Inside A Collective Part Two: Delphine Fourneau

This is the second part in a six part series on the French games collective Klondike. This second article focuses on one of the ten members of the collective: Delphine Fourneau. Find out more about Delphine at dziff.com and follow her on twitter. Download her most recent game, Sacramento, right now.

Delphine and Gib meet me at Lille Europe. I almost walk into them, largely because I’m slightly dazed by the fact I’d gotten to the other side of another actual country quicker and cheaper than it would have taken me to get halfway up my own. Delphine gives me a huge smile and as we make our way to Porte d’Arras on the Metro, speaks to me about the area; expressive with her body language when she feels like her English won’t suffice. I trace place names on the Metro map familiar to me from famous cycling races as we move towards the northwest border with Belgium.

Delphine is 29, born in the north of France and still based in Lille, not far from where she grew up. She studied fine art – ‘arts plastiques’ which is actually usually directly translated into English as ‘the plastic arts’ – art with shape, presence, texture: sculpture, installation, performance. She specialised in digital arts and video work, interned as a game artist at a studio in Valenciennes, and was hired when the internship finished. Early in 2016 she became freelance.

In February I just left. I was working there for almost six years and I decided it was enough. I was almost burning out at the end of last year because I was working in the studio and then having all my personal projects, and I was always working, […] and there weren’t many possibilities for advancement as an art director […] So I decided to quit and, yeah, now I’m happy.

She grins. I speak to Delphine the afternoon after my arrival; I sit at her living room table while she gently shoos her cat Loulou out of the door so it can’t bother us (it does still bother us). She comes back over with a pen and paper, so when our language skills don’t quite match up, she can draw and write things for me.

It’s worth noting (for several reasons) that Klondike are a French collective. Their ‘Frenchness’ will come up in later articles in this series, but certainly the fact that the collective are based in France has influenced their ability to form in the first place, and to make work. Some were supported by a public university system free for all, others a private university system that charges less than the ‘minimum’ UK fees (€8000 per year at a prestigious private university, £9000 for UK public sector universities, MIT will charge you $46,704). Then, for Delphine, as she left employment, she was able to claim chômage from the government.

Since I was working for five years […] It’s called chômage in France. It’s-, you have some money from the government every month – rights that you get when you are working for a period, and I’m supposed to have rights for two years of this money, so I can [have time to] see if my activity as a freelancer is okay or if I have to find a new job.

The conditions of a global workforce are not global, ‘freelance’ in France where there is a still-functioning welfare state (despite some politicians’ efforts), where there is a health service free-at-the-point-of-use – here freelance is a much less risky choice. It allows artists like Delphine and, by extension, collectives like Klondike to flourish.

…in my salary I’m giving some money every month to the government, which is a social thing, and it’s distributed for everyone. And then it’s open, it gives me the right to have some money every month if I have no job anymore. Chômage, I don’t know if there is an [English] word for that.

We move on to her work. Delphine’s art style is full of a mix of humour and elegance; clean confident lines, cuteness and attitude somehow combined. Her colours are bold, almost luminescent, often capturing the gaudiness of nature – like those sunsets which always look fake on camera. Within Klondike you can see her influence in the colours of Oases, her sense of humour in the art of Princess Nom Nom, and most recently, in her first solo release, Sacramento, Delphine’s first piece of independent game design. In all of them there is the influence of ‘traditional’ mediums: pen, ink and watercolour, and her love of comics. As for games,

I don’t like so much big games, like AAA games, except maybe Zelda, but I never played any big games. I’m really into small pretty games. I need a game to be very pretty to be interested in it. And I’ve no reflexes at all, so I need them to be calm. I really like contemplative games.

In the corner of the room there is a framed copy of a huge Sword and Sworcery poster, as she begins to talk about the games that influence her, Delphine gestures to it.

The big revelation for me was Sword and Sworcery. When I saw this game it felt… […] I was not fond of pixel art at all, and when I saw this game, ‘Oh yeah, pixel art is okay,’ it’s so beautiful. And yeah, I’m always testing some little games I mostly find on itch.io. The last one was A Good Gardener. All these little games that are just telling you a story

At the heart of awakening her interest with experimental and independent games is her involvement with Klondike. Delphine was one of the founder members of the collective, though that makes it sound a lot more organised than it seems to have felt at the time:

To be honest, at the beginning I didn’t get what Klondike was supposed to be. I just know that at that period of my life I was just struggling with the fact that my life was too normal, like, ‘Okay, I have a job, I’m a normal person, […] doing things that I don’t really love.’ And when Armel came in the studio he was already aware of the emergent independent games and all, and… it was an explosion!

