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Gorogoa - Jason Roberts Interview

Gorogoa is a puzzle game that's all about the hand-drawn artwork, and we talked to developer Jason Roberts about it at Gamelab.

Audio transcription

"It's closing day for Gamelab 2018 and we are here catching up with Jason and talking about art and Gorogoa and how to make both things work together. Thank you for joining us.
Yeah, it's great to be here."

"So your speech, your talk was called The Elegance of Awkward Design.
How can awkward design work?
Well, when I was trying to make the game, everything felt like a struggle because of design decisions I made early on, how I was going to do the artwork, the way the player interacts with the game, that it just seemed like a struggle and it seemed like the kind of projects that other developers described seemed cleaner and more modular and more efficient."

"So it felt like an awkward process making the game.
But I realized, and so I had to sort of look in the mirror and try to understand if I was on the wrong path or not, but what I realized is that the reason making the game felt awkward is not because I was doing things wrong, it's because I was exploring a corner of the game design landscape where the terrain is very strange and uneven."

"So just moving through that space is going to be awkward.
It's going to feel awkward, but that's also the same reason why the game feels different, is because I'm going into this area that it's hard to, you know, each puzzle is a new challenge and it's very difficult to produce something, but that makes the game more interesting."

"That makes everything that happens in the game feel more magical because it seems improbable.
Because you can tell how, hopefully you can tell that it was difficult to execute.
Yeah, of course. How did you come up with the panels mechanic?
And I don't know if there is any clear inspiration on comics, if you're a comic lover or you just needed something to go through and then..."

"I mean, I don't remember where it came from.
I know I was thinking about... I was making comics.
I tried to make a comic at one point, just like a graphic novel.
I didn't get far. I got about 11 pages in."

"But I realized that, you know, I was laying out the panels on a page and as I got farther and farther, I became more and more involved and with these elaborate page layouts.
And eventually, I was like, I'm more interested in this, laying out these panels than I am in the sequential story."

"And because I had always wanted to make a video game, I thought, well, you know, there's definitely the technology to make this arrangement of panels interactive.
And I still, I wasn't sure how they would interact.
I thought, I mean, I came with the idea of like moving them around because they look kind of like cards."

"You pick them up and shuffle them all over the place.
I thought maybe I could like take an object from one and drag it into another scene and change it that way.
And I think, and I sort of went through this digression where I was imagining a card game where you, each card is an interactive world and then you go inside the card and then change what's on the card and that changes what the card does."

"But that was too complicated.
And I think I was like imagining something like dominoes where you can play things side by side, tiles and, you know, the domino edge, like the number has to be the same.
And I thought like, what is the picture version of dominoes?
The, you have to play, you have to play things next to each other if they match along one edge."

"So the visual version of matching along one edge is that the pictures fit together.
So they form a continuous image.
So that's, I think that was the thought process.
But it happened so long ago that I'm not sure."

"Interesting.
So what can you tell us about the use of color?
Is there any symbolism that you try to make with that use?
Well, yeah."

"I mean, each, in each chapter has its own color symbolism that, you know, the first chapter has a red fruit and that chapter is sort of about sacrifice as a broad theme.
The second has a green fruit and that's about like rescue or rejuvenation in a way where the sort of like or sanctuary where you in a world that is feels dark, you know, it's sort of like a green, something green growing in that space."

"But as an internal process, the third chapter is yellow.
That's all about like the flame of inquiry and research.
And then the blue chapter is about ritual and it kind of carries and for me and like mechanical, the process of expressing faith and it uses blue motifs."

"And the last chapter is a sort of is more about construction and creation or devotion or faith as an act of creation.
And yeah, they, apart from the first fruit, like the characters as a child is, you know, is red as sort of like the same color scheme as the creature that he's seeking."

"And so that's meant to indicate that connection in a world that is otherwise can be kind of at times desaturated.
So, yeah, there's lots of color symbolism and shape symbolism in the game.
You just mentioned several chapters and several perhaps messages you were trying to send."

"But what is like the general main theme or the general...
I don't like to talk in too much detail about the story because I like it to be mysterious and I don't want to, you know, disappoint anybody by contradicting their interpretation.
But I like to say that the theme for me overall in the game is it has to do with, you know, devotion slash obsession and particularly with something that's invisible, with the invisible world, like the search for hidden meaning that's behind or masked by the obvious world in front of us."

"And it's also about how the search and your relationship to faith or the search for the invisible is different when you're a child as opposed to when you're an adult.
And it's about memory and trying to make sense of your life and put pieces, rearrange pieces of experience to look for that hidden pattern that, you know, didn't make sense the first time."

"Now, I'm really, really looking forward to playing it if I was already.
Yeah.
How did you approach this narrative which is a bit obscure or hidden without using text?
Well, I mean, that helps..."

"It helps that I was willing to allow the story to be mysterious.
So text would have made it more explicit, more precise.
And it was challenging.
I..."

"It's only because of the kind of story that, like I say, it works better because it is sort of a...
It's a parable.
It's mysterious."

"So it is more about giving people fragments and allowing them to assemble them in their head than it is about telling a clear, dramatic narrative.
So in that sense, it's a choice of subject matter that fits the medium of not having text.
It's always a temptation."

"I mean, I do like writing.
So there's some temptation to use text in the next game.
But it becomes...
It just makes something much more universal if it doesn't have language in it."

"Are you working already on your next game?
I haven't built anything.
I've just been thinking about it a lot.
I have a couple ideas that are bouncing around in my head."

"And hopefully sometime this year, I'll begin...
I'll build a prototype and see if what I'm imagining can actually be built.
And if not, I'll move on to another idea.
What about the journey itself?
Of course, God of War is out already on several platforms."

"And you are talking about some paths in the game for people to try and interpret or understand.
But what about your personal journey to decide and go for five years and create this by yourself?
I didn't decide to go for five years."

"I thought it would be finished in 2014.
I always knew that I had a job in technology.
I was a software engineer.
And I always wanted to do something creative."

"I wasn't really happy in that career path.
And the prospect of making a game on my own seemed a lot more plausible in 2012, when the market was not as saturated as it is now."

"So it seemed just plausible enough that I was willing to take the risk of leaving my job.
But I thought it would only be a couple years and that I could return to that career track if I had to."

"But it just took much longer, probably because I didn't know what I was doing.
And, you know, I spent all my money.
I had to get money from other sources, a publisher."

"So it was...
And then, you know, once I had been working on it for two years, it was kind of too late to go back.
I had already put so much work into it."

"So it wasn't a planned journey.
It wasn't a planned five-year journey.
Like, I took the initial leap with sort of an idea of what I wanted to do and how long it would take."

"And then I kind of like...
That created a momentum that sucked me along, you know, helplessly from that point on.
Yeah, good."

"Just to remember viewers, where can they play Gorogoa right now?
Gorogoa, it's on iOS, Android, Steam, GOG.
It's on Switch, PS4, Xbox."

"So a wide range of platforms.
And their feedback so far, how has it been?
It's great.
I've heard mostly positive things.
The ratings are great."

"Reviews are great.
Yeah, lots of awards.
So that's been very gratifying after working on it for five years plus.
Thank you so much for your time, Jason."

"Yeah, sure.
Thanks for talking to me."

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