Wednesday, July 23, 2014


Having a good drawing hand (or ZBrush arm) is only half of being a visual artist. Having seen some portfolios, students, and paid artists, it happens quite a lot that people more or less master the technical challenges -drawing / modelling / crafting / whatever - but lack nifty ideas. 99 out of 100 artworks just don't give me a warm feeling. No electric sparkles, no emotions were triggered, no "Now that's a damn good idea!". It's just a canvas with paint, or a hump of sculpture. It's dead.

Now taste differs, plus I wouldn't call myself an art-expert. So maybe I'm often missing the point... then again as an artist you miss the point as well if only a handful likes your work. And maybe they only "like" it, as they're afraid of sounding like a dumb savage if they don't. Anyhow, ideas matter. Some people live outside the box and spew out ideas daily as if they suffer chronic brain diarrhea, others need a little push. Some inspiration.

I need a push once in a while. And probably everyone else does, more or less. Most ideas and inventions are a gathering of various sub-fragments you caught before. Music, quotes, animals, movie snippets, technical problems + solutions, architecture, dreams, food, the weather - it really could be anything. We consider copying each other’s ideas as stealing of intellectual property, but trust me, all artists do. Great movie makers like Steven Spielberg get triggered by other movies and books, and even the best drawers or writers have “writer-blocks”, and snack a bit by looking at others. Just as long existing pieces are shaped into something fresh and new, there is no need to shame.

As a programmer I'm more into the technical aspects of T22, but I still think out most of the scenery and story elements so far. Varying from how a room should look to how a monster should walk, or what kind of audio has to accompany a certain location. And since my creative skills are somewhat limited, I'll try to sniff interesting scents and colours as well. From books, movies, other games, internet, or just daily life when walking around. You don't become a good artist by locking up yourself in the attic with an easel. A musician needs an interesting story to tell, and those stories can only be obtained by real-life tm. And unfortunately it often takes the darker stories of real-life tm, such as broken love, loss and death, to tell something interesting.

Tower22 is a horror game, but (thank God) I don't have dark luggage from the past to unpack. Didn't grew up in war-torn areas, didn't get abducted by aliens, didn't see much blood flowing, and didn't have to fear anyone. Right... so how to make a scary game then? The pool-of-inspiration seems to be a bit dry...

This room doesn't make much sense. Neither does the rest of this post.

Well, apart from lacking such a vivid imagination to work out scenery in the smallest detail, that wasn't too much of a problem. Of course complete libraries and video stores can be filled with horror material. But honestly, most ideas don't come from there, or at least I've seen and played relative little horror movies/books/games (and found most of them predictable or straight annoying). The idea of using an old skyscraper for a horror setting came from a friend, which was instant-creative- fuel for me to work it out, and pour it into a playable horror-game format. This is where seemingly random ideas, knowledge and snapshots from documentaries or real-life experience comes in handy finally (after being stored useless in your brains for many years).

Old buildings are a natural source for scary settings, nothing new. But having stayed in a grey, monstrous concrete hotel in Prague once, having a Polish girlfriend, and remembering documentaries of worn Russian nuclear facilities, there was affinity with this subject. My friend on the other hand always had a passion for skyscrapers, so it was easy to fall in love with this idea. That's an important detail by the way; if you have doubts about an idea, it's probably just not a very good one in the first place… Although... looking at the music industry, many singles came out later after being rejected by their creators first.

Including Silent Hill fog. And... did you know that:
* It's one of the highest buildings in Prague?
* "Hotel Kupa" means something like "Hotel Shit" in Polish
* It wasn't all THAT bad, except from
- the cleaners shoving the peanuts from the previous visitors under beds instead of cleaning
- reception ladies not speaking English except on the last day when they needed extra money for some reason
- A bag of shit/pee/menstruation blood or whatever girl-crap felt down from a few stories higher
- dark brown water coming out of the shower suddenly on the last day
- the brochure showing a green grass fields in front of the hotel, while in reality there was a parking graveyard for rotten Lada's, and a brothel. Of course
* Apparently I wasn't the only one who found it inspiring: vimeo link (see 1:09 & 4:11)

Medieval on your ass
Maybe the overall tactic to make a scary game here, is not to look too much at the typical clichés of blood, guts, monsters, or other (cheap) shocks. Not that those are bad things on themselves, but it’s just not the path I’ve chosen for T22. The goal is to create an environment that feels uncomfortable. Although the hotel above wasn't too bad either, I wondered how people could live with big families in small, low quality apartments. All looking cheerless and the same. I find documentaries about people living in extreme situations intriguing. Living on the coldest places on earth, in North Korea, in the middle of nowhere, or in space - out of control. Feels like horror to me, yet they somehow did/do it.

