INTERVIEW: Rami Ismail Discusses Meditations (Part One)

Monday, January 14th, 2019

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OR: How on earth did you actually recruit three-hundred-and-sixty-five developers? How did the conversations go with them?

RI: So it varies a lot. Some of them were people- we have every type of story involved here. We have people that we reached out [to] immediately on the first week. Friends that I knew that would do interesting work. I reached out to developers whose work I’ve seen that I thought was interesting, but at that point it was mostly still me curating. And throughout the year -I had a pretty rough year in 2018- so I realized that I was falling [behind].

So I involved other people in the curation of these developers. I reached out to @moshboy, who is one of the most interesting curators on the internet and focuses on something they like to call ‘trash games’. Very small, kind of broken, kind of interesting games that do something that otherwise wouldn’t be possible with a commercial view. And [they are] a fascinating curator, fascinating just in general – the way they see games, the way they think of games, the way they curate their work.

As I reached out to @moshboy – and they curated a bunch of stuff- I also involved Jupiter Hadley, who is one of the most interesting content creators on the internet. She plays through a lot of the Jam games that are made. Hundreds of Jam games get made, and she tends to play through all of them on video. So she knows a ton of independent game developers, and she is very widely respected in that community just because, for a lot of developers, she is sort of like the first media attention they get. So Jupiter is just incredible, and getting her involved made a painful amount of sense. So I asked her if she would be interested in curating as well.

And throughout the year, some people got asked very early, and at the end there were still some spots that [we] needed to fill up. So some people got messages very late. But in there are all sorts of stories. Some people immediately, they just heard the idea, and went ‘Can I do one?’. And I was like ‘Yes, please? Pick a date.’ Some people needed a bit more ‘Okay, so what do you want? What do you need? How much time can I spend on this?’ Some of them were more negotiations, some of them were more ‘Yes, absolutely, I’m in!’. Some people really wanted a specific date, and if the date wasn’t available anymore, then they would pass on the project.

So there’s all sorts of stories in there.


“Meditations is the ritual. Meditations is ‘you’. You meditate, you do this thing. The launcher just facilitates that. The website just facilitates your access to it. But ultimately, it is about you and this [developer’s] game.

And the more we get out of the way, the better this experience is.”


OR: What was your personal experience like in managing three-hundred-and-sixty-five people for Meditations?

RI: You know that beautiful thing about ideas like Meditations? [It] is that they would never happen if you knew how much work they were up front.

And I think that’s true for a lot of things I do.

They’re just, they’re ideas that you have where you go like ‘Oh yeah, this should be doable.’ And then at the end, you look back and go ‘Actually…this was a year-long [project], this was a lot of work. This was very difficult. It took a lot of effort.’ Managing three-hundred-and-fifty highly diverse creators that have different attitudes towards games, towards deadlines, towards creditation, towards art versus commerce, towards like everything [including] communication- [it] is [a] borderline impossible job. And organizing that into something that works across two operating systems. And also managing all that into a launcher, into a format that we can read and present every day, testing all of the games on two platforms, making sure that the credits are there, making sure the texts are there, and making sure that the description is in the right format. And then dealing with the logistics of making a launcher that downloads executables to a person’s computer that runs in line with all of the security implications of that, [too].

There was a lot more work than I initially expected. And I guess that is true for most things that are interesting. But I’m really glad that I didn’t know how much work it was going to be, because if I look at Meditations now, knowing the end result I would have done it again- but if I had no idea if it was going to turn out good or not, I don’t think I would have had the courage to jump into this again.

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January 5th’s game was by Ludipe. This is, mechanically, a very simple game to play. Simply hit the switch to flip between two different holiday seasons- one when the grandfather is still alive and one when he dies. The story ends with, on one side, Christmas music playing and the family all together, and the other with only the ominous sound of the ticking grandfather clock as the family is all standing apart.

OR: Near the top of the interview, you said that that these Meditation games were “thoughts”. A lot of the Meditations games and the [included] writing pieces so far have been very intimate looks into the developers minds and heart. For example, Lisa Brown talked about her major depressive disorder and how it strikes her when ringing in the New Year, Ludipe wrote about how Three Kings Day has been for him the past several years since his grandfather died, and Lucas Gullbo discussed how he handled being in “quite a dark place” in 2015 with walks in the forest with his mom and their dog.

Were you expecting developers to open up in such a way when you began this project?

RI: I kind of hoped that was what would happen. I kind of hoped that people would take it as a challenge to make something. The question I asked was very simple. The question I asked developers was: “Pick a Day. Make a game that takes less than six hours to make” -which sort of limits your creative scope- “about a Day that is important to you. And it doesn’t matter how it is important to you. It can be about your own life, it can be about a historical day, or the concept of a day. It can be about the feeling of the day. It can be about anything, as long as it is inspired by the day. So if you want to make the day a game about the darkness of winter, pick a day in winter. But if you want to make a game about your birthday, then pick your birthday.”

And my hope was that people would think of a day that is meaningful to them that has a specific meaning or feeling – a part of their year.