Sometimes the slight linguistic confusions in imperfect English are closer to a truth than the tired meaning of ‘perfect’ English. As Delphine says the word ‘explosion’ her eyes light up.

Delphine also explains that alone, she is not very confident, but with Klondike “because we are together […] it gives you some weight, I think, and some confidence”. Both externally, and internally, there’s a peer support network, and a band of people to stand together with whenever there’s a spotlight. Likewise, Klondike had a big role in her confidence to move toward making her own solo game:

It’s cool to be a game artist but when you’re seeing everyone around you doing their own game: it’s [their] thing. […] I love my job, but I really wanted to do things by my own.

Even before leaving her job at the game studio she had been teaching herself to learn 3D, but just after she got back from GDC, she began (the just-now-released) Sacramento. She explains to me that she felt “a bit stuck just being a game artist”, and wanted to make something small and self-contained that was entirely her own.

Sacramento is an exquisitely beautiful vignette game reflecting part of a train journey in America. It’s washed in a tactile brush-feeling art style, the colours that same balance of impossible and beautiful as in her other work. Her lines are careful and gestural, drawn by someone who knows how to work ink on paper. But the quality of the experience is also nuanced and carefully balanced, the game design is light touch, and the central mechanic ties neatly into that feeling of briefly half-lucid half-misremembered places seen whilst travelling long distances.

We were waiting at the train station and it seems to be there was a tempest – a storm – a few days before, and there was a lot of water everywhere. I don’t know if Sacramento is usually a bog but there was a lot of water and these trees just floating on the water, and there was a bridge behind, and I was just chilling and it was almost the end of the travel […] and I found this scene very beautiful because there was this light fog and a nice atmosphere, and obviously the colour of the landscape was not blue and all, it’s just because these are colours I’m used to drawing with, because I use watercolour pencils.

Delphine and I talk about the influences on the piece, she shows me the original notebook sketch that she made on the trip, from which she developed the game, then we discuss other influences – such as Miyazaki’s Spirited Away.

In France it’s called Le Voyage de Chihiro. At the beginning it was not intentional and then, yeah, [I thought] in fact I wanted to do some rails on the water. […] Then I remembered this scene in the film, and it was the same mood I wanted to depict I think.

She also describes the game as ‘impressionist’: “I think it’s a kind of impressionistic mood and style, because it’s talking about memories, memories when you’re travelling.” The game really is beautiful, and Delphine credits the influence of the other Klondike members in her wanting to make it. Being part of Klondike has enabled her to build both the confidence to experiment, and given her the room to take risks, to learn new authorial skills that enable her to bring her rich, playful, elegant visual design to bear on game mechanics and tools.

We finish up by talking about her hopes for the future:

I want to make as much personal projects as possible when I’m quite free and without any financial problems and all. I really want to learn what I want to do. For many years I was just doing my work, my job, and now I’ve-, I’m at this moment when I can take some time just to do what I want to do […] I think Sacramento is kind of the first step of this, and next month will maybe be even better. I hope so. I have two years for me, just for me.

You can download Sacramento right now.

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15 Comments

  1. ROMhack2 says:

    Great article. Really looking forward to the rest!

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    Muppetizer says:

    I’m so happy that this series is a thing, Klondike are consistently creating some of the most exciting and interesting things for me.

  3. syndrome says:

    Isn’t that great? Some posh kids living in the first world, doing what they like.. And their freedom makes them popular and somehow attractive and better at everything they do compared to those who live just 900 miles to the east.

    And they can even quit their job and get paid for TWO FUCKING YEARS just because they … are?

    And I’d be ok with all that, really I would, if only I read a single “Thanks France” in the entire interview.

    WOW

    It’s not that I’m full of irony but I think this must be because french people are just much better people overall. Much more whiter, they have different hairs, clothing, animal names, everything! Their language is also, what’s the word … God-given, royale. Clearly intended to be used by superior people who use watercolor pencils to hypnotize the masses.

