Sunday, 18 December 2011

An Interview with Stefano Gualeni

I recently tried out an iPad title called Gua-Le-Ni, which turned out to be a bizarre, but addictive and engaging puzzle game. I then got the opportunity to interview the game's creator, StefAno about Gua-Le-Ni's inspirations, his ideas behind it, and much more.
Q. So, Gua-Le-Ni is available to download onto the iPad now! How did you get the idea for this game?

A: Hi, an first of all thanks for the interest and the ‘love’ you are directing towards our bizarre project. It makes it feel that the long months of designing and crafting this book (or this game) were not completely futile, if we manage to stimulate the curiosity of some of you and to keep you intrigued in its concept and gameplay. As far as the idea for the game, it is more or less a mixture of childhood memories and my current philosophical focus.

My mother used to show me etchings of animals and bizarre creatures by either Albrech Durer or Leonardo Da Vinci as a kid, I was fascinated with those bizarre beasts and how they looked like monsters from other worlds. Building on that basis, the core idea for Gua-Le-Ni comes from the will to make of David Hume’s philosophy of mind playable. Essentially, my claim is that if a player learns how to play Gua-Le-Ni, then she also have absorbed most of the notions involved in Hume’s 1748 Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding. Some will also spot influences from ‘head-body-tail’ books such as the Animalario Universal del Professor Revillod:

Q. Were there any influences during it's creation?

A: Each an every member of our team contributed with some ideas or details, but I guess most of the design maintained a solid vision from start to end, so the influences mentioned in the previous question are still the leading ones. In the last months, some observations and ideas concerning embodiment in digital worlds and some inspiration to optimize the interfaces came from Helmut Plessner’s 1928 seminal book for philosophical anthropology “The Stages of the Organic and Man”.

I guess it’s more of a personal inspiration and aspiration rather than something overtly perceivable, but it helped, I am sure.

Q. As the games website states, "Gua-Le-Ni is the first commercially released video game whose development was guided by the analysis of it's players psychophysiological responses." What made you decide to do this whilst the game was in development, and and how do you feel it helped to shape the game?

A: More than feeling, I know it helped as I was also part of the research team behind the Biometric research. At NHTV University of Applied Science of Breda (The Netherlands) we relied on embodied psychology (biometrics or psycho-physiology), Which is to say the way that body signals can be interpreted as expressing internal states of a person. By observing the way stress and anxiety changed in our test subjects together with the changes in the game while designing and tuning it, we were capable – we believe – to have a better, more thorough and more objective insight in what it is like to play than it was ever possible to achieve with traditional quality assurance procedures. This experimental way to approach game design was never even attempted in the casual sector of the industry.

We utilized the equipment and experiments to determine the most desirable initial speed for the game and the optimal way the game should have grown in terms of speed and cognitive pressure in the non-fiction mode (the competitive one featuring a Tetris-like acceleration as cleverly pointed out in your review). We believe that the insights we obtained in that pioneering way objectively helped in determining a few key-variable in the tuning of the game.
Q. Do you think you'll be using this type of research again in your next projects?

A: If possible, I would love to. Together with the care and dedication of the programmers, the talent of the artists and the obsessive and continuous playtest sessions we have run, I believe it was a factor it the game’s success. Critical success I mean, whether its bizarre nature and explorative gameplay will be embraced by the public too, that’s still hard to tell. One can hope.

Q. Gua-Le-Ni has been receiving some generally excellent reviews so far. Did you expect to get this reaction?

A: Haha… Again, I was not expecting the interest and visibility the game is attracting but we – as any independent developer - hoped that the love we put it would be experienced and appreciated by other people. I believe that’s the reason why I am still making games. The hope to touch other people somehow…
Q. What I enjoyed the most about the game was the creation of some bizarre but interesting hybrid creatures, and the addictive nature of the gameplay. What is your favourite aspect of Gua-Le-Ni?

A: I am fond of the possibility to optimize one’s behaviour and compete. The game offers more secrets, more strategies and more opportunities for improvement than it might initially show. I am still playing the game months after intense playtest sessions precisely because of its depth and possibilities. Me and my testers are still trying to find out who’s the best… They brutally outperform me with the use of the dreaded black cube (one of those secrets), but I am still the best if we only consider the regular behaviour of the game (40.075 pages).

Q. And finally, what's next for yourself and for Double Jungle? 

A: My destiny and that of Double Jungle will remain woven at least until the end of February or March, when we will release a new version of the game including a completely new game mode. We are starting to work on the graphics and the voices in a few days. I believe this is not the last game we will do together, me and the guys of Double Jungle… We’ve been friends for years and find it nice and cozy to work with eachother. As a matter of fact we are also working on a social game that will run in web browsers that is also unique under quite a few aspects.

Next for me is finally concluding my doctoral dissertation… I hope that will be done by October 2012. And after that, who knows? Maybe another digital oddity with a philosophical theme? 

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