A Postcard From Afthonia

It's a magic postcard!

There’s a new Lands of Dream game!

A Postcard From Afthonia is a short excursion to the Isle of the Sun, set shortly after the events of The Sea Will Claim Everything. But don’t worry, even if you’ve never played that game used that portal, the people of the Isle of the Sun are very friendly and you’ll manage to find your way around.

Want to help two parents who are worried about their baby’s future? Spend some time in the beautiful city of Afthonia? Hang out with the fantastic inhabitants of the Fortunate Isles? Well, download this magical postcard!

If you want to help support the development of more such magical portals to the Lands of Dream, you can also purchase the Special Edition, which includes a delicious audio commentary and an insightful moussaka recipe.

Note: If you backed Ithaka of the Clouds on Indiegogo, you got a free copy of the Special Edition. If your gift code got lost in your spam folder, please write us an email and we’ll fix you up with a new one.

The Talos Principle

The Talos Principle is out today!

Here’s a small selection of favourite reviews:

The Talos Principle is perhaps the most human game I’ve ever played.
Gaming Trend

The Talos Principle is my runaway choice for Game of the Year for 2014, and if you have any interest in puzzle or adventure games, you must play it.
Dark Station

Each individual fragment of story is so small, but it’s like mosaic tiles. Suddenly you’re eight hours in and gasping because you just found a crucial text and unraveled a key part of the larger whole and it’s hit you so hard you half-stand up out of your chair.
PC World

It’s a game that aspires to be more than what we traditionally expect, and one that has an intangible quality that makes it more than the sum of its parts. It’ll stay with you after you’ve completed it and call you back to explore its hidden corners to see what else you’ll uncover there.
Gamefront

It tickled my brainbuds and got inside my head in that way which sees you drawing diagrams of levels while on the tube or puzzling them out as you lie in bed pretending sleep might turn up at any moment. It’s one of my favourite games from 2014.
Rock, Paper, Shotgun

The Talos Principle is a game of challenges and conundrums and philosophical wonderings, filled with logic puzzles and cerebral mysteries. Its chunky mechanical processes are underpinned by a compelling breadcrumb-trail narrative that tackles the intangible notion of humanity and consciousness. Consequently, despite playing a robot that interacts with computer terminals and takes instruction from a disembodied voice in the sky, it exudes personality and charm; its mechanical precision complementing its aesthetic qualities. For an experience bereft of human contact it boasts a very big heart indeed.
Eurogamer

It’s a huge, meaty endeavor of grand vision, lunatic ambition, polish, and composure.
Everybody’s Talking at Once

Looks like we didn’t screw up! Now, does anybody need a writer?

The Talos Principle is coming

As the release date of The Talos Principle approaches, I’ll be posting reviews and other links of interest here. I am, however, also preparing the release of A Postcard From Afthonia, which is ready and just being set up at Humble, and The Council of Crows, which I’d love to release before Christmas (but I’m not sure I can). I’m also working on a post about the writing of Talos and another one about Ithaka of the Clouds. Loads of stuff happening right now!

Unfortunately I’ve spent the last few weeks utterly and completely inundated with terrifying tax and healthcare paperwork that I can’t safely ignore, so I’m way behind.

Still – at least people seem to be enjoying Talos, which makes me very happy.

Talos has managed to present a narrative that makes us think, and not only think, but question ourselves. It doesn’t do it in a terribly pretentious way, either, not like we might expect from philosophy. We’re presented with a compelling version of reality that begs us to question our own, and Talos tells it with sci-fi aplomb.

Melissa Vach, Pixel Dynamo

Isn’t that cool?

Police Violence and the Necessity of a Global Perspective

Greece

I’ve been seeing a number of English-language debates about police violence lately, particularly due to the events in Ferguson, Missouri. Most of the American debates seem to focus on matters of race, as American debates inevitably do. Now, there is no question that there is plenty of awful racism in America, and more than enough in the rest of the world as well. And there is no doubt that race plays a part in how violence occurs in America. But even in the more progressive parts of American public discourse, there is a tendency to myopically fixate only on the United States, as if the rest of the world didn’t exist or wasn’t part of the same political and economic systems.

