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In the Search of Good Art: Interview with Jack King-Spooner

by Talha Kaya on 11/12/14 01:39:00 pm   Featured Blogs

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The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

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Originally posted on my blog.

Jack King-Spooner is an influential game developer. His use of clays, photos, anything he finds in his house or on the internet might just be put in his games. And that's one of the things where he shows his creativity and uniqueness. Another part of what makes his games his, is the writing. Getting in and out of context, sometimes saying things totally out of this world, breaking the fourth wall before it even builds up, surprising the player and Will Smith scare jumps. I always loved his quirkiness. But what's most important is his honesty and care. He really cares about games as a whole, and he helps the diversity of games by making such unique games of his own. I can see him in his games, the life struggle and daily feelings and all that. He did some amazing games, which I'll be writing about in the near future. For now, try some of his games on his gamejolt profile and check out his site.

I asked him some questions on a very busy era of his life. Time is closing in for him to release his new game "Beeswing", which was Kickstarted a while back. He was very kind to take the time to answer my questions.

When I said Beeswing looks so happy and positive, he assured me it was not. So I don't know what we're looking into and I'm very excited to play it when it comes out. Check out the first trailer below:

Can you tell a bit about your process of deciding to do a Kickstarter, and making a successful campaign and how that helped Beeswing?

Not sure really. I think I saw it as a way into something. Sorry for being vague. I'd seen a few people with a freeware background successfully use Kickstarter, Zak Ayles and Myformerselves. The money earned through the crowd funding gave me the time to bring ideas to fruition.

As I played all your games on your gamejolt profile, and also Sluggish Morss: Ad Infinitum, I realized that you're constantly changing your presentation, your themes, your visual style, etc. yet there is always a feel of Jack King-Spooner, some things that don't change. I want to ask you, what's different this time around on Beeswing? What made Beeswing an interesting project for you?

Beeswing isn't that different. I don't think I change my themes that much, do I? Aren't almost all the games about similar things? Death and tackiness in contention with sincerity.

Where it [Beeswing] differs from the others; Beeswing didn't start with the intention of being a game, how to write a fractured story, experiments with acoustic instrumentation, the process made more apparent, that it is a product of a human being, complete with blemishes. The purpose is to echo the music I played when growing up. Also to play with timbres a bit more, there is a lot of kalimba and nylon strings. I had some idea that I wanted to find the aural equivalent of the images.

I don't know how to explain what I find interesting about the game. The tackiness/ sincerity thing: a gravestone with an epitaph in rhyming couplet about "How father loved Man U". I think honesty might be the thing that interests me about Beeswing. Not "Dear Diary..." cathartic honesty, excess value bestowed upon rants and whining, none of that. I'll stop, I'm rambling.

Which platforms will Beeswing release on? Is Steam a possibility? I'd say it has a very good chance with the number of games that come out of Greenlight every month.

Doubt it, it has really limited appeal. It will be on Windows, Mac and Linux. I thought about Android but I'm not sure.

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It's my feeling that your main purpose behind making games is to tell stories and output your thoughts and feelings in a creative way. Is this true? Why do you think you chose making games?

Partly to tell stories but not really. Games allow things to be in the same place. Like, we always used to call it invisible strings, that the day to day tasks influenced the hobbies, the music made at a time influenced the paintings. So whatever is getting made at a particular time (music, pictures, stories and so on), when put together, usually fit. Zen stories and blues music, plasticine and a circle of fifths. It might not work for everyone, not sure if it even works for me.

As you're a prolific game developer that has a truly unique style to tell stories, I love your games and all the personal stuff you put into your games. But I keep hearing that you don't like your own games, or at least have a lot of negative thoughts about them. Why?

Yeah, I'm a bit apologetic about them. I'd hate to waste a person's time you see. I'm not a fan of pride. Being proud of others is fine but there is something particularly ugly about someone who is proud.

Among your games, I have played some of the darkest experiences I had playing games. They are so unique and special that it's hard to compare with other developers. Games like "Mitt Romney and the Sex Doll", "let's go diving", and "Mammoth" show some violent text and imagery to the player. I personally find myself making depressing or bleak games when I'm in a bad mood, as that's my "last chance" to be productive and actually feel good about that day. I made "Sleepy Time" like that, and when people ask why I made that game, I just say that I was depressed. Is my case any similar to yours or do you like to make "violent" games even when you're in a good mood?

About those games you mentioned, I've quite a poor taste in humour. As I said before, I have no time for catharsis with my work. If I'm feeling down I don't really work and if I do it usually makes me more down because I'm not working well. If I'm full of glee and joy and the world is my oyster thermidor, I tend not to work very well either. I try to leave my feelings at the door when I work and seek a state of engagement. Sometimes a bi-product of working like this is a good feeling.

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We had a conversation the other day about games being art but not many games being "good art". What do you think would be a qualification for good art? What does a game need to be good art?

I'm not sure I'm one to say what is and isn't good art. I like when a piece elucidates meaning in a way that can only be told through the piece. Perhaps that meaning is self-referential, perhaps it is about the elasticity of time (Claire Barclay and Douglas Gordon respectively). Compare Hirst's A Thousand Years to Hirst's spot paintings.

Why does a game needs to be good art when it is happy being a good game? There is a semantic hiccup with the definition of art, one that gets used all over: art as craft or art as that other thing. Some Youtube mouth said something about some game being grotesquely violent and compared it with art often being difficult. I vomited into my lap. That comparison is comparing incredible, important performance work ( Abramovic, Paul McCarthy ) to mean-spirited, produced by committee rot.

Ok, what does a game need to be good art? I'm really not sure that question needs an answer. Maybe just have that question hanging about while you make things is enough. Invite it for dinner once in a while. Treat it. So, what makes it something more than decoration, entertainment, whatever: when it says something that can't be said in unvarnished prose. I think games have something to say by the nature of their medium, the vicissitudes of life. More though. More. When what is being said has a truth, a freshness. Cliche is the dying back of truth.

Most of the game "Mammoth" is watching the films you made. Do you make films that stand on their own, or do you always prefer the game format? What do you think about different media that you create, like games, music and film? Which one is the easiest to do? Which one feels most natural while you're in the creative process? Which one is most rewarding?

I've made a few short things but I'm rubbish with film. Mammoth is a testament to that. I wouldn't say that Mammoth is about watching films though, the sound has nothing to do with the moving image. The juxtaposition is one thing. Also, the apparent cliche is another thing and that (dare I say it) there might be something to it.

I don't always prefer the game format. Games have a consistency like a snowglobe. Music is the most natural, at least noise is. I play music everyday and listen to it most days. In terms of outcome games are more rewarding. In terms of process, painting and making music is more rewarding.

Are you a full time game developer or do you have another job that feeds the game development?

I do bits and bobs.

You use a lot of clay, photos, glitch visuals, drawn papers etc. Your visual style is fantastic and unique. This creates a truly "hand crafted" and personal feel in your games. What made you decide to create this style, what does it mean to you?

I find it easier to make things this way. Pixel stuff isn't very expressive to me, no space for experimenting or for mistakes to happen, it's really derivative and there is something sad about the exactitude and perfectionism that goes into it. I guess pixel stuff is functional.

If you soak a piece of paper and drip ink onto it, the ink bleeds into the paper in the most incredible way. If you have a glass of water and pour a bit of milk into it's just great to watch. If you play the same note over and over on a piano for 2 minutes with the sustain pedal down, then add a harmony, the resonance is sublime. The crow of a rooster.


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