Q&A: Michael Samyn on The Path

GameSpot speaks to the cocreator of the upcoming horror game based on the Little Red Riding Hood fairy tale.

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Fairy tales are fascinating and creepy, and examining them closely makes you wonder why we tell them to little children. They're a rich source of material to build on and remake, and The Path takes on the tale of Little Red Riding Hood.

As you may recall, in the original tale the young girl, so named because she wore a red head scarf, has been sent to take food in a basket to her sick grandmother, who lives in the forest. On her way, she encounters the Big Bad Wolf, who, after learning where she is heading, beats her to it to eat her grandmother and lie in wait for the girl to eat her, too.

In The Path, there are six versions of Red and six different rules, with the remaking of the fairy tale classic focused on the theme of growing up. GameSpot chatted with cocreator Michael Samyn from Tale of Tales to find out a bit more about this spooky title, currently expected for a 2009 release on the PC.

For more information on the game, please read GameSpot's first impressions.

GameSpot UK: You say that the game is about growing up. Can you explain that a bit?

Michael Samyn: The Path is inspired by Little Red Riding Hood, which can be read as a story about a girl growing up to be a woman. But we're not sure how close The Path will stick to this theme. We think we have opened it up to include not only growing up but also simply growing, evolving, changing. About making difficult choices that end up defining who you are. Or about realizing, perhaps, that the choices are in fact irrelevant.

The theme of growing up will still be part of the game in the form of the six sisters. There will be six versions of Red Riding Hood in the game, each of a different age and with her own personality. So the player will experience the same story as different girls.

GS UK: I'm not sure what happened when I met the wolf. Was he a rapist? Or just someone who was leading her on the wrong path by offering her cigarettes and the like?

MS: We refuse to tell explicit stories. Because we believe that it is one of the strengths of the interactive medium to allow the player to develop their own story. We expect players to interpret what they see, what they experience. There is no hidden backstory to discover. Any story that the player comes up with is the "correct" one. So feel free to interpret what you experienced and make up your own story.

GS UK: The character can just go to Grandma's house. But by doing this, you fail. How come?

MS: We think The Path is about making choices. Difficult choices. Impossible choices. If you follow the one rule of the game, you remain safe. But you lose the game. Or at least you stagnate.

You have to choose to break the rule and do the forbidden, even though you probably know that this will come to no good. There is a certain amount of seduction involved with this, and satisfying curiosity. But it does lead to your death. And that of your grandmother. So, according to normal logic, you lose. But in The Path, choosing to do this defines the winning condition. This is, perhaps, an expression of how we see life.

Another important aspect of this is that we basically force the player to kill his own avatar for his pleasure. We hope the perversity of such an act will add to the emotional involvement in the game.

GS UK: Was it a conscious decision not to make the game more interactive? Can you explain this a bit?

MS: Yes. Very much so. It happened after we made the first prototype for the game. In this version, the player got a lot of buttons for actions that the avatar could perform in the gameworld, depending on proximity of objects and other characters. This gave the player an enormous sense of control. Something we are well accustomed to in computer games.

But we felt that this sense of control, of power over your own fate, was not compatible with the narrative and emotional themes we wanted to work with. We want the game to be about insecurity, about lack of control.

So we take some of the control over the avatar away from the player and give it back to the artificial intelligence. That way, you're never quite sure what the avatar will do next. We hope this contributes to the tension in the game, and to the feelings that the player may develop for the avatar.

GS UK: Would you say the game is more art than game?

MS: Art and games are not contradictions. Art has always involved a certain amount of playfulness. In the strict sense of the word, games may not be as much artworks as they are cleverly engineered constructions of some kind. But we don't think computer games are games in this strict sense of the word, definitely not contemporary computer games. They are very much forms of art. Granted, they are often bad works of art. Presumably because they were not made with artistic intentions. But many people do experience them as art.