A slightly wider perspective will reveal that police violence has been massively on the rise all over the world. For example: tomorrow, the sixth of December, is the anniversary of the unprovoked police shooting of Alexandros Grigoropoulos, a 15-year-old boy, which sparked protests all over Greece in 2008. Those protests, like all those that have followed against the increasingly catastrophic conditions caused by an economic and political system that seems utterly out of control, have been met with extreme police violence. The same is true in Spain, Turkey, Egypt, Mexico, England, even Germany – any expression of dissent is punished with extreme violence by unaccountable and increasingly militarized police forces.

America

But if it’s happening everywhere at the same time, it can’t just be about the specific cultural parameters of American society. Again, let me be perfectly clear: racism plays a part in this situation. It’s not a coincidence that fascist organizations like Golden Dawn have so many supporters in the Greek police, and poor immigrants are frequently the first victims. But look at that sentence again: there are two adjectives there. The one is what Americans call “race” (a term that most people outside the US associate mainly with Nazis – in a global context this should include a variety of concepts of national/tribal/cultural categorization) and class, a term that is avoided like the bogeyman in all American discourses.

A careful look at the victims of police violence – random people going about their lives, protesters, journalists, the mentally ill, children playing with toys – shows that race is not the major common factor. Certainly not in a global context, but even in the US context alone there are many horrifying cases of unprovoked violence destroying or even ending lives of poor “non-Other” people. There is one major common factor, however: such events do not affect the rich. You’re not going to get shot down if you live in a wealthy neighbourhood. The elites do not have to worry. The further down the economic ladder you are, the more your life is in danger.

However, I want to stress that the social element of this problem cannot and should not be reduced to classism, though it undoubtedly plays a major role. (Belonging to certain perceived identities makes you a criminal, a punk – and makes the perpetrator think they can get away with it. If they thought you had the budget to afford good lawyers, they might be a lot less likely to bother you.) We have to make a distinction between class and classism; between socio-cultural processes and the economic processes that underlie them. The former take a different shape according to the history of each country, but the latter are global: they’re part of one interconnected economic system.

Turkey

The fact that police violence has become so ubiquitous, that so many states find it necessary to start a process of militarization and surveillance previously inconceivable in supposedly democratic nations, at the same time as an unending global economic crisis is used to justify a massive transfer of wealth from the masses of the population to a tiny elite, is not a coincidence. As the gap between the rich and the poor grows to the point where life for the masses becomes unbearable, capitalist states are tasked with finding methods of protecting the economic interests which they represent.

Drawing parallels to similar processes in the 1930s is hardly inappropriate, and it is precisely because we know where such processes tend to lead that we must urgently draw a connection between these events on a global scale. That cities like Ferguson, Athens, Istanbul and Cairo are treated as war zones by their own governments shows us that we do all have something in common: our position in this global system of exploitation. These are not separate, localized incidents caused by cultural problems. They are the symptoms of a deeper crisis that threatens all of us, and it’s only through solidarity on a global scale that we have any hope of finding a solution.

More Talos Stuff, Mostly

Stageira

Wow, that’s a creative post title, isn’t it? Sorry, my brain is currently out of order. I’m trying to finish up a big batch of bureaucratic buffoonery just after catching a catastrophic cold and having a horrific headache, so I’m a bit out of sorts.

News and stuff:

  • RPS published a lovely The Talos Principle preview.
  • Speaking of which, you can currently play the demo on Steam!
  • Speaking of something different, I’m pretty sure I’m completely done polishing A Postcard From Afthonia and hopefully only a few days away from making it available to you all.
  • But I’m not setting a date because every time I do, something awful happens.
  • Oh, and there’s a Talos group on Facebook.
  • And a Steam group, where you can also maybe win something.
  • Finally, Talos is a being from Greek mythology and has nothing to do with Skyrim, except that they nicked the name. I actually grew up with the story of Talos and was always fascinated by it; I’ve forgotten a lot of the mythology I was taught as a child, but that story stuck with me.

Back!

We’re back in Germany now. I’m working on the last stuff I need to do for The Talos Principle and trying to make sure A Postcard From Afthonia works for everyone before I release it. I had some major revelations about Ithaka of the Clouds and The Council of Crows (working title) while in Greece, which I’m going to tell you about soon. (It’s all good, even if it means some big changes. Also means we’ll eventually be making another Lands of Dream game, after these are finished.)

Meanwhile, enjoy this wonderful video.