A ritual like Lisa Brown’s game is inspired by her ritual of visiting friends around New Year, while Ludipe’s game on Day 5 -January 5th- was very much inspired by the holidays and the sense of missing and mourning that comes both with and in the way of those holidays, and eventually recovery. Each of these days – the hope was that by asking people to pick a date, they would think about what is meaningful to them and what makes a day meaningful. What makes a day special. What makes the day stand out. And I hoped by asking that, we would get games that were introspective or that would try to give people a feeling that the developer had. That they wanted to communicate.

Ironically enough, I know tomorrow’s game very well, because if I’m not mistaken, I think that is…mine. I made a game as well.

This was very early on in the project, and I was testing the infrastructure. So I thought ‘I’ll do a game.’ So I made one as well. My game is about choices. Last year was a very tough year for me, and was very much about the feeling of having to make a choice and knowing that at some point, there just wouldn’t be a choice. Both knowing that both outcomes were unknowable for us, for a lot of choices – but it felt like all the options I had were wrong. So it’s a game about that. And it’s actually kind of a stressful game, I think it might be the first actually stressful Meditations [game] in there. Which is interesting, because so far, most of the games we’ve played have been chill and kind of like almost ‘zen’ in a way. But there are definitely some more stressful games in there. And I guess mine ends up being the first one of those.

But for me, it was less about describing the day and [instead] describing the feeling, very similar[ly] to what Lisa did. While some of the games are like the experience or the thought or the moment itself, like in Ludipe’s game or in Cullen [Dwyer]’s game. So you know, I like the variety of how close the developer wanted you to be in their brain or if they wanted to give you an abstract feeling that is similar to what they felt, or the philosophy of what this game communicates. Even just by the grace of it being three-hundred-and-fifty different people, that’s honestly the most fascinating part of it for me.

I’m continuously a little sad that I had to test all of these games. A question that I’ve gotten a lot is ‘Can we still play the games after they’re gone?’ And my answer has always been ‘Yes, next year. Next year you can play them.’ And the developers are free to release their games – Meditations didn’t take the rights to any of the game. So if the developer wants to release their game at any point, they can. But I really think there’s an added value to playing these games on the relevant dates. And as somebody who has played most of the [games] to test them, and who has recently played through all of the January games to test ‘what if they work?’, I’m almost a little sad that I don’t get to play them in the proper context. Because there really is something special about playing one of these games a day, and letting it sit in your consciousness separate from other games. Like, if you were to play Tak’s game and then Adriel’s and then Lisa’s game and then Egor’s game and then Ludipe’s game – and you played them all back to back, they color each other. Like, the influence you had from Lisa’s game colors Egor’s game which color’s Ludipe’s game.

Well, if you put them about a day apart, it actually turns out that they get to stand on their own. They stand in ‘your day’ as a separate thing. That wasn’t something that I expected up front. But for the first ten days of the project so far, that’s been really interesting [for me].

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Rami Ismail (along with assets from Timbre, colinmcardell, bigmanjoe, and syseQ) created January 11’s Meditations game. When you press the space bar, a loud noise can occur and a ‘null’ symbol will appear on the screen and linger, the screen will turn red, the space bar icon will rotate, or a combination of these. When certain conditions are met (or not met), numerous ‘null’ symbols and hands can fly across the screen towards the space bar as sound plays. And at the end, the space bar can just…disappear, leaving behind only a hand. Rami Ismail went into depth about his Meditation game on his Twitter account here.

OR: The Meditations game website, the launcher, and the games themselves have a minimalistic aesthetic to themselves. Why did you choose to go that route? Did you ever explore any other aesthetic approaches?

RI: Yeah, I looked at a bunch of things. But ultimately, want I wanted Meditations [to be], I wanted the launcher and the brand of Meditations to only be there as a way to attract people in. And the more we gave Meditations an identity, the less it was about the developer. And ultimately, the goal was to make this about the developers. And ultimately the goal is that people come to Meditations because they’ve heard of Meditations, and the brand is big enough that people get attracted to it and involved in it.

But at the same time, the hope is [that] as soon as somebody has bought in, is in the ritual of Meditations, we [will then] get out of the way. So that’s why the launcher is basically just a white rectangle with text on it. There’s nothing there to color your experience, to take away from the developer’s interest. It’s also why when the game is done, most games will shut themselves down and the launcher will be gone as well. So you basically get crashed back to desktop. Just so that it really stands on its own. It’s its own thing, and Meditations is not part of that experience.

Meditations is the ritual. Meditations is ‘you’. You meditate, you do this thing. The launcher just facilitates that. The website just facilitates your access to it. But ultimately, it is about you and this [developer’s] game. And the more we get out of the way, the better this experience is.

Meditations | Logo



The Meditations game images used herein were taken by me, but you can check out the individual Meditations developers at the links included beneath each image set. You can also check out a partial list of all the developers in the project here. The Meditations logo is owned by Rami Ismail.

You can download the Meditations launcher for Windows and OSX platforms for free on Meditations’ official website.

Please look forward to Part Two and Part Three of my interview with Rami Ismail, which will be published on Wednesday, January 16 and on Friday, January 18, respectively.

Have you been playing the Meditations games? What has been your favorite so far? 

Let us know in the comments below!

About Quentin H.

Likes pina coladas and getting caught in the rain. And video games. Cannot forget those video games. Anime too. Should not forget that either.


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