I’ve discovered them surfing the net. Their project is apparently simple and absolutely great. The idea is to transform “Walden”, the essay about walking philosophy written by Henry David Thoreau, in a videogame experience. They were been able to mix our interests: literature, videogames and cool projects. So we decided to interview Tracy Fullerton, the head of the Walden Project.
She is an experimental game designer, associate professor and director of the USC Games program. Her research center, the Game Innovation Lab, has produced several influential independent games, including Cloud, flOw, Darfur is Dying, The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom, and The Night Journey, with artist Bill Viola. Tracy is the author of “Game Design Workshop: A Playcentric Approach to Creating Innovative Games,” a design textbook used at game programs worldwide, and holder of the Electronic Arts Endowed Chair in Interactive Entertainment. Prior to USC, she designed games for companies including Microsoft, Sony, MTV, among many others. Tracy’s work has received numerous honors including an Emmy nomination for interactive television, Indiecade’s “Sublime Experience,” “Impact,” and “Trailblazer” awards, Games for Change “Game Changer” award, the Game Developer’s Choice Ambassador Award and Time Magazine’s Best of the Web.
First of all, you decided to link videogaming with philosphy. Why this kind of link and, in a particular way, why Walden?
As an experimental game designer, I’m always trying to make games that have not been done before, dealing with subjects that have not been considered part of games. I wanted to make this game about Thoreau’s experiment and his philosophy because I feel that it is something we could all use right now. A reminder that life can be simpler, slower and perhaps better when lived closer to nature. Even though Thoreau was writing in the mid-1800s, his themes are even more topical for us today, when the speed of life has increased so dramatically, and the complexity of information and connectivity threaten our ability to understand what is real and what is important.
It seems really impossible to play at a no goals game, for sure upgrades, items collection and object building have functionalities for the main character. What part of Walden you decided to develop and what kind of gamer can appreciate this project?
The game has subtle goals, which the player needs to discover and set for themselves. There are actually many quest lines and opportunities to engage with the many facets of Thoreau’s life. He was not only philosopher, but also a writer, an amateur naturalist, a surveyor, a bean farmer, an activist, and more. All of these are part of the potential experience of the game. As an open world game, it is really up to the player to find and set goals for themselves within a fairly rich set of possibilities.
What kind of ambient perceptions are going to hit the gamers?
What I hope is that as players experience the game, they will begin to sink into its simple pace, but complex idea set. I like to make what I call “slow play” or “reflective play” which to me mean that the game is only part of the full experience. The other part is the experience of the player, what they bring to. You have to bring an attention to detail and an ability to wonder and reflect to an experience like this in order to fully appreciate it. The game does not just tell you what it is about. That’s for you to create and discover within you.
What are, in your opinion, the main changes that videogames stories and technology are facing in this period?
I think we are still facing the prejudice that games can’t be about important topics or that they are for only a limited audience. There are many arguments that prove these ideas are false, but they haven’t permeated the general public’s perception of the field. Until the broader public understands that the form itself doesn’t dictate the experience, we are going to be limited by these sensibilites.
Tell us more about the Walden Team next projects.
We are still hard at work on Walden right now, so nothing on the horizon to report. After we finish the PC and Mac versions we will release console versions of Walden, and then a VR experienced based in the world of Walden. So, that’s a lot of Walden left to go!
The Walden core team includes talented game developers Todd Furmanski (lead programmer and designer) and Lucas Peterson (lead artist and world design) from the Game Innovation Lab at USC, as well as long-time collaborator Michael Sweet (composer and audio designer), who is a professor at Berklee College of Music. Many students have also worked on the Walden team over the years that the project has been in development before going on to successful positions in the industry. These including Logan Ver Hoef (Mobius), Alex Mathew (Friend & Foe), Shaun Kim (Pixar), Kyla Gorman (TechSmartKids), Brian Handy (The Build Shop) and more. Additionally, the Walden project has been supported by Jeff Cramer, curator at the Walden Woods Project, and Leah Walczak at the Concord Museum. The voice of Thoreau is played by Emile Hirsche (Into the Wild).
To know more about the project you can visit the link http://waldengame.com/