    An explosión!

    Go ahead, tell me I’m bitter!

    With the amount of talent I possess, it is you who lose. When I die everything goes to grave with me, it’s not my fault I wasn’t born in the first world country nor it was under my volition that I have to stay here for so long.

    Fuck you all and fuck that astonishment with people who do what they like to do and do it… meh, ok-ish?

    Are they special for not dying from an overdose? For having both parents? For having worked for five years? For being given a chance in life? Knowing how to draw and use watercolor pencils? What am I missing? Tell me.

    • Kynrael says:

      Frenchman here, and I couldn’t pass by your comment without replying.

      It’s because our social system means that all the taxes we pay are then used to help and support people out of work. It is a right earned by working. If you don’t work, you won’t earn that “unemployed salary”, the amount and time depending on how much you earned and how long you worked.

      This is a really great system my country has, and since you wanted to hear it, “Thanks France!”. Come work over here :)

      And to conclude, they aren’t special, I’m not special. We’re all just lucky to have been born in this country.

      • hannahnicklin says:

        I’d like to respond to this: I’m sorry that you felt like this article in some way suggested that this kind of labour right should be taken for granted. I hoped that I had been clear enough that I was saying this kind of freedom and creativity is only possible because of the welfare state in a country such as France – and that in the videogames sector, which is so often portrayed as a ‘global’ workforce, labour conditions are by no means ‘global’, and that damages our sector; the kind of work that can be produced, and who is able to produce it. But perhaps I didn’t emphasise it enough. Delphine and I did definitely discuss this, not all of it went into the article because it had to be cut down quite a lot. I would, however, resist your rejection of focussing on her work. I think it is good, notable and inventive when laid against the current scene. I wish you all the best in Serbia, and I’m sorry global inequality is so shit. I’m a member of the International Workers of the World Union, and I think a globalised labour movement is one thing we can attempt to build in the face of it.

        • syndrome says:

          Both Kynrael and hannah, thank you for your kind and humble responses.

          I get that not everyone is self-righteous about their first-world birthplace, and that there are people who not only understand labor, class, and racial inequalities but they also invite others to prosper as well. And thank you for being aware of it and tolerant enough for my ramblings.

          However, it’s not inequality per se that bothers me that much. It’s the isolation. The feeling of isolation. Here I can be next to you, I can let my thoughts freely touch you, I can discuss this openly. But in that other place — my actual life — it’s something else entirely. Nobody knows what I’m capable of, nor what I have to do daily just to be able to daydream.

          Yet I somehow managed to climb mountains of achievements, however unsurmountable they appeared, only to end up beneath them again and see my feats lie in ashes by demonically ignorant people with whom I’m surrounded.

          I’m 36 years old now and I want to escape this mental hell since I was 12. I am self-taught at everything and probably the best thing that could happen to video games, however pretentious that might sound to anyone who’d object-ad-hominem. I had personal computers around me since I was 4, I’ve seen games and code and disk drives noone would believe existed.

          Kynrael, believe me there is nothing I would do with more rigor then come to France, but alas it’s not about how I feel about it, it’s about the reality of purposely divided mankind.

          You can’t just go anywhere. I’ve no diplomas, no vocations, I’m a jack of all trades, just alive and very smart. And the more I look for the ways to do it, the more I feel isolated. There are no options when it comes to border control, immigration policies, and work & live permits. There is no money I can carry with me to persuade anyone that I’m not going to become an illegal alien in your country. There is no border officer who’d buy my opinion on how great I am at making games. There are no publishers or peers or bosses or prime ministers who’d even see a success in me, there is just resentment toward anyone who’d appear smarter than them, or toward anyone who’d dare to counter their shallow arguments, there is only labor injustice, and poor standards of living for those who have to become a cog in a system full of hivemind peons.

          But I’ve persevered and found my way through numerous professions and among different people, I’ve outsourced for the west, I’ve tried my best at reaching people farther and I’ve learned this ruddy language along the way. Yet to no avail, the more people understand who I am, the more they want to choke the life out of me. Nowadays I’m growing older and tired, yet some kids who just experiment with their time are applauded for being free. For never being as isolated.

