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Discussing procedural narrative, beautiful art and distopyan worlds with Yoan Fanise at Gamelab Tenerife

After conquering our hearts with Valiant Hearts or Road 96, DigixArt's founder looks both back and forward at the type of games the Montpellier-based team he leads makes. For example, on how the former title can still speak about today's newer war or on the dystopian but very contemporary and controversial message their most recent game sent. But there's also a tease of what's to come...

Audio transcription

"We're in beautiful Tenerife with this beautiful sunset in background and it's really fitting when we're going to talk about, you know, arty and artful games with you, Yoan."

"Thank you so much for joining us.
But before that, you guys have been talking about the European industry in this summit.
Behind the scenes, what can you share about, you know, the challenges and how to boost and improve the industry from your friends' point of view?
I think we are in a very, very good position, in fact, right now because of different factors that are sometimes external to video games."

"In fact, you know, Asia struggles with many, many things.
And the fact also that there's the Ukrainian war, also that Eastern Europe is not a place where you can develop games anymore, of course.
And the fact that America also is very protective and very expensive also to make things there."

"So that, in fact, put us in a very nice position in Europe.
We are kind of in the center now of the creativity of video games.
So, and it's good.
I think we also deserve it because there's a lot of creativity coming from here."

"So the countries like France, Spain, Italy, England, Germany, they were quite strong, in fact, in making games, even though a lot of talents were moving to Canada or to Asia because it was, you know, there was better condition of living there."

"But now, with COVID, they came back mostly in Europe.
And it changes a lot of things because the creativity is back to Europe.
And you can feel it because you see all those studios acquired by a group.
They are mostly in Europe because this is where our creativity happens, in fact."

"Let's talk a little bit about games.
It's interesting that you mentioned America.
And you know, Road 96 was one of the, in our opinion, one of the best games last year, if I'm correct."

"Thank you.
We gave it a 10 out of 10.
So it really touched us.
It tells about a dystopian, not so distant future, perhaps."

"So what can you tell us about this message and what you guys tried to convey with the game?
We tried to mix, in fact, in a dystopian world, different issues that a lot of countries are facing about politics, about evolution of democracy that is evolving not so much in a good way sometimes."

"So we didn't want to point out one country specifically.
And we tried to mix all of them.
We tried to mix all the USSR, you know, Russia before the communist countries together.
And then we wanted to mix that with some weird stuff that happened in Argentina."

"And, you know, countries because of the oil price going really down because the US was not buying any more their oil.
And also the US style of extreme capitalism and like money is more important than anything.
And we mixed all of this together."

"And it's funny.
I mean, it's not funny, but a lot of players from all over the world, they really identified it as their own country.
And it was very interesting."

"Like Russian people saying, oh, is it a criticism of our own regime?
And then Chinese people saying the same, American, French.
I was like, OK, that's weird.
If everybody identifies to this issue, that means we have a global issue."

"So how did you make the stories make sense?
Because, of course, it's some sort of procedural narrative, which was crazy.
But at the same time, you change order.
You see the characters in different order."

"But the stories still make sense.
So I can imagine this whiteboard of yours full of notes.
And how did you make that work?
That was very, very complex for sure."

"We had to be very methodological and make sure we know exactly what we say in which sequence and how it interacts with other sequences.
So it's like a big, big matrix of things.
And to know that, OK, if we tell this information in that sequence, because we don't know when you're going to have this sequence and where you're going to have it, then we have to make sure it makes sense for another sequence later."

"And also the pacing of it and the way the story unfolds, it does not depend on us.
So it was a lot of tests, play tests and tweaking.
Basically, if this happens, this happens, this happens, if all the big bits of the story happens at the beginning, then you have like five hours of nothing, of something more."

"So we had to tweak it to make sure by the value of the score, I would say, of each sequence, that we say, OK, you have this sequence that has a big score.
Now you have another sequence.
Maybe later you're going to have a big sequence again."

"And also there were some specific rules that we had for the prototype.
If you met this character in your trip to the border, you're not going to get this character again.
It's very simple, but we don't want character to remember you and say, Hey, I met you on the road again."

"I was like, no, no, we cannot remember.
Yeah, there would be so many dialogues in this case.
So it was not possible for sure.
So this kind of thing."

"Also the fact that we don't focus on who you play, but on who you meet.
And this was a big deal.
Like making a narrative game, not about you, but about just the people you meet.
And at the beginning, I was struggling with the story about that, because usually you put a lot of effort on making a good character."

"And now it's like, no, we don't care.
It can be a girl or a man, we don't care.
And so there was a lot of challenges.
But I think it's really worth it, because at the end, because people say, Hey, if I play, I don't have the same beginning."

"Even the first sequence is different.
So they say, maybe I'll give it a try.
I just saw this streamer playing it, and I will do it my own way.
This is the thing, do it your own way."

