In Greece. Brief thoughts about aesthetics and innovation.

We’re in Greece. Today is the first cloudy day in months. I’d be depressed about this if I hadn’t predicted it, which somehow makes it hilarious. Don’t worry, I’m sure it will clear up tomorrow.

My submission of The Infinite Ocean to IndieCade has been rejected. I’m not surprised or sad, though I do regret wasting the money. The work I do has never been relevant to the “official” indie/gaming scene and it probably never will, and I should remember that. The comments I got were really interesting, though.

The first one goes:

This is a competent point-and-click with a nice aesthetic and pretty good writing. It doesn’t really offer anything new or particularly deep, and it’s rather short, but it’s well executed and worth the time it takes to place.

And the second one, after saying some rather positive things, concludes:

As for the game itself, impoverished graphics and iterative audio and the lack of real challenges penalize it strongly in perspective of a competition.

Impoverished graphics. Nice aesthetic. I think this little paradox says a ton about the way we still approach the visual aspect of games. (No, I wouldn’t change the graphics if I had the option. The visual design of the game is part of the story.)

The contradiction actually continues. The second comment goes into detail about the game’s philosophical underpinnings, not really making it sound like it’s “not particularly deep.” The two comments are basically inverted versions of one another. One says the game is nicely made but shallow, the other says the game is deep but badly made. I find these contradictions fascinating and amusing.

Finally, the point about the game not offering anything new reinforces my feeling that too many people blindly follow some kind of belief in “innovation” – which of course mainly refers to the purely structural or the flashy, to innovation for the sake of innovation. I’m not interested in that. I don’t believe that the quality of art is determined by its position in the timeline. Being new doesn’t make it good. Being good makes it good.

And you know what? The Infinite Ocean is The Infinite Ocean. It doesn’t need to apologize or to explain itself. It does not need to struggle to claim an identity. It is unique because it is itself.


  1. Wolfgang DelaSangre

    If I may, Jonas, you might be wrong, at least in part, about the timeline thing. I believe that anything can be used in the name of art; whether or not this is successful remains to be seen.

    Innovating new mechanics for a game can be an excellent means of using your artistic talent. You’re primarily a storyteller, I get that, and I have a great appreciation for your stories. But I feel that, perhaps, you could take a broader perspective when it comes to art. I’m sure you can come up with some new way to play a game and make this mechanic speak to the player.

    That being said, I also found those paradoxical comments amusing. “It’s good, but bad.” “It’s bad, but good.” And neither of those guys will disagree with the other, I bet.

  2. Quite

    I subscribe to your blog and I’ve played most of your games. Some I have enjoyed, others I didn’t. If I understand you correctly (always an asinine assumption to make, I agree): you make games to spread your intended messages into as many minds as possible and you understand the cost of your authenticity.

    Regardless of the validity of that statement, I think that you don’t take criticism well. Yes, those replies from IndieCade were contradictory, but that does not mean the whole scene is irrelevant and that the opinions other people have are not worth listening to. Going back to spreading your intended messages: your games may not be as clear as you think (from a communication standpoint). Do you want to just spark ideas, or are you also looking for recognition? Those two goals involve entirely different methods of action.

    Hell, you may be entirely correct and everyone else is in fact a bunch of idiots. But don’t you think it would be awesome to appease (trick) them a bit and get them to really think? Isn’t that what games are for? On a more practical level, what is the point of publicly making these honestly quite unyielding bordering on childish sounding blogposts?

    A stranger thanks you for your consideration of these questions and your continued earnest communication, seriously.

  3. @Wolfgang: Of course you can come up with a new way to play a game. When have I ever denied that? But it’s not the newness that makes it good. It may of course make it historically significant in retrospect, and there is definitely some value to pushing boundaries so that others can advance, but making it the holy grail of game design (as I feel we often do) is problematic.

    @Quite: When did I say that the whole scene is irrelevant or that the opinions of others are now worth listening to? I said that the “official” parts of the scene (festivals, awards, etc.) and I have never really fitted well together – what I do isn’t what they’re generally interested in. I think after ten years of making games and seeing the reactions from those corners, that is a statement I have every right to make. But how do you get from that to all of it being irrelevant? There are designers whose work is greatly appreciated by these people and whose work I also greatly appreciate. Terry Cavanagh is an IndieCade winner and I think he’s brilliant and have said so many times myself. I love VVVVVV even though it kicks my ass.

    I have expressed my admiration for other designers and their work many times on this blog. Why do you think that I suddenly think everyone else is an idiot? Furthermore, why is it childish to respond to criticism? Why is it fine for people to criticize something, but the criticism itself is supposed to be just accepted? I’m not bitter or angry, but I don’t see why I should not be allowed to participate in the discussion, or be forced to pretend to hold a position I do not.

    I really don’t meant to be antagonistic, but I strongly feel that is necessary to be clear about where I stand and why. I think we should all do more of that.

  4. Ah, and one more thing, which I think always bears repeating: I don’t make games to spread a message. My only consideration is making the game as good as I possibly can, making it true to itself. The stories that come to me are clearly affected by how I see the world, but they’re not designed to “tell you something.”

    Sometimes I make the mistake of yearning for recognition. It’s foolish, but I think fairly human. Mostly I just want to get a chance to get my games out to the players who enjoy them.

  5. Dammit, I keep having new thoughts to add. Curse this pleasant weather and my good mood!

    About the last paragraph of the main post: did you read that as self-praise? The Infinite Ocean is perfect because it is unique, that sort of thing? Not at all what I meant. That’s not me being petulant, it’s me making what I think is a terribly important point: it’s wrong to just dismiss games because they share certain characteristics with a category, and it shouldn’t be (and isn’t) necessary for me to defend the game in terms of innovation. I’m not interested in that perspective and I don’t think anyone needs to feel as enslaved by it as many do.

    It is the story I wanted to tell, told in the way I felt it should be told. To the people who find it beautiful, it is beautiful. That’s all that should matter. After all, no other game is exactly like it. Not in the sense of “nothing is quite as brilliant” but simply “nothing else is this story with these characters and that gameplay.”

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