Orchids to Dusk Post-Mortem - Part 1
The below is cross posted from Pol Clarissou’s blog, you can find the original here
SO. I made this game last summer called Orchids to Dusk, right. I figured folks might be interested in reading more about how it was made, so here i give you: Orchids to Dusk, a postmortem (appropriately).
· · · part 1: context — KO_OP & Montréal · · ·
1·a: the KOLAB
Orchids to Dusk was made with the support of KO_OP, at their office in Montréal (for the most part), over the course of four months. It was part of their KOLAB program, a fund for short experimental games, which already hosted Paloma Dawkins last year for Gardenarium.
I should mention first that KO_OP folks are amazing and i love all of them. Is it an awkward thing to say? Well i said it.
The deal was that i’d get bucks to come to Montréal for a few months & make a game here. I had total freedom both creatively and in terms of work practices — i was free to do what i wanted, how i wanted. So that was quite nice, i was actually granted more agency that i’d have expected from any other program (though of course i’d have gotten weird looks had i decided to behave disrespectfully of the trust that i had been given, or to make game that went in an opposite direction to KO_OP’s general philosophy). On the other hand, i received support from multiple KO_OP members, for various aspects of the game and at various points in the development — that includes creative advice, production/technical help, management advice and of course Marskye’s music and the game’s page, hosted on the KO_OP website. Since KO_OP concentrates people of multiple talents, who cover pretty much all of the spectrum of gamedev-related skills, there will always be someone inhouse to help you if you run into something you can’t handle.
On a side-note, the whole thing went smoothly even though my only laptop died for a month, right in the middle of the development: i got lent another computer for the time being and could work almost normally, with the exception of TYPING WITH A DANG QWERTY KEYBOARD (that was horrendous). But yeah either way, we figured something out and it didn’t impede on the game’s development too much, so that’s nice.
$$$-wise, the grant i got for my four-months stay was not, to be honest, enough to afford the whole thing: it paid for housing and food, but i had to pay for the visa and the plane tickets by myself. I knew about this since the beginning, and could have gotten more by staying for a shorter time (since the grant is a set amount), but i’m lucky to be heavily privileged so that i could actually afford all that without putting myself in a dangerous position… Hopefully though, future KOLABs should be a little more generous, and therefore more inclusive of people who are less privileged.
My own experience of game development until now was a student’s one: i’d only work on my projects on my free time, which leads to permanent exhaustion and dissatisfaction — things i assumed to be normal and inevitable when working on games until this summer. This is a familiar experience to anyone who makes noncommercial works and needs to afford rent with a day job (on that note, i am also extremely lucky that i don’t need to do that on top of my studies).
With the KOLAB, i got the opportunity to work full time on a project i’d normally consider ‘personal’. Having actual room to think and take the right decisions, to rework various aspects of the game past the first draft, etc — all that was pretty much new to me. Even more importantly, working on that kind of a project during the day meant i could actually enjoy some chill time in the evening, which might sound super trivial but it’s like the only time i’ve had that in the last 3 years? Basically, living a healthy life while working on a thing i like was a totally new and transformative experience, and helped me notice what isn’t right with how i usually work.
Orchids to Dusk wasn’t quite finished when i had to fly back to France and keep up with school, so the last bits of the game were put together in the following 3 months — during which i got that strong taste of how different it is to work on a thing only on late evenings after a workday. It would have been ideal if the game had been finished sooner — which i optimistically (naïvely) expected — but that wasn’t a huge problem.
Now for a bit about Montréal itself: as uncomfortable as i usually am with north-American cities, i actually enjoyed my time here a lot (well also, it was summer. like there was a lot of plants all over the place — winter Montréal is a different experience i reckon). The cultural life here is pretty vivid, with a lot of museums and cultural institutes, as well as artistic events and gigs throughout the summer.
On the vgame end, the Montréal indie scene is quite diverse and, importantly, provocative and critical — which is unusual in my experience, even in indie european circles. You’ll always find critical and progressive people of you look for them but in Montréal it felt like it was embed in the scene itself, in the culture of gamedev here. This is in big part, as far as i can tell, due to a bunch of very proactive and inspiring organisations that put together events and promote interesting stuff — the Concordia University TAG research lab, Pixelles, the MRGS, etc.. And as much as that doesn’t mean this scene is free of occasional backwards bullshit and offensive behaviours, the presence and support of these orgs gives a general progressive direction to the whole gang, and sets critical thinking about games as a standard — it reduces the friction met when challenging offensiveness and blandness, instills progressive thought in the general mood (rather than it being an active, disruptive decision that you have to take on your own).
As a whole, it was a very inclusive and welcoming community in my experience — though arguably i’m not in the best position to judge of that. It’s not like i’m the new Montréal indie hip kid & everyone’s best friend either, but for someone as socially inept as i can be, it’s already something that i met a lot of folks and felt good about it (and miss them ; — ;).
Meeting so many people, and working on a thing i’d chosen to work on with total agency, also helped me alot in figuring out where i wanna be after my studies (by which i mean that i have an even foggier idea than before, but i know that my past “good plans” weren’t good plans and that there’s ways to work that i feel uncomfortable about… So i know where not to go). I also know more people to turn towards when i have questions about gamedev-related matters, both creatively and ~professionally~.
One last thing:
A concerning thing about the “indie scene” (for whatever it means) at the moment is how promotion is often the only thing mentioned when it comes to supporting creators — be it through events, through online visibility boosts, or whatever — all of these are great, and events do have a huge impact on one’s ability to get recognition for their work or even just to connect to other developers. But none of this helps people create in and of itself, which is also incredibly important. Celebrating alternative games in an after-the-fact approval is valuable but does not enable the creation of such games in the first place. KO_OP actually gave me the opportunity to create Orchids to Dusk at all — which was, of course, a huge risk! It implied trust towards the creator (that’s me) (& i feel blessed they thought i deserved it), and the potential for that money to be wasted if something turns wrong, which is more and more of a possibility as you endeavour into new creative directions.
There are things to say about the prevalence of events in games culture, how it doesn’t necessarily translate into actual value for creators, or not in a sustainable way — this is a subject of itself, that ex-Indiecade chairman John Sharp has talked about better than i will and with more legitimacy — http://www.heyimjohn.com/conferences-and-sustainable-diversity/
I believe that along with events, it is important to invest into establishing sustainable networks for developers to support each other (like what Pixelles is creating through mentorship and community), and into enabling & upholding the creation of interesting games that don’t otherwise get to exist at all.
I really want to see more people and more structures do what KO_OP does with KOLABs and allow some of their money to go towards the creation of noncommercial experiments — because noncommercial is where the weird, new, unexpected happens. I wish for companies with more financial stability than one-off indie studios to allow some of their bucks to go to art and culture, without expecting a financial return on investment.
KO_OP is basically proving that it is possible, that you can do just that and still sustain a company, even with the limited funding of a small 6-people studio. And i can’t be grateful enough that i got to be part of that.