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Inside A Collective Part Two: Delphine Fourneau

Watercolour journeys

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.

Cover image for YouTube video

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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Hannah Nicklin