That same kind of uncomfortable, awful feeling arises when I think about medieval times. And I’m not talking directly about the bloody battles of King Richard VI, but again on how life (presumably) Sucked with a capital S back then. When googling for inspiration, I sometimes go for medieval paintings. Probably the artists didn't do it on purpose, but some pictures are really nightmarish. Showing weird small people, living in weird out-of-perspective small wooden houses. Often in relation with public violence, or fear for the Old man in the Clouds.

Besides having actual horrors such as the Plague, witch burnings, or having some good old battles with the neighbours once in a while, people back then also must have had some serious horrors inside their heads as well. Not knowing much about the world and being afraid of pretty much everything. The Lord, the Devil, strict church rules, diseases, greedy landowners, hunger, cold... Now maybe people 500 years later are thinking the same about us, but I really can't imagine how life could have been a joy back then. The claustrophobic mind-sets are sometimes reflected in old paintings. In other words, perfect stuff for horror-game mood setters

Themes about life and dead, common back then. But more disturbing in old art, is that the makers probably actually believed in what they drew. Not saying that believing in God is scary persé, but... those angels are freak'n disturbing!

The skeletons or sick people here aren't the scary part. The whole building setup and perspectives are nightmarish. Who the hell makes such doors? Typical stuff for a kid's nightmare.

All in your head
While googling around, I stumbled over yet another type of very recognizable "discomfort": Child imaginations: Joshua Hoffine horror photos

Before diving further into the subject, I would like to whoop-ass commenters on that website that categorize the pictures as "pedophelic". Yes, I didn't even really noticed it, but now that you say it, there is a little girl in her underpants yes. I see my daughter almost every morning or evening like that. But, now who exactly is the pervert here? Me not noticing the half “naked“ girl, the author of the photographs that put this girl (his daughter btw) in underpants, or you watching carefully what little girls wear?... I thought so. Just as with some accusers of racism, the worst are often the ones who shout the loudest, the ones magnifying on uninteresting details like skin-color, or what that girl wears. What do you WANT to see?

If you're normal, you don't see a half-naked girl, but a vulnerable child who is death scared of her own imagination. And Dutch readers here can probably guess my opinion about our "Sinterklaas" (the real Santaclaus) with his infamous "Zwarte Pieten" (black Petes?). Yeah, I can imagine an outsider would consider this old Dutch/Belgium tradition as “awkward”, to say the least. But the thing is, we never thought about them as suppressed slaves or even as black people in general. Hell, a black person doesn’t like that anyway. They more look like mine workers with funny costumes, which make sense as they break in your house via the chimney to drop presents. Kids see them as cheerful, acrobatic, and funny. And so did I… Until some anti-racism “protectors” came crying about this party. A kid’s party.

Racism should be eliminated, no question, but these grown-up’s miss an essential point: the purity of our kids. They don’t see a black person, they see a cheerful, acrobatic, funny person. A friend. When looking at the entrance parade (Sint arrives by boat, not a silly flying sledge), you’ll see white, black, Asian, Christian, Muslim and Atheist kids all singing Sinterklaas songs as best as they can, hoping on candy and presents. Pete could just as well be purple or transparent, they don’t care. Silly grown-ups.

The Bogeyman
All-right, a somewhat weird intro for the remaining part of this post, but it sort of makes sense. The “kid’s nightmare” link pasted above depicts some typical fears you may recognize from your own youth. I wouldn't say the photographs are ultra scary or brilliant, but they caught me, set me thinking, and reminded of some youth “trauma’s”, and possibly the very core of why people like horror.

As kids are still pure, their conception and understanding of “good” and “bad” are still very undeveloped. As easy they can be misled by evil people offering candy (no offence Sint & Pete), they have strong instinctive fears to protect at the same time. Having a walk in a dark forest, seeing a dead animal on the street, watching a horror movie, or exploring your own imagination with scary bed-thoughts, are all ways to expand your mental territory. Step by step, you’ll do and dare more.