With Tale of Tales, we are trying to give these people a bit more value than they may be used to, by explicitly using the medium in an artistic way. Perhaps The Path will be a game with more art in it than most games. But that's just because it was made by artists. Artists make art. It's what they do. But we still like to call it a game. Because we believe games as a medium need to be expanded.

GS UK: Do you think that there should be more variety in games? For example, there are tons of WW2 first-person shooters, and hardly any games like The Path.

MS: Well, yes. But this is hardly an opinion. If games are to become the entertainment medium of the new century, they will need to offer the public a variety on par with that offered by the currently dominant entertainment media. A large majority of people on this planet do not play games. But they do watch movies, read books, and listen to music.

You often hear people say, "I don't play games." But do you ever hear somebody say, "I don't watch movies"? That statement would be absurd, exactly because there is such a great variety in movies that it is virtually impossible for somebody to dislike all of them. Games will be a mature medium when the phrase "I don't play games" sounds as absurd as "I don't watch movies."

GS UK: What would you say, as a developer, the aim of creating this game is?

MS: For us, The Path is a step in a larger research project. We are trying to develop new forms of interaction, new ways of using the games medium. Because we feel that there is an enormous potential in the technology that is just not being accessed by games. We are trying to develop an interactive experience driven by the desire to express a certain mood, to tell a story, however vague, to talk about certain themes.

Interaction developed to express the narrative and not the other way around. We think the interactive medium will allow us to express things that could not be expressed before. We personally enjoy computer games most when they let us play, really play, in a freeform way, as opposed to being pressured into gathering, killing, and managing. So I guess, to some extent, we're trying to develop a game without gameplay. And see if that works, if that can be enjoyable.

Discussion

12 comments
jasperrussell
jasperrussell

hmmm as the interviewer suggests, it seems more like a work of art than a game. The kind of thing you find in a gallery, spend 5 mins clicking and think yeah right before wandering off. I'm not sure why it's going to take till 2009 to make this game. I'd be a bit worried that the graphics engine they are using today will be horribly outdated in 2009. I also think people will find similar themes in much more interactive games such as The Longest Journey. I'm just going to say it - it sounds lame.

jemasoniii
jemasoniii

This game looks very cool, but I wonder how much it is going to cost. It seems to be a small game, with some replay, but I don't know if I'd spend much money for it.

MasterChief725
MasterChief725

I want to see them re-work that nursery rhyme, "ring around the rosey" into a horror game. It would make a good one, based on the black plague or something..

Chief_Kuuni
Chief_Kuuni

well lets hope that its story brings buyers

five01st
five01st

There are many games that tell stories, more so than what Mr. Samyn suggested. This is one more game that is going to tell a story, but he is hitting a profound point while talking about our experiences. This game could have a massive affect on anyone who plays it, if done in such a way. Really, they are treading on THIN ice here if the "interpretations" get out of hand.

teirdome
teirdome

I think that Mr. Samyn here might actually be the first of these interviews where the interviewee actually gets "it". He understands where games are in our modern culture, and actually sees where they are going. Not only that, he's taking steps to get us there. He's right though, an AI controlled avatar does scare me. Not in the horror sense, but in that it's been done before and failed terribly. Hopefully his studio can get it tuned correctly.

spalt
spalt

You know who'd I'd like to see an interview with? Improperly fired journalist Jeff Gerstmann, you criminals.

thiefGarrett
thiefGarrett

"So I guess, to some extent, we're trying to develop a game without gameplay." You can't have a game without gameplay, by definition. If you sit in on a poker game without actually playing, you're just a spectator. However, I'm still very interested in this project, whether it's a game or not, and I'm glad someone is pushing the boundaries.

matt_dangelo
matt_dangelo

they made a horror game off a peacefull fairytale..lol video games have no boundaries AND THAT IS GOOD MISS HILARY "DICKTATOR" CLINTON!

u8nogard
u8nogard

Sounds.... interesting. Guess I will have to wait till 2009 to see the final production product...

jayk779
jayk779

What a disturbing "game." I'm very interested to see how it turns out.