From a Magician’s Top Hat: A Conversation with Ramon del Prado on Games as Art

Ramon del Prado asking probing questions

National Arts Month, February 2016. Celebrated computer artist and School of Visual Arts New York alumnus Ramon del Prado asked us how games are art and other questions as part of the “Artist by Artist” series spearheaded by the painter and art educator Yvette Malahay-Kim. Reposting the interview here as part of the documentation of our game dev praxis.

In between risings of bread dough

RdP: Please give us a background of yourself, I understand you were supposed to be a baker, but now you are making waves in Dumaguete and beyond through game development! How has this journey been so far?

KCS: It took six years and ten games before I got officially published. Being a baker was my day job for a while. I self-studied my way into becoming a game developer in between risings of bread dough. It has not been easy. But to make games is a childhood dream. If I regret anything at all, it is that I haven’t started sooner!

RdP: Please describe your art to us.

KCS: Game development is a collaborative art form. It’s like film with one crucial addition — interactivity. In games, your audience is also your protagonist. A protagonist who makes their own decisions. This to me is the major challenge of game-making: How do you create a world where people can laugh, cry or fall in love and at the same time take into account the unpredictability of player choices?

Pandesal Boy: a ludic autobiography

RdP: What satisfies you in your art?

KCS: I grew up in in Bukidnon, smack in the middle of Mindanao. I was always obsessed with wanting to build fantastic stuff — from games to telescopes to robots. But mostly, all I could do was dream feverishly as I did not have access to high technology. All these changed when I learned to program computers. It gave me a sense of unlimited possibilities. A computer is a magician’s top hat and programs are spells that when uttered right allow you to pull out the strangest creatures. For me, some of the hardest, most intricate and delicious spells are the ones which allow you to pull out these creatures called games.

Chromatoids: character studies

RdP: Please describe to the public how game development is also considered an art.

KCS: Leo Tolstoy wrote, “art is the transmission of feeling the artist has experienced.” The game designer of Super Mario, Shigeru Miyamoto, said almost the exact thing: ”I want the players to experience kyokan — to feel about the game what the developers felt themselves.” We usually think of games as conveying fun, but games can also evoke regret (“Pretentious Game”), guilt (“The Company of Myself”), mystery (“Monument Valley”), and so on. But perhaps the most striking qualification games have in terms of emotive expression is the one mentioned previously: In games you do not say, “My character won!” You say, “I won!” In other words, games allow you to go beyond empathizing with the main character to becoming the main character.

Paper Worlds: concept art

RdP: What drives/inspires you?

KCS: Games opened my eyes to the possibility of a world where human beings study and work not out of coercion but out of a genuine love for what they do. What is the core action of game playing? Boring stuff like repeatedly moving pieces of wood or pressing buttons. But game design is able to turn these experiences into something we all love. If game design can do that, it can surely do the same to our classrooms and workplaces. I am enamored with the inherent challenges and expressive power of game development. Game development is a passion but applying game development to transform the way we study and work has become a calling for me.

Bamboard Game: joy in learning

RdP: Are you able to support yourself through your art? How?

KCS: I just cofounded a new studio, Moocho Brain, with Bari Silvestre, Aji Prasongko, Algernon van Peel and Eru Petrasanta. We are off to a good start with our game “Rancho Ranch” being published by an American publisher. But we are still in the start-up phase and are currently building up cash flow through web sponsorship, profit-sharing with publishers, as well as self-publication.

RdP: How do you deal with setbacks?

KCS: Lots of sleep and pastry.

I wade through a lot of duds before I can come up with something that’s different. When stuck in an impasse, I forget the work for a bit. Meanwhile, the problem usually solves itself or becomes more manageable when I come back. As Irving Stone wrote of Michelangelo, “In a love fight, he who flees is the winner.”

RdP: What can you say about the future of yourself and game development?

KCS: The demand for games is tremendous and growing, with global revenues exceeding those of music and film. True, the competition is equally tremendous. The trick is to stand out.

Indie Prize Tel Aviv, Israel

*Notes:

This interview was first published in the “Artist by Artist” column of the Dumaguete Metropost. For this Medium version, some sections were abridged and new photos added.