          I won’t reject their work hannah, I never do. I know everything there is about games, or at least I try to, every day, and there is always more. I’m a new age philosopher, and one of the rare people at this time who understands that games aren’t what they seem to be, they are only a part of something much more greater, and I need help to unleash this vast knowledge on why is gaming so important and how exactly it works, it has nothing to do with game design. The thing is, noone knows this because everybody learns to do it by intuition.

          This knowledge isn’t mine, it belongs to the world, and I cannot physically devote my time to any work outside of what feeds me and gives me a dry place to rest, for at least a decade now.

          In a funny twist, my country did everything to take so much from me almost as much as France gives to its citizens, so in a way, I feel like I’m the one who is financing Klondike, but the great dissonance lies in the fact it’s not me who’s applauded, and this is why “Thanks everyone for letting me have this life” would make a huge difference.

          I admit I’m bitter sometimes though. I’m working on it, as noone listens to bitter people, but inequalities have to go away, otherwise we’ll all lose big time. And someone bitter is usually the one who has to say it out loud.

          If anyone knows a way how exactly a long-term game and graphics designer, coding engineer, a philosopher gamer, passionate lover, altruist, and Unity developer per excellence, could go abroad, never to look back, I’m all ears. Nobody expects me stuck here anyway.

          • syndrome says:

            *rigor = vigor

          • Gib says:

            Regarding that feeling of isolation, I don’t know where you live in Serbia, but there is a very small but growing indie scene in Belgrade, if you don’t already know them you should try to contact Ivan Notaros or Damier Veapi. They both are fantastic and talented people and I’m sure would be glad to meet new developers around.

          • Kynrael says:

            I can understand the bitterness when it feels like someone takes a great situation for granted. I’m a game designer myself and used this right to leave my previous job, which was leading me to a very dark place in my life ; the possibility to finally take a step back, breathe and take the time to choose a good job is life-saving.

            I don’t know about other countries, but in France studios will help with immigration. Try checking out afjv.fr (french website for game studios), this could be a stepping stone to come over. Coming over to study can help this process too (Granted, with the skills you must have, that’d be grating). An ex-colleague of mine emigrated from Tunisia 5, 6 years ago and still lives here: it’s possible.

            I do agree that in this era of global communications, the inability to actually be free of travel is discordant. Politics and economics; as hannah said, only a global social change could solve everything. Baby steps until then.

            I wish you the best!

    • JamesPatton says:

      You *are* bitter, but it sounds like you have good reason to be. Where are you from? What experiences have you had which make you hate this article so much?

    • ROMhack2 says:

      It’s probably exactly what you mean but I’d love to read articles like this regarding game/indie game developers in places like Serbia.

      You’re probably right to show some bitterness because it’s rare for any non-English speaking countries get a look in (aside from GOG who are based in Warsaw).

      Even Japan seems to have little involvement from Western journalists. I can only think of that recent documentary – Branching Paths – as an example of some kind of interest being exerted for its indie game scene. This is despite Cave Story and Yume Nikki being massively popular for well over a decade.

      I find it so strange because it’s not something you’ll find in literature or film. There’s always interviews with directors and writers from other countries.

      Maybe it’s a sign – if needed – that games journalism is still very young. Perhaps not as mature as it makes out.

  4. MajorLag says:

    Oh how I’d love to quit my job and try to actually make it as an indie developer instead of poking away glacially at projects that likely won’t go anywhere. Sadly, I live in the US, where people of my class are seen as annoying but necessary cogs to be hammered into a cubicle and overcharged for bad health care while being denied more than paltry time off until they ultimately grow too old or are replaced by clean efficient machinery.

    USA! USA! USA!

    • syndrome says:

      Hello, fellow soul. I knew I wasn’t the only one.

      Come visit Serbia, at least you’ll know why you’re receiving a bad health care.

      But seriously, overall, it might be better for you as it is a beautiful (and, for anyone outside Serbia, quite accessible) place to live in, so you wouldn’t perhaps need healthcare as much.

      Save us from the invasion of cogs and cubicles. I’m dead serious. We’ve been “liberated” relatively recently by US, and you know what that means…

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    InfamousPotato says:

    Wonderful article. I am very much enjoying this series. I had no idea a member of the Klondike Collective was the creator of Sacramento (if any of you haven’t played it, please do. It’s delightful).

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