Ten Questions: Pacian

Pacian’s cat has consulted his legal team and apparently allowed Pacian to go on and be interviewed. So, well, without further ado, here’s what Pacian, the man, programmer, writer, game designer, funny-guy, cat owner, pulp serial provider and creator of brilliant games like Gun Mute, Space Shot and Snowblind Aces, has to say…
Poizoned Mind: A game tragically not mentioned in this interview.

1. Space-faring Pacian, how would you describe your game making activities? And, frankly, why do you make games?

I’d describe my game making activities as poorly focused, unproductive and easily interrupted.

Why do I keep making my little games? I guess for the same reason that I play them: escapism. I’m a hopeless day-dreamer, and I’d much rather be piloting a Zeppelin through the acrid clouds of a volcano than sitting at work writing boring software for boring people. And since, although there are plenty of games out there that grab me and draw me into their worlds, no-one’s yet made one where you specifically pilot a Zeppelin through a volcano, I end up trying to make that one myself.

2. How about your crafting of short and not particularly short stories? How? Why? Ugh…

‘Ugh’ is my take on it often enough as well. There are people who write and people who don’t write. The only difference between those two groups is whether they write or not. As simple as that.

But of the people who *do* write, there are those who write, and those who write and then re-draft and get a second opinion and a third opinion and scrap the whole middle section and re-write that and rinse and repeat until someone pays them for all the hard work they’ve done. That’s *not* me – at least, not at the moment. I only write for fun – to create worlds and characters that interest me. I just hope that a few like-minded people will come along, look at what I’ve done and say, “Hey that’d be pretty cool if it went through a few more drafts.”

One day I do mean to make a dedicated effort to write something ‘good’, but I’m such a scatter-brained procrastinator, that’s not likely to be any time soon.

3. Interactive fiction, text adventures, must have been quite a natural choice as a game making genre, right?

Yeah. Sometimes I worry that I’m focusing on this as an easy way out. I’m useless at making graphics, and I hate tedious coding, so working in ready-made environments for text games really appeals to me. In TADS and Inform it’s trivial to create a location with a character in it and some scenery and a cool gizmo – and when you push the button on the gizmo the prince dies and you have to feed dead apples to his ghost. Whereas working in C++ or even Game Maker there’s a lot of set-up to do just defining the basic rules of the universe you’re creating. How does the main character push that button? How do they pick up the apples?

This is why I keep persisting in making crappy non-text games like Space Shot. I kind of want to prove to the world that I’m not just an IF writer – and that when I do write IF it’s for a specific reason beyond it being easy for me to do.

4. Do you actually believe games can move beyond being merely games? Could they actually manage to be political, thought-provoking and interesting while embracing Dada?

Yes, of course. Creative minds can (and do) make moving and provocative experiences from any medium.

From the Dada angle, I immediately think of Cactus and games like Mondo Medicals and Psychomnium, in that they really seem to take a lot of the unquestioned assumptions about how games are ‘supposed’ to work and then slap them about a bit. Beyond that I’m afraid you’re merely dazzling me with your technical terms.

5. Am I? Well, let me blush here for a moment. […] Done. Lovely. But, really, Mondo Medicals and co, even though surreal and innovative in style and mechanics, don’t actually offend the gaming, let alone the societal, status quo. They really aren’t political or progressive in a meaningful sense. And frankly, besides Molleindustria’s games, I think nobody has even attempted such a thing. Are you sure it’s not the short-comings of the medium?

My gut instinct is that the mere act of player participation creates a whole range of possibilities for messing about with people’s prejudices and received wisdom – but for all we know, you may be right. We never truly know if something is possible until someone actually goes and does it.

snowblind aces

Interactive fiction with cover-art? Look no further than Snowblind Aces!

6. On a more light-hearted note, any truly favourite games? And I am asking for something that could stand next to a book or a film for example.

So what, I’m not allowed to say Resident Evil 2? When it comes to what I look for in a game – imaginative worlds and strong characters – I think Chrono Trigger is the one that immediately springs to mind. In many ways, it just chimes really well with my personality, but I’d also argue that objectively it’s a very well put together game in terms of tone and motivation.

I’m also a big fan of Emily Short’s Galatea. It’s pretty much the only IF game that I unreservedly find enjoyable to mess with, just in idle moments, and I think it has plenty of interesting things to say about the nature of interactive characters. I know a lot of people only like it as an experiment or a piece of dry academia, but I don’t really enjoy that kind of thing by itself. I like Galatea because I like the characters, the tone and the little stories you end up experiencing.

And also, Resident Evil 2, damn it.

7. Any favourites among your ludic creations?

Well there’s only about four or five to choose from. I am very pleased with Gun Mute. I think I created a nice set of characters in an accessible package, in some ways purely by chance. To be honest, I don’t expect to be able to create a better game in the future, but I hope the stories I want to tell will still interest a few people.

8. Oh, and how would you describe the general game making process you follow?

I’d say the most notable thing about my game making process is the distinct lack of process to it. It usually starts out with scrappy notes in my diary, and then graduates to a grid of tasks to tick off. And then beneath the grid are a load of scribbles supposed to remind me of other things I’ve suddenly thought of.

Honestly, it’s a wonder that I have the wherewithal to get out of bed in the morning, let alone write semi-functional code.

9. Would you ever attempt to sell a game? Live off your creativity?

That’s an interesting question. If a company offered to pay me to do interesting, creative work on a game, I’d take the offer. But I don’t think I’d ever want to charge for games that I’ve created all by myself. Going back to what I said about writing, I’d want to put a lot more time and effort into these things before I thought they were actually worth paying money for – but I have so many ideas and such a short attention span that I’m not really interested in doing that.

10. Any particular plans for the future per chance?

Over the next couple of months I’m going to try and squeeze out a small IF game for David Fisher’s EnvComp – an IF competition for unusual settings and locations. In the longer term, I’m working on a larger IF game – and of course I have plenty of ill-considered ideas for action and strategy games as well.

I’m also engaged on a super-secret collaborative project with this short, bearded fellow in a pointed hat. I last saw him standing over by the garden pond with a fishing rod…

More Like This