Didn't you always ran (and fell) of the stairs, rushing back to mom and dead, uh, dad? Kids don't like being alone. Especially not in dark corridors, gaps, closets or other spaces you can't properly inspect from a distance. Who knows what’s inside?! It's not because kids are still stupid, it's actually a very healthy primal instinct. Being in a group increase survival chances, and crouching into a dark cave already occupied by a sabre-toothed tiger would kill you. New unexplored stuff is scary by definition; you don't know if it's any good. Caution is required. Fortunately we do have some guiders. Bright colours, furry materials, pleasant odours, presence of relatives. A safe situation.

Then again the things you trust most, can become your worst enemy. Personally I found the dead(?) mother on bed the most disturbing picture in the link above. Everything is supposed to be good in that picture. Lights on, pink wallpaper, bed, together with your pretty mom, the softest and most loving creature there is. Mom universally equals safety... but cockroaches are coming out of her mouth, something very terrible is going on here.

I had dreams more than once where my mother would fall down the stairs and look at me with a broken neck, or her silhouette watching me a distance as she was about to murder me. Or dad being grey and mummified, not able to help me. Safety shattered. A natural fear.

Another one from the link. Dolls a movie cliché? I don't think so, I was afraid of lifeless puppets long before the movies taught me they were scary. Looking from my bed into a gloomy room, only lit by a small orange lamp... Being hidden under a blanket and only a meter tall, the room seems huge. The ceiling far out of reach, and the poor lighting hides the corners of the room. You should feel safe in your bed, just like mom told you before she gave you a goodnight kiss and closed the door. But despite the chilly silence, I felt some presence in the room. Was it the ticking clock, or the scary painting of a somewhat sad boy in his rainsuit, your aunt made? No, it came from the shelves, where the stuffed animals are placed on.

The black glass shiny eyes of that little dog... would he be watching me as well? Some Plushies felt safe, some were just, well, stuffed animals, but a few seemed to be alive. Now some kids would love the idea of living plushies but I found the idea freaking disturbing. Because it shouldn’t be possible.

And that might be the root reason why even some grown-up people (including me) still don't like dolls. I dig Teddies, Baby Born and Barbie. But those porcelain bastards or worn dolls that are older than you... they resemble a living human, yet they are very cold and lifeless. And at the same time, it's if they hide some old stories. I don’t trust them.

Hand behind you while watching the TV? That felt familiar too. Being a bit claustrophobic, I don't like gaps. Getting stuck, unable to move your limbs, not able to crawl back. Getting crushed in an earthquake, that might be even worse thought than drowning to me. But besides that, dark gaps can also hide dangers. Playing night-games in the woods quickly vaporized my fears of darkness, but I still remember some eerie half-awake-dreams of the “Punch & Judy show” slowly raising their rotten smiling wooden heads and rag bodies out of the narrow gaps between my bed and the walls, just behind my head. For the remaining years we lived in that house, I never watched at that gap behind my bed again. Always had my eyes pointed towards the door, the exit, where mom and dad are. But who knows what’s behind you…

Remember you thinking about the puppets living in the TV? These puppets look straight evil. And the black background makes a kid wonder what else is there...

Maybe the photo's on that website aren't super original or brilliant, but he did a good job placing himself into the mindset of a child (something some complainers should try as well). As you get older, you forget your old nightmares as you overcome fears. But having kids, it all comes back a bit. It's sort of funny and touching when Julia runs to our bed, 3:00 AM, wailing about witches or wolves. "It's just a bad dream honey", and we'll take her bed to her own bed and give a kiss. Problem solved. For us.

Just a dream or not, I shouldn't forget that when I was little, those dreams felt awfully real. And once scared, bad thoughts and dreams would keep returning that night. Fortunately our daughter doesn't have much problems with sleeping in general, but going to bed in the dark winters felt like punishment to me, having periods with quite a lot of nightmares. And now I'm trying to dig them up again, as building blocks for Tower22.

Which is hard actually. Thinking of clowns or monsters under your bed is easy, but it takes a kid’s perspective to make them come alive and scary. The type of fears and nightmares of a kid are very different from an adult. Kids dreams are more like cartoons, not making much sense, not following laws of logic and predictability yet. Adult dreams tend to get somewhat more realistic. At least I don't get chased by skeletons anymore, houses aren’t made of flying platforms anymore, and my the dreams of non-helping parents while drowning are gone now that I can swim. Or moreover, I just don't remember most dreams anyway. Having a pen + noteblock in reach helps though. Just a hint.

One last kiss from T22 before going to bed. Sleep well angels...

1 comment: