The End of The Road: The Path

By Kieron Gillen on April 5th, 2010 at 12:04 pm.

I kept on meaning to Sunday Paper this, but seeing the amount of actual content in, I think it deserves a post. A year on from the controversial talking point of 2009, Tale of Tales do a really elaborate postmortem of their work. As well as the traditional look at the work itself, there’s individual essays about each of the girls and their respective wolves. Lots of stuff to look at, in short, all showing the passion which Tale of Tales brought to the work. Central linking page is here. They’ve since closed the blog, and plan to close-to-disappear for the next eighteen months to work on two new projects. Good luck to ‘em.

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47 Comments »

  1. Heliocentric says:

    Spoilers! I guess I should finish my remaining sisters before reading any of this.

  2. Dominic White says:

    I remember when this was first released, and even the RPS comment boxes were full of outraged people decrying it to be a game about raping children.

    I even know of a few people who tried to get it pulled from Steam for this very reason.

    Looking at this post-mortem, it’s really amazing how much some people project their own insecurities, isn’t it?

    • Joseppe says:

      @Dominic White

      While I don’t think it’s a game about raping children, the postmortem of a work doesn’t prove anything about its contents. It proves things about the creators’ intentions and their perception of the results of their efforts. As you know, people who say blatantly racist, xenophobic, sexist, etc. stuff in public frequently say after “I didn’t intend for it it be [whatever], rather I meant [something innocuous or clever].” I’m not saying that creators’ intentions aren’t important, but statements are still made within a social/material context that makes it more complicated than “if the author says that’s what it’s about, that’s what it’s about.”

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    Lambchops says:

    I didn’t really take to the Path. I’m not one of those who would lash it with criticism – but I just didn’t really form much of an emotional response to it. That said I still keep half an eye of Tales of Tales work. While i instantly knew that Fatale would not be for me I still think they could come up with something that might mean more to me and have me responding strongly to as people have done with The Path.

    That aside I find it interesting that their experience with The Path has led to them accepting that the vast majority of their audience, whether they like it or not, are going to be gamers. I wonder how much of an impact this will have on their future efforts? One of the problems I did have with the path was that they made some gameplay decisions which seemed like they were just going to frustrate the player or dilute the experience. Why the collectable flowers? Why the score at the end? Perhaps with a better understanding of the things that will put off or reel in their audience they’ll be able to better tailor their games to drawing the player in, instead of perhaps forcing them away.

  4. Tomo says:

    I wouldn’t say I enjoyed The Path either, and gave it a fairly crap review a while back, but it earned a place in my memory certainly. I’ll take these kind of games over tried-and-tested dross always. I’ll have a ganders over their diary later – looks very interesting.

  5. FunkyLlama says:

    A true intellectual: someone who never even considers ctrl-f’ing rape in the postmortem.

  6. MtotheThird says:

    I didn’t have fun playing The Path, but I was deeply and compulsively engaged. It was a very rewarding experience for me, and I would love to see more “games” like it.

    This was a great read, and I think if ToT want to shoot for that break-even point, they would do well to produce a “collector’s edition” version of The Path, one with commentary exactly like these articles integrated Valve-style.

    Finally, goddamn we need more women of color making games.

    • Wulf says:

      The first paragraph there sums up how I felt about The Path, really. As I’ve laboured to explain in the past; not everything is a game, and sometimes things are just interactive experiences and they’re bloody marvellous on their own grounds, without needing to be a game.

      I also agree with Lambchops, too. Tale of Tales hurt themselves by trying to make it a game instead of just an interactive experience. If you look at Windosill, that was a popular, beautiful little thing, and yet it wasn’t so much a game as a toy, it was just a media toy, like we used to get back in the olden days of PC gaming (when CD-ROMs were all the rage). The Path would’ve been much better if they’d cut out the flower collecting and the score, just letting it stand as purely an interactive experience.

      Interactive Fiction doesn’t need game elements to work, after all. And I do love me some IF.

  7. pimorte says:

    @MtotheThird:
    Why does it matter what race a game creator is?
    Why does it matter what gender a game creator is?

    Why should it matter at all what physical characteristics a game creator has?

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      Vandelay says:

      Although I agree with you for the most part that it should make no difference whether someone is white, black, yellow or purple and that we should not be saying “we need x number of black women working in the industry”, we also must unfortunately recognise that people of different ethnicities do experience very different lives, even if they exist in the same culture. Being able to bring those experiences to a creative medium can bring nothing but good.
      Found the bits of The Path I played to be really engaging. Probably going to avoid this until I actually play as every girl and find all the Wolves, but this looks really interesting.

    • Kieron Gillen says:

      pimorte: I’d suggest you read the full post mortem, which may give a few suggestions why it does matter.

      KG

    • cjlr says:

      @pimorte

      I do think the way MtotheThird phrased it came off as a bit stupid, but…

      Designers and artists of differing ethnicity and sex (gender is for nouns, damnit!) will by definition have (potentially very) different experiences in life. The variety of art is in some great part dependent on the variety in artists. I would say said variety is a good thing, and therefore it follows that a greater variety in creators’ backgrounds would be as well. Would you agree?

    • Pantsman says:

      Because it is a fact that in our world, these things influence a person’s relationship to their culture (and what cultures they have relationships to), and thus they have an effect on that person’s perspectives. A woman of colour has some different things to express than a white male, and most of what we get from the game industry these days is the work of white males. A more diverse array of game designers means a more diverse array of games, and that’s a good thing.

    • Wulf says:

      Pantsman puts it very eloquently.

      What I’d personally say is that we need people from different walks of life, perhaps even people who aren’t accustomed to creating games, we need fresh blood. A fresh perspective is a valuable thing in the gaming world as it brings something new to the table rather than just the stagnant re-re-re-re-re-repeats that defined, say, the last generation of consoles. We don’t need another Tomb Raider, Halo, Gears of War, or Assassin’s Creed, we need new ideas rather than falling back on the old, stale, tried and tested approach.

      And the thing is, we’ve seen how culture can differentiate things. Comparing a game from the UK, with one from America, and one from Russia, the differences become apparent even there, and we need more of that. A person’s culture and background can, indeed, have a huge impact on what they want to express, as was said.

  8. Chiller says:

    Unfortunately I find that their blue text on black background blog is nigh-unreadable. Gosh, my eyes hurt.

    • disperse says:

      Try hitting refresh. They made the (questionable) decision to randomize text/background color. I struggled through eye pain caused by a hot pink background before realizing that.

  9. John says:

    I always felt that the whole rape controversy was spawned by people who completely misconstrued things (perhaps deliberately), and then perpetuated by people who hadn’t played the game. I actually thought it was disgraceful how much ill-informed hatred was directed at it. Anyone’s who’s played it, surely, will know it’s not ‘a game about rape’. Rape is referenced in the story of one girl, but it’s in no way celebrated — just the opposite. It was carefully and powerfully dealt with.

    (I haven’t read the postmortem yet, but will in the morning.)

  10. Vinraith says:

    From an old Tale of Tales interview:

    Everything in The Path is open for interpretation. To tell you the truth, we don’t even know what it all means ourselves

    The more relativist, sober explanation is that we just juxtapose random elements in the hope of triggering some association in the mind that leads to some kind of meaning. Though our choice of elements is far from random. So this is not correct either.

    If you’re a “reader response” kind of person, feel free to pay this post no mind. If, like me, you cease to be interested in a work on discovering that the creator of said work had no clear meaning in mind, you can spare yourself a lot of time and trouble by simply ignoring Tale of Tales from here on out.

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      Sagan says:

      Sometimes in art, if you know that the creator had no meaning in mind, that can make it better. Because you stop asking “what is he trying to tell me,” and you will find that constantly asking that question was in fact distracting you from the experience for all this time.
      With The Path, the example would obviously be that you think “oh shit, what did I just do to that girl?” instead of asking “what were they trying to tell me with the cinematic for this wolf?”

    • Vinraith says:

      @Sagan

      To each his own, obviously, as there are few things as personal as one’s response to art. For my part, I tend to view emotionally powerful imagery tossed about without meaning, and with no intent beyond “to provoke a reaction,” as a sort of high-level trolling. I treat it as such.

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      Sagan says:

      I don’t think it’s just “trying to provoke a reaction.” Or in a sense it is, but the reaction is not just random.

      The way I read your posting, I think you kind of imply the word random there, like “they just randomly throw emotionally powerful imaginary out there to provoke any reaction.”

      And my point is, that it can be very much with intention. Like they say “OK here we want the player to feel X, how do we achive that?” and then they make you tiny like in the grandmother’s house or they make the walls different and that doesn’t “mean” anything, but it is there with intention, and the artist wanted to make you feel something.

      And from that quote you posted, all we can take is, that some elements in the game are put there without a meaning behind them. I think the game as a whole very much had a meaning.

    • Vinraith says:

      @Sagan
      No, I think they were trying to provoke a very specific reaction, but it doesn’t appear that they actually had anything to say about the subject they use to provoke that reaction. I’m deeply troubled by using the kinds of imagery The Path uses without having a clear intent in mind beyond “to disturb.” It comes across to me as lazy, exploitative shit-stirring and little else. YMMV, obviously, as already stated reactions to art are fundamentally personal things.

    • Dominic White says:

      Well done, you’ve written off art as ‘high-level trolling’. You’ve spent way too long on the internet, and it has turned your brain to jelly. Stop, take a step back, and reassess things.

    • Vinraith says:

      @Dominic
      Take your own advice. Just because “The Path” is, in my opinion, cynical, manipulative, exploitative, and devoid of meaning is hardly a comment on all art, or indeed any art other than “The Path.” I’m not sure why you’re trying to turn a pleasant discussion into an argument, nor why you feel the need to resort to personal insults, but I suggest you pick a fight with someone that gives a damn.

    • Wulf says:

      Eh, I’m not going to chip in on either side, here… this isn’t the sort of thing I wish to propagate.

      I will say two things:

      - Not everything works for everyone, and everyone is entitled to their own opinion, so to vilify a person on the basis of opinion is churlish and immature at best and it accounts to no more than “my brain is better than your brain, nyah nyah!” I take umbrage at some things said, but only when the poster goes out of their way to paint something in a poor light objectively. Vinraith wasn’t doing that.

      - Abstract art isn’t for everyone. I like it because the painter is very specifically crafting and cultivating a scenario which invites the viewer to try to draw their own personal understanding, this may be deep, philosophical, trite, or whatever else, and every viewer is going to have a view as valid as the next, and everyone is likely going to have their own imagining on precisely what the art depicts. They’re going to take that away with them, as a collaborative work between them and the artist. That’s what The Path was to me but it’s not going to seem that way to everyone, and anyone familiar with art knows that abstract art isn’t well-loved, so it’s definitely not for everyone.

      At the end of the day, what we have with The Path is something that takes a great deal of effort on part of the viewer to put meaning into, some like that and some don’t. Simple as. Some want to embroil themselves within philosophy and pondering the nature of this, that, and the other, melding their own dreams with their perceptions of what’s in front of them, and some want to be able to just view a really beautiful painting, you know?

      It’d be like a musician purposefully leaving gaps in their music for the mind to fill in, some will have a laugh with that and–oh Gods, funny story flashback, will relate at the end of this–do it, but others will just want the song. Some people want to create LittleBigPlanet levels, some want to play them.

      It’s all a matter of perspective.

      So, yeah, I promised a funny story.

      Does anyone remember Fighting Fantasy? I remember an instance in my youth with one of those… basically, a friend scribbled out a few lines on a page and invited us to fill in the blanks. So, here’s an example…

      Original Text: A woman wearing chainmail bursts into the room with a loaded crossbow.
      Altered Text: A Moomin wearing nothing salsas into the room with a loaded banana.

      And it went on like that. >_> Good times.

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      luminosity says:

      @Vinraith, FWIW my reaction was the same as yours on reading that. I have no problem coming up with my own interpretations for works, but part of it is experiencing what the artist wanted you to experience and what my reaction to that leads to. Reading that made me think that instead of investing their work with meaning that I could then analyse, they just decided to throw a lot of random shit together without spending much time thinking about it, hoping we’d do all the work. Trying to appear intellectual without actually putting any effort in.

      Rubbed me the wrong way anyway, and made me disregard anything ToT related from here on.

    • Vinraith says:

      @luminosity

      Trying to appear intellectual without actually putting any effort in.

      That’s exactly how it read to me as well. I can appreciate art that requires interpretation, I enjoy working out what an artist’s intent was and I enjoy sorting through my own reactions, but I’m not willing to put a lot of thought or intellectual effort into something that I don’t feel the artist themselves thought much about. Why should I invest myself in it if it doesn’t seem that they did?

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      Sagan says:

      OK I think you may have a valid point with The Path, because I also don’t think that it is great art, but I still like it. However I think you see the wrong reason for that and draw the wrong conclusions.
      Art doesn’t need a meaning. Maybe a better example would be something positive, like a Van Gogh painting. Those are completely void of meaning as far as I can tell. I don’t know anything about Van Gogh, but he probably didn’t even have an intention with his paintings. He just painted the flowers or the night or a chair. But even without meaning or intention it is great.

      The Path on the other hand wants to disturb you and maybe it isn’t entirely good at that, so you don’t like it. But I think the problem for you is not the lack of meaning, but maybe that the game didn’t manage to put you in the right mindset and then you didn’t like how the game wanted to make you feel. Like “you had me running around the forest for hours collecting flowers so that the clues would finally show up, and then you go from that to a scene where I got a girl raped. Really?”
      So I think you may have a valid point about The Path, but I think you should be more careful with your statements about art in general. Art can be very good, even if all it wants to do is disturb you.

    • Pantsman says:

      @Vinraith and Luminosity

      “The more relativist, sober explanation is that we just juxtapose random elements in the hope of triggering some association in the mind that leads to some kind of meaning. Though our choice of elements is far from random. So this is not correct either.

      I find it odd that in the very passage you quote, Vinraith, there is a statement by the creators that what you are accusing them of is not at all what they are doing.

      Yes, they say they don’t entirely understand it themselves. That doesn’t mean they don’t understand it at all themselves, or that they haven’t put any of themselves in the work. It perhaps only means that, while the entire production was poured out of themselves, they (like just about any human being) don’t fully understand themselves.

      “Why should I invest myself in it if it doesn’t seem that they did?” Because you might get something out of it.

  11. postmanX3 says:

    And yet still, it’s not a game.

    I don’t have a problem with Tales of Tales making interesting art, but they’d better not claim themselves game creators.

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      AS says:

      @postmanX3: It’s somewhat of a forced misnomer in their calling it a game, especially as they attempt to pioneer notgames – at least one half of them, anyway. The games community is the closest thing they have to brethren, and yet when it’s mentioned that The Path or Salome is the better “game” in posts and should win at IGF, I can’t help but think that a new conference/award should be created for them and the games they champion – a clean split from games and interactivity focused on fun, and interactivity focused on anything else.

      The split might be incredibly harmful in the short term as a new realm of interactivity without games needs to gain acceptance with people, but I don’t think any Tale of Tales production should have anything to do with the IGF because Tale of Tales is trying to do something not necessarily associated with fun, but with thinking.

    • Pantsman says:

      Are we still on this topic? What medium it belongs to seems to me a question of staggeringly little importance. It’s a neat thing, whatever kind of thing it is.

  12. Guhndahb says:

    I felt it was a game, and a good game. Linear it may be, certainly slow moving, with few traditional gameplay elements, but the description as game is as apt as any other. I certainly don’t see a reason why games and art need to be mutually exclusive. (I realize that some of you do not claim this latter point is so, and that you feel that The Path is art and not game even though the two can be realized together, but some folks really do seem to have trouble with experiencing and enjoying the art in some of these less traditional games and thus dismiss them as “not games”.)

    Even Tale of Tales talk the same way. The postmortem seems dismissive of games and gamers to me – enough so that I found it quite irritating and pretentious. Meanwhile I didn’t find The Path to be pretentious at all as many gamers seem to have. I enjoyed trying to make sense of the experience and, eventually, I formed very solidified interpretations of all the girls’ tales. And yet I’m a philistine gamer, through and through. Who’d a thunk it?

    The closing of the blog also disappoints me a bit. It’s easy to follow the occasional posts on the RSS feed so I know what they are up to. I have no intention of following them on facebook and twitter with all the useless noise those services provide. They posted about the closing on April 1st, I figured it was just a bad joke.

  13. Gabbo says:

    @AS So something can only be a game if it is “fun”? That’s a rather shallow outlook on gaming, given how subjective the term ‘fun’ is and the broad range of responses (physical or emotional) interactive entertainment (nee ‘game’) could elicit if developed well enough.

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      AS says:

      @Gabbo: I’d like to strictly define a game as being “fun” in order to better categorize things such as Interactive Fiction, etc. However this me being an obsessive stat cruncher that’ll do the calculations to figure out maximum profit per unit time in Harvest Moon while still allowing me to complete the game, or figuring out which weapons best kill others in Bad Company 2/FPS of the moment, or trying to keep my various interests neat and organized in the hope it might lead to a new thought. Maybe a thought that makes no sense/is objectively bad, but a new thought.

      Also, you’re right on how “fun” is incredibly subjective (eaving a lot of room for what a game still “is”), but if you had a group of people looking for fun would you recommend Monaco or Salome? Fun probably boils down to the “you’ll know it when you see it” test – I enjoy telling stories to young children because they give me prompts to work with on the fly, but as much as it’s interactive (“He should ride a bike, and buy a fan”) and entertaining for the both of us, I’d hardly call that a game.

      Most games are certainly aimed at being fun right now, although some have argued that we’re in the Musical phase seen in the early years of cinema. Since this is about The Path, let’s look at the “not manifesto” posted by Michaël Samyn here:
      “Can we create a form of digital entertainment that explicitly rejects the structure of games?
      What is an interactive work of art that does not rely on competition, goals, rewards, winning or losing?”

      There’s a bit in their forums that goes on to try to define gameplay as using mechanics to achieve a goal – if we keep the interactivity part but try to drop gameplay, we’re left with mechanics that people are able to use for… something. Almost aimless, a Sims-esque construction that allows you to use the mechanics you’re given with a bit of pre-generated items to create some kind of interaction. The Path may be relegated to a footnote as the first immersive, interactive art gallery on a computer with a vague theme that’s up to the viewer to decide upon, and… I’ve completely lost where I was going with this. Maybe we could replicate The Path in meatspace by cross dressing and walking through the woods with objects randomly scattered?

  14. brkl says:

    I enjoyed walking around as Carmen and kept trying to find the Wolf, never realizing it was the Woodsman :x

  15. Rohit says:

    @Vinraith
    Funny, because recently we’ve been seeing the word “pretentious” dismissed in reviewing art games as “not getting it”.

    I guess we finally found a developer that’s just that.

  16. Matzerath says:

    I have fond memories of The Path. I got an emotional jolt out of the game that I wasn’t expecting, but that’s just me. I also quite enjoyed the mad brouhaha over its merits or lack thereof, and was greatly amused by people revealing their own deep dark psychoses in their critiques.
    But the lasting benefit of The Path was that it actually led me to this site!

  17. pimorte says:

    @Kieron – there was no mention anywhere about blackness. I read the articles. The only reference to skin colour could be that the Girl in White/Red and Aureyia herself were both black.

    @others – So what you’re concerned is about the output – but I say that skilled creators are able to create good games with new perspectives no matter what their race or gender. Let the output speak for itself, and let hiring be based on intellectual merit, not body characteristics.

    • Kieron Gillen says:

      pimorte : I didn’t say it gave all the answers to all your questions. Just 2/3rds of them.