"You mentioned the way players in different parts of the world understood the message.
And many of them thought in a very honest way, well, this looks like my country.
But there were also some people who were offended, who didn't want the game to be advertised on their platform."

"How do you feel about that?
Yeah, I understood.
I was not surprised, in fact, by that.
So I know we were going on the political side, and that would create some big reactions."

"And in fact, I loved it.
I was like, OK, it's going to happen for sure.
And like I said to the team, I prefer that we make a game that people react to it.
Either they love it or they hate it."

"Instead of doing something in the middle that nobody cares about, and it's just like invisible.
So it's all about like, yeah, if you have people who will really, really love it, and that's more important."

"And don't be affected too much by the people who hate it.
But still, we have to listen to them, because there are some very important information to that.
And so it's really a good adventure."

"And yeah, the funny thing is that like Facebook, you know, they banned our advertisement.
They didn't mention any platform.
Yeah, to be political."

"The funny thing is that it was even robots like AI, you know, they try to analyze your ads.
I was like, whoa, I discovered that AI analyze things and remove it.
I was like, whoa, this is quite weird, you know, in our world."

"But at the end, they allowed us, when we said, no, no, this is just a video game, please can you put this advertisement.
They just did it.
But it shows something about the society now."

"It's a lot of AI are doing a lot of things.
We're getting there.
It's a little bit creepy and disturbing.
Another game that touched my heart personally was Valiant Hearts."

"It really does still today.
So how do you feel looking back at that project, which I think you then did much bigger projects coming from that one.
So how do you feel about that one, which scale was smaller to the beautiful graphics and the way you told the story from two sides?
Yeah, but for me, it's really my heart project."

"It's a very specific project because of the family connection.
I was very inspired by my great grandfather's story at war.
And so this one was a very, very personal project.
And it's still a bit emotional."

"And it's good to share that and to see that people really feel it.
And they discovered that war is not what war is supposed to be sometimes.
And now with the new war that you can see more on TV now, they realize also that, yeah, you still have trenches."

"It's the same.
You know, you have this famous thing that war never changes.
And it's still the same.
Even though the weapons are more modern, it's still trenches and stuff and people dying for nothing."

"So I am really happy that this game could be there and that people could really discover other side of the war with that game.
And I think it still remains the game that really changed the way I wanted to make games also.
That's amazing."

"And I remember the dog, of course.
Everyone remembers the dog.
And you see, there's been this trend about petting the dogs and petting animals in video games.
So you were one of the first."

"We had that before the trend.
Of course, you were before.
But there were other games, of course, perhaps not the very first one, but you were there.
Fable was there also."

"So how do you guys think about the dog as a role and as a character and the sort of love both sides would show to the dog?
For us, it was very important to have an animal because it's obvious that the animal has no political side, nation, whatever."

"It doesn't care.
And so that's good to have this as a proof of this is silly.
Like, look at this dog.
It doesn't care if he's on this side, the German side, the French side."

"It really doesn't care.
So this is good to...
It's almost a kid way to show that this is...
And that's why also in the 11-11, the other game I did, you know, about World War I, we even put..."

"There was two animals, a cat on one side and a bird on the other side.
And we wanted them to cross each other.
Same to make the link between the two sides and say, come on, this is so silly."

"Look at those animals.
They really don't care and everybody loves them.
Yeah, that's great.
Closing one."

"What can we expect from Digic's art next?
I cannot tell too much.
Some animals.

"Some beautiful art.
Crazy storytelling.
The funny thing is that we had very good friends in Montpellier who did, you know, Stray, the game with the cats."

"I'm allergic to cats, but I know...
So, yeah, it's funny that it's from the same city and it's our friend.
So, yeah, no, maybe not animal.
I don't know."

"You know, it's hard to animate animal.
But, you know, it's...
We're going to go in more narrative, in more complex, because like we did for RUN96, we wanted to have innovation, something really, really new."

"And right now we like challenges, so we're going to have more challenges with new mechanics, trying to see what we can do in new narrative space.
But also not only narrative."

"I don't want to stick, like, you know, only on narrative.
I'm afraid of the telltale experience.
Like, you know, after a while, you just do the same type of game again and again, and obviously it's going to collapse."

"It requires more action and more...
Yeah, so that's why we really want to put more gameplay for sure inside.
And so now it's more finding a good balance of great and deep gameplay and still narration, because we like to tell stories."

"And art.
Yeah, yeah.
But not just narrative games, for sure.
We really want to tackle both together.
When, more or less, can we expect to learn more from you?
Well, it takes time, you know, to make games."

"And more and more.
And the more ambitious is the next game, the more it takes time to find.
It's like research.
So to find, to make a lot of prototypes, play tests, see what works, what doesn't work."

"And it's an iterative process, as you know, making games.
So right now, today, we really don't know when it's going to come out.
It could be two years, three years.
All right."

"We'll see.
Looking forward to learning more about DigiXart.
Thank you so much for your time."

"Thank you.
Thank you very much.
Thank you."





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