English teacher explores the art of making indie video games

When playing a video game, do you sometimes stop to think about the work, time and energy that goes into making it? In some cases, a game takes years to imagine, create, develop, and refine.

Adam hammond, an associate professor in the English department of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at the University of Toronto, sees the beauty of artistic creation in video games and believes that it is one of the forms of most demanding and stimulating art today.

Exploring this passion, he wrote a new book where he follows the creator of an indie video game called JETT: The distant coast, following the path from creation to launch.

In addition to recounting the sometimes tortuous 10 years of development of the game, The Far Shore: Indie Games, Super-Brothers, and the Making of JETT also explores the history of indie video games and their relationship to other indie art forms, such as music and literature.

“This is not a book on how to design a video game,” says Hammond. “It’s more about people and what they experience, and how the act of making a video game is similar to the act of making any other form of art. “

Created by designer Craig Adams (aka Superbrothers) and programmer Patrick McAllister (aka Pine Scented), JETT was released in October. In the game, you are tasked with finding a new home for a humanoid people after destroying their home planet. However, once on this new world, players must plan for their survival while dealing with the consequences of the destruction of the environment.

The inspiration for the book comes in two parts. The first is Hammond’s love for all things indie.

The Far Shore: Indie Games, Superbrothers and the Making of Jett by Adam Hammond

“I have been a long-time fan of independent music,” he says. “When I was a teenager, I was in a punk band. We believed that you had to make things yourself so that they were as ideologically pure as possible, and that all other forms of creation were compromised. I never completely let go of that thought.

The second source was an indie game called Sword & Witchcraft, released in 2011 by Superbrothers. This music-inspired cosmic adventure game was at the forefront of a new era of indie games, and Adams was called a visionary.

“I had heard of indie games, but I hadn’t played any that I liked,” says Hammond. “But I’m obsessed with Sword & Witchcraft. I don’t think I’ve ever loved a video game so much. There is something magical about it.

This adoration led Hammond to invite Adams to speak at one of his classes, which sparked the idea for the book.

“It was a mind-blowing experience meeting someone I consider to be a major artist in a new form,” says Hammond. “He was telling me all about his next project – which at the time was mostly ideas – but it was extremely interesting. I was totally sucked in.

That was in 2013. And for years, the game’s progression slowed at a breakneck pace. In fact, it took another eight years of development before the game was released. During this time, Hammond spoke with Adams and McAllister only occasionally, sometimes just once a year. There were lots of ups and downs.

“More and more, the narrative wasn’t one of, ‘Here are my amazing ideas’ but one of, ‘We don’t know how we’re going to end this game,’” says Hammond.

During this long time, Hammond discovered the intricate intricacies of video game design.

“You have to have music, visual arts, moving images, you have to have text and you need a story,” he says.

He remembers discussing some of the sounds in the game, in particular the sounds of “ground control” – the headquarters of the inhabitants of their new planet.

“They had a spreadsheet of all the sounds they needed for ground control,” says Hammond. “For the sound of a footstep, you have to create the sound of one person’s footsteps compared to another person’s, because they should be different. And then you have to do the programming to make sure the right sound is triggered at the right time. It’s just crazy how hard it is to make a game.

Visually, it was just as demanding.

“Imagine a space outpost where a character walks down the hall,” says Hammond. “If the person turns around, what does it look like from that point of view? If it’s nighttime, how much light is entering? What if they turned on the light? These are things that have taken them years to figure out.

Eventually Adams and McAllister realized they needed help. They admitted that they needed more people and more money, so they worked with Sony and Epic Games to bring the game to fruition. At one point, Hammond guessed there were as many as 30 people working on JETT.

“This is what it took to complete the game,” says Hammond, noting that Adams and McAllister were a little disappointed that the game had taken a “big business” turn and strayed somewhat from its roots. independent roots.

JETT has received mixed reviews since its launch, which Hammond says is a testament to its independent origins – because, like any independent work of art, it’s not for everyone.

“But I think it’s amazing,” Hammond said. “A lot of people are still unsure of the game, and I understand that. I mean, it tackles the heaviest themes imaginable – it’s colonialism and environmental destruction. It is not just entertainment. But for me it couldn’t be more satisfying or timely. And I think he will eventually find his audience.

In the meantime, Hammond feels that we are entering an exciting time in indie video game creation, “where new artistic possibilities are opening up.”

“Now small groups of talented people can create games just because they have something they want to express,” says Hammond.

“And I think in the next five or 10 years we’re going to start to see people using the form of video games for new purposes and it’s going to be amazing.”

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