      KG

    • Pantsman says:

      “So what you’re concerned is about the output – but I say that skilled creators are able to create good games with new perspectives no matter what their race or gender.”
      And I agree. But they will not all provide the same new perspectives, and the perspectives available to them will depend on their identity, including among other things their gender and racial identity. No matter how skilled, there are things that a white male creator will not express that a woman of color will (and vice versa), simply because these things affect their experiences and thus shape who they are and what they wish to convey as creators. No matter how good of a composer Beethoven was, he would never have written Minor Swing or A Love Supreme.

      “Let the output speak for itself, and let hiring be based on intellectual merit, not body characteristics.”
      You seem to be injecting your own insecurities here. Who said anything about hiring, or ignoring merit? It is not a question of merit, of how “good” the games are. It is a question of variety, of how many different kinds of games there are. Is a world of a million Half-Life-calibre FPSs really better off than the highly diverse one in which we live? Is it even as good a world? It’s a question of personal taste, of course – but for me at least, the answer is no.

      And at any rate, a more diverse range of game creators would ultimately lead to better games across the board. A more diverse ecosystem (or marketplace, if you prefer) leads to fiercer competition, which leads to higher qualty, in the realm of ideas and creativity as everywhere else.

  18. pimorte says:

    @rohit – Particularly interesting is ToT’s response to negative criticism (emphasis mine):

    This doesn’t mean that there wasn’t any opposition. A few journalists and bloggers have written scathing reviews of The Path. But these tended to be so filled with passionate hatred and deep disgust that it was difficult to take them seriously. Usually the criticism boiled down to the reviewer blaming the designer for making a game that they didn’t understand. Which must have been all the more painful to the writers because clearly a lot of other people did enjoy the game tremendously. So the only possible conclusion was that all these people were delusional or snobbish and that nobody dared to admit that the emperor wasn’t wearing any clothes.

    “Only the people who like my stuff are right”. Heh.

    • Rohit says:

      Yep. Particularly didn’t like that.

    • Pantsman says:

      Whether their criticism of their critics is valid isn’t really clear from this quote. You’d have to read all the reviews they’re referring to to make that judgement. Is it not possible that the bad reviews boiled down to the reviewer not understanding the thing being reviewed?

      Maybe the bit you bolded tripped you up, it confused me at first too. On a second reading, I saw that that’s not what they believe about the reviewers who gave bad reviews, it’s what they’re saying the reviewers themselves seemed to be expressing in their reviews. That is, it isn’t “it is true that [bolded text referring to people who didn't like it]“, but “bad reviews seemed to say that [bolded text referring to people who did like it]“.

    • Joseppe says:

      @Pantsman

      “But these tended to be so filled with passionate hatred and deep disgust that it was difficult to take them seriously.”
      That’s pretty clearly them dismissing the majority of negative reviews. Of note, they’re resisting the idea that their game could be critiqued (especially as problematic along sexist lines) without the reviewer being puritanical and anti-experimental. Frankly, I enjoyed the grandma’s house mechanic, being forced to walk to find things, and there were some genuinely interesting moments. However, the whole thing was wrapped up in an almost insulting pretension coupled with a really dull Hot Topic/edgy violence against women aesthetic that was annoying and derivative. I don’t mind media that takes itself seriously or is even pretentious, but in this case, there wasn’t enough substance to warrant it. It took video games to the level of a mainstream (and quickly forgettable) horror film, not to the contemporary “high art” level that they seemed to think it did.

    • Pantsman says:

      @Joseppe: “That’s pretty clearly them dismissing the majority of negative reviews.” Certainly. The issue is whether the majority of negative reviews were in fact worthy of dismissal, which they were if what ToT says is true (and I’m not saying it is).

    • Xenoglossy says:

      Yeah, I actually really liked The Path, but the postmortem made them seem really full of themselves — especially that part about how the negative reviewers Just Didn’t Get It and the bit about what went wrong (which came off as very defensive and reluctant to admit to any actual problems — it seemed to boil down to “It’s not our fault! Anyway, it’s not even that bad! You just don’t understand!”). They’ve just gone down a bit in my estimation for that.