek, in the middle of the jungle. The house had this giant, probably 100 year old tree next to it. Every time I visited, the tree was ever so slightly leaning more and more towards the house.
I would take my dad’s camera and just walk around the jungle, taking close-up pictures of mushrooms, weirdly-colored insects and moss patches. I had this warm and simple excitement about things in nature and how they came to be, and I noticed that one can miss entire worlds if they don’t inspect some things up close.
Eventually life got in the way, I had to finish highschool, then university, and I’m sad to admit that I grew out of it. In late 2016, the giant, ancient tree finally fell under its own weight. Right on top of the house.
My dad, an Orchid researcher and collector, was excited to go and see what sorts of micro orchids were on the previously unreachable top branches of the tree, so he took his camera and we drove there. He took pictures while I looked through the rubble. I haven’t visited since.
Fast forward to this year. Now in a completely different country, living in the big city, I applied for a scholarship to go to Reboot Develop Red 2019, and I won! Reboot is a Game Development conference in beautiful Banff, Alberta, a resort town with snowy mountains and bears. Big names would be attending and speaking at the conference, including Suda51 and Rami Ismail, and other gamedev heroes of mine would be there as well.
The scholarship gave me a pass to the conference, and paid for my stay at the Fairmont Banff Springs, a very luxurious castle-like hotel. At first, my main goal was to attend some interesting talks and do some oh so precious networking. And while I can definitely say I made some really good connections and even friendships there, I watched two talks that were life-changing for me.
One of them was “Unpopular Advice to Indie Developers”, a panel with developers from different backgrounds. One of them was Jakub Dvorský, the founder of Amanita Design and creator of titles such as Samorost and Machinarium. I’m a huge fan of his work.
During the panel, the other developers were (understandably so) giving very technical advice about localization, learning how to fail, and what to do or not do during game pitches, and when it was time for Mr. Dvorský to give his advice, he said that he thinks that when it comes to making video games, people should not take it too seriously, as we’re creating entertainment – it should be fun, not stressful.
On the last day of the conference, I went to his talk about Interactive Fairy Tales. He showed some references the company uses as inspiration, such as old school puppet or stop-motion movies. He explained that the worlds they create, no matter how simple, are always full of life and wonder. And then I had an epiphany when he talked about Samorost and how the project was inspired by his fascination with details and elements in nature, like moss-covered dead wood, mushrooms and other plants… He also grew plants like potatoes and parsley and took pictures of the germinated crops to use those as assets in his game.
That instantly brought me back all those memories of me walking in the rainforest as a kid. On my airplane back to Toronto I couldn’t even sleep because I was thinking so hard about this – as life got in the way and I grew up, being creative and making games started to become less about the fun, about the fascination and wonder, and more about marketing strategies, monetization, user acquisition and making money. I’m not saying that these things are not important – they are, but after formally studying game development for years now, these very serious, business-oriented concepts were hammered down so hard into my brain that on the way I ended up losing my child-like approach to making video games, something I once valued a lot.
But that doesn’t meant I can’t get it back. It also doesn’t mean I can’t achieve a balance between making games that I love and making games that sell. It’s going to be the biggest challenge of my life, but I will surely try my best.
And for that, I thank you, Mr. Dvorský.
P.S.: After writing this blog post and re-reading the part about pieces of wood with moss, I suddenly remembered Kuky se vrací, a movie that was also created by Jakub Dvorský and members of his team. If I recall correctly, I got the movie as part of a humble bundle pack. Even though the movie got lost in my memory with time, I remember it being such a delightful experience, full of wonder and that childlike magic so characteristic of Amanita Design. I recently played pilgrims, another amanita game, and i’m 100% ready to play Chuchil. I will say that their games are definitely not the type of game that I would normally play, in terms of game mechanics. But the characters and worlds are so whimsical that they end up going straight to the top of my list of favorite video games.