There and Off Again

20140818_110806

The best moment at Gamescom was a little boy playing The Talos Principle and turning to his mother to say “This is so awesome!” The second best was someone who was already trying to decipher the secrets of the plot, just from the demo.

There are other important things to mention, though. Like the fact that the guys at Croteam are just great. They love making games, and they’re very good at it, but they’re also just fundamentally nice people. They care about The Talos Principle just like they care about Serious Sam, doing their very best to make it as fun and polished and interesting an experience as possible, both for the people who want to dig deep into its philosophy and science fiction and for those who just want challenging, enjoyable puzzles. They’re the opposite of all the horror stories you hear about the industry, and have more “indie spirit” than many a one-person team.

I was also incredibly happy to meet a whole bunch of wonderful folks at the Adventure-Treff party – people I’ve known online for over a decade in some cases, people I’d call friends, whom I’d never met in person before. Turns out they’re even more fun to be around than I thought.

The only sad thing was that I was so busy with telling people about The Talos Principle that I didn’t manage to go play Risen 3, which Verena tells me is really awesome. Ah well. There’s lots of cool games to look forward to in the next few months.

And now I’m in Greece, ready to focus on finishing my novel. I can still be reached via email, but I might be a bit slow to respond. (See this post for Lands of Dream news.) I hope you’re all having a good time. Be safe and remember to read a good book every now and then. Me, I’m going to continue reading the new Frankie Boyle, Scotland’s Jesus. There are jokes in there that would make easily-offended people’s heads explode, but it made me giggle with delight even during the flight here, and if you knew how terrified I am of flying, that’s saying something.

Anyway. Off I go to write more words.

Gamescom

I’ll be at Gamescom Cologne in my role as co-writer of Croteam‘s upcoming game The Talos Principle! If you’re there, come say hi.

Verena Kyratzes, the co-designer and artist of the Lands of Dream games, will also be there. Be nice to her, or Bob the Spider will make the insides of your eyelids grow stinging nettles. Just be nice to everyone and you should be OK.

The Game Itself

Red Faction

Reading games criticism – as separate from game reviews – is something I often find very frustrating. With some lovely exceptions, the feeling I often get when reading “games crit” could best be described as no-one is talking about the game itself.

For some time now, there has been a movement in games writing to get away from the kind of simplistic thinking that reduces games to numerical scores (“so that’s a 7/10, then?”) and engages with games on a deeper emotional and analytical level. As someone who’s been trying to make games with genuine artistic depth and significance since before the term “indie games” was popular, I’m obviously not opposed to this idea. Why then does it feel like this hasn’t worked at all, or works in a way that I find unsettling both as a player and as a writer/designer?

One could divide the type of writing I’m talking about into two general categories:

1) The Autobiographical Gaming Story. How Super Mario Helped Me Deal With My Parents’ Divorce, that kind of thing. A traumatic event, or sometimes a happy childhood memory, is somehow connected to a game.

2) A Modern Game Viewed Through An Autobiographical Lens. The author switches back and forth between narrating a personal event in their life (often of a sexual or relationship-related nature) and talking about the game, sometimes drawing parallels between the two.

Opportunity

Now, I should make it perfectly clear that there is nothing inherently wrong with either of these models. You can write perfectly meaningful things in this way, and no-one should be judged for employing these forms in and of themselves. However, there is one thing that tends to be lacking in these articles, and that is the game itself. Both forms can reveal a lot to us about the critic’s personal life and about the role of games in society – but this is autobiography and sociology, not art criticism. The game as authorial intent, as text, as work of art, is not examined. It is used a jumping-off point for other considerations – which, let me stress, may be perfectly legit – but it is not the primary subject of the analysis.

So we might get, for example, an article about how someone feels about the looting in Borderlands 2, but not an analysis of how the game juxtaposes the cities of Sanctuary and Opportunity as different models of human society, or how it explores the destruction of a planet for corporate profit, or how its primary villain is essentially a geek power fantasy laid bare. It’s not that it’s wrong to use Borderlands 2 to muse about your personal relationship with commercialism, or to write about how you played it when your grandmother died; it just tells us very little about the game itself, leaving the work of the game’s writers unappreciated.

The Bureau

Of course, this problem is hardly unique to games! We live in the age of “the personal is the political” and “academic writing could be seen as a kind of art.” Personal subjectivity is the highest value; our gazes are turned inwards, because that’s what is considered to be “deep” and artistic. And games are particularly susceptible to this, both in its benign form of people genuinely writing about personal issues they care about, and in the more exploitative form of “I can write anything and pass it off as meaningful,” because so many games are terminally vacuous.

But if we want to encourage works of higher artistic complexity, criticism must be more than autobiography and sociology. It has to amount to more than dismissing games for having too large a budget, or calling for a greater diversity of authors, or using games as a jumping-off point for essays on unrelated subjects. Criticism must engage with the games themselves – especially those that have something to offer. Take them seriously. Assume that there was an intent. Use the huge variety of intellectual tools available to the critic.

Even in so young and commercial an artform, you’d be surprised at how much there is to find.

Todash Country

Not really a very todashy image, but a good representation of how I feel.

Sometimes I feel like I’m just barely holding on to sanity.

It’s not the sense of failure. Sure, I have yet to accomplish the things I want to accomplish most, but for someone who started out with very little, with no capital to invest and parents in a desperately poor country, I’m not doing so bad. This year in particular has been quite good. The Matter of the Great Red Dragon, The Talos Principle, A Postcard From Afthonia (very soon), The Council of Crows (after that), Ithaka of the Clouds (after that), plus some other projects I can’t talk about yet… it’s going pretty well.

Nor is what’s driving me mad reducible to the individual irritations that beset me at the moment, like the ridiculous amounts of noise from outside that are making it really hard to focus on writing. (They’re doing some kind of work on the roof of the house next to ours, which is exactly at the same height as our flat. But even when that’s not happening, there’s some kind of car repair place that makes the most ear-piercing sounds you can imagine during the day. Even though this is a residential zone.)

The weather is probably a bigger part of it. Most of this “summer” so far has consisted of grey clouds and rain. Some people aren’t bothered by this – some even long for it – but I was raised in a country where the summer is bright and beautiful and lasts many months, and my body has internalized this pattern on a level that can’t be reached by reason. Without a proper summer, I get depressed.

But right now, the sun is shining. Well, it just disappeared as I typed these words, but it’ll come out from between the clouds sooner or later, and it’ll be bright again. But even when it’s bright, I don’t feel OK. It feels like there’s something off.

Somewhere in Stephen King’s exceptional Dark Tower novels, there’s a description of what it’s like when you’re close to Todash – the void between the worlds. I don’t remember the precise words, but the idea is that the weather appears to be bright, but somehow there’s darkness underneath that, like the world is too thin. That’s what Germany feels like to me. Like reality is constantly about to tear open and monsters are about to come spewing forth. There may be a political metaphor in there.

Please understand, I’m saying this as a native. I may not have been raised here, but German is one of my native tongues, I went to a German School, I have relatives here, and we came here regularly when I was a kid. I’m not struggling with the language or finding it impossible to understand the culture. I know people who are, but I’m not one of them. But something about this country still horrifies me. I can’t quite put it into words, at least not just a few words. I could write a novel, maybe, but I think it would end up being the Necronomicon.

I catch glimpses of another Germany sometimes, a Germany that could’ve been, perhaps a Germany that was, but they’re rare. Between the failures of the Left and the “success” of the Nazis, it often feels like Germany is left with an extremely extended Petite Bourgeoisie and a huge Lumpenproletariat, but not much else. It’s not the fault of individual people, and neither is this a statement about “the Germans” as a whole. But there’s just something vital missing in the country’s culture. Which is not surprising – it’s what happens when you put all the good people in concentration camps and leave most of the bad people in positions of power.

There’s a lot to appreciate, of course. While Germany isn’t as organized as propagandists would like us to believe, the difference between living in a rich, powerful country like Germany and a poor country like Greece is massive. Ironically, of course, most Germans aren’t aware of this at all, and thus aren’t ready to defend their quality of life against the politics of austerity. But anyway. Right now, things still work, even if they don’t work all that well. In Greece everything is broken. Living in a broken country is not fun, as my parents can tell you. There are many advantages to living in Germany.

And yet it drives me to absolute despair. I catch myself trembling.

It’s as if there’s something that makes it impossible for me to attach positive memories to places in Germany. I don’t know why. I have had many good experiences while living here, but they don’t seem to rub off on the places themselves. I don’t seem to have that problem elsewhere – this has nothing to do with Greece. I’ve been to rich countries and to horrifically poor countries, but none of them had this effect on me.

I know a couple of other people who feel this way. Just an inability to connect to this place. An inability to love, perhaps. The cities, in particular, do not inspire any kind of poetic impulse in me. I find cities fascinating, and there are plenty of cities that can inspire me (though not like the sea inspires me). Not here, though. Not even Berlin, which is probably the best German city I’ve been to. I like Berlin, but I’m not sure I could love it.

It sounds petty and pretentious. There are people all over world who would love to live here. When I’m back home in Greece, people are always telling me how much they want to leave. I get that. And yet, I’ve met very few Greek people who aren’t absolutely miserable here. The lack of sunlight alone is enough to break people after a few years. But ultimately it’s not a national thing. I know enough Germans who can’t stand it here to understand that. Hell, I’m married to one.

I’ve come to think of this as a matter of survival. I’ve held on for years, thanks to my burning desire to keep creating art, thanks to my wife, thanks to my friends, but each year gets harder. I can’t imagine another winter. I just can’t. I feel like my life is slipping through my fingers. I have to struggle to get any work done. Oh, I work, I work incessantly, but the toll it’s taking on my mental and physical health is starting to get out of hand. Which is doubly horrible, since I’m actually doing something I love.

Forgetting about the poetry and the culture and all that emotional bullshit for a moment, on a purely practical level, I don’t know how much longer I can go on like this. That’s what matters. The practical reality of not losing my shit.

(There’s a financial side, too. While there are jobs here, as opposed to many other countries, costs are high and cutbacks in the healthcare system are not helping.)

So what to do? Get out of todash country, obviously – but it’s not that easy.

If I was 20, with no attachments and not much to lose, I might just move to another country and see if I can make it. But we have a life here – and a cat. That’s the part that my parents, practical working-class people that they are at their core, just can’t understand. That damn cat. But anyone who’s had a cat for a long time will understand that she’s family. That part’s not negotiable.

But again, what matters is practical reality. Much as the causes of my problems may be emotional, the solutions have to be practical. I’m not writing this because I want the pity of people on the internet, or to make a performance of how oppressed I am. I’m writing this 1) to explain why some things are taking longer than they should 2) as part of my own attempts at understanding the situation 3) to see if anyone has any ideas.

Let’s attempt to dissect this from a practical angle, then.

Advantages of where we currently live:

  • Possibility of getting a regular job.
  • Functioning, if increasingly expensive, healthcare system.
  • All our stuff is here.
  • We speak the language.
  • Cat allowed.
  • Interconnected gardens behind house form safe area for cat.

Disadvantages:

  • Creeping onset of insanity.
  • Weather.
  • No career opportunities (wrong language, Frankfurt’s art scene is awful).
  • Weather.
  • Most expensive city in Germany.
  • Weather.

What are the most important factors in finding another place to live?

  • Can we afford it? It would have to be pretty cheap for us to be able to live off our games/writing income. Or one of us would have to get an amazing job.
  • Can we speak the language? I’m honestly not sure whether I can learn another language. I don’t think I can, and I’m *very* reluctant to move to a country where I don’t speak the language.
  • Is it a scary country with too many guns and horrifying healthcare? I’m not sure I could imagine moving to the US, even if they did let me in, which I doubt. (I’m not opposed to the idea of living in the US per se, but not like this.)
  • How’s the weather? A sunny country would be ideal, but I might be able to deal with shit weather if other factors improved.
  • Are there any career opportunities for writers? I could live without this, since the internet does offer some possibilities, but it’s something to consider. I’m particularly interested in the film industry, of course.
  • Is it safe for the cat? Cat goes out at least once a day, usually spending the whole night outside. I don’t want her to get run over or attacked by wild dogs (things that happen regularly in places I’ve lived). Plus, we’d need an apartment where she’s allowed to stay.

I go over this list every day. Verena and I are both willing to work hard to make a major change in our lives happen, but so far we’ve not found a good solution. If you have an idea, feel free to contact us via Twitter, Facebook or email. We appreciate any input.

(I realize, by the way, that there’s a potential argument in there for moving to Berlin, but I’m not sure the financial cost would be worth it in terms of the difference it would make.)

OK, back to work now. I keep adding little things to A Postcard From Afthonia, but it’ll be done soon. If I don’t suffer the fate of a Lovecraftian character, of course. Thankfully the Great Old Ones are afraid of our cat.