By Quentin H. / January 16th, 2019
This is Part Two of a Three Part Interview.
If you missed Part One, you can check it out here. Part Three will be published on Friday, January 18.
Rami Ismail is the co-founder (along with Jan Willem “JW” Nijman) of Vlambeer, a Dutch indie studio that erupted onto the indie development scene in 2010. Since that time, he has not only helped create games such as Super Crate Box, Ridiculous Fishing, and (most recently) Nuclear Throne, but he won the GDC 2018 Ambassador Award for his work in supporting independent game development.
On New Year’s Day 2019, he announced on Twitter a new video game project called Meditations. He explained that every day for a year, a new game would appear in the Meditations launcher that would take just a few minutes to complete and would only be available for that day. Once that day passed, a new game by a different creator would take its place in the Meditations launcher.
I reached out to Rami just after the project went live to set up an interview with him, and he agreed to delay the interview for a few days so I could experience several of the different Meditations games available. This interview occurred on January 10, 2019 – or, in other words, after the first ten Meditations games were made available to play. During our time together, we spoke about the origins of Meditations and how he envisioned it to be, the controversy that arose about how the developers were being credited and his reactions to it, if there will be a February 29th game for when Meditations repeats over again next year, and more.
In Part Two, we talk about why almost none of the Meditations games have a title, about the developer credits controversy that erupted almost immediately after Meditations was launched, and how he handled the backlash both introspectively and publicly.
You can download the Meditations launcher for Windows and OSX platforms for free on Meditations’ official website. The official Twitter hashtag for Meditations is #meditationgames.
This interview has been edited for clarity and content.
OR: Throughout this interview so far, we have been referring to various Meditations games by the developer and the date. It appears that with the exception of January 1st [TEMPRES, by Tak], none of them have titles.
OR: Is that purposeful?
RI: It is interesting- honestly, it wasn’t. I just never asked for titles. And then none of the developers came with titles. They were free to [write a] description. I think [that] the best way to refer to these [Meditations games] is by developer or by date. One interesting thing about Meditations is that it was intentionally created to have a lot of room for community interaction. We wanted to have the possibility to create discourse- like, a conversation about these games. And we hope[d] that the context and the context of the description would facilitate a closer look at each of these games. Something a little more intimate, a little more meaningful, [but] without the expectation of the game – a lot of times, a lot of discourse around games gets shut down with ‘Oh, it’s just a game’ or ‘It’s just meant to be fun.’ or ‘It’s made for this and this reason.’
Well, for Meditations, one thing that is abundantly clear is that these games have exactly been made for the purpose of introspection. These games have been made to [be thought] about. And we hope that by creating that context, we would create a space for the community to drop in. Beyond access to future games, everything about Meditations is public. You can very easily figure out how the API works, and what it does. Somebody already did and documented it quite well, to be honest. She figured out how all of it works. There is somebody who made a [Twitter] bot that will tweet each day and give credit of who made it, as Meditations does not keep a rolling credit log. Somebody made a [sub]reddit where people can discuss the games. And there’s all sorts of community functions that go on as we speak.
But the thing that I notice about the [sub]reddit is that some people started naming games out of nowhere. Like, they would title a game. On Twitter with the hashtag [OR Note: #meditationgames], we are seeing the same thing, where the game yesterday – somebody was calling it ‘Good Dog’. You know what? Fair enough. People give things names, and I kind of really like that. It was kind of really one of the hopes, but that was not an intentional thing. It just happened.
Even though Rami brought on different developers from all over the world to create the games for Meditations, some of the games have elements in common- even if they convey completely different messages.
For example, January 8th’s Meditation (above) was by Lucas Gullbo. In his Meditation, the player holds down the left mouse button, and drags the mouse to move the dog across the snowy landscape. The right mouse button makes the dog bark, which is needed to move various flocks of birds away so the dog can reach the human at the end. Once the dog arrives at the human, the dog has to bark one final time to end the game as a heart appears by the human.
January 10th’s Meditation (below), by Cullen Dwyer, also involves a dog. The game launches with a grave, and a ghost dog appears. The player uses the arrow keys to have the ghost dog navigate to pick up the baseball, and bring it to the hand to throw. Once the ball is thrown, the player has to go get the ball again. As more and more rounds of fetch are played, both the ghost dog and the hand gradually disappear until there is only the ball left.
OR: Almost immediately after the project went live, debate emerged about giving the developers credit for the game, [and] to quote you on Twitter: “the project failed to communicate the crediting system to the contributors.” What happened?
RI: So what happened is that it was a miscommunication, mostly. It was one-hundred percent my fault. So what happened is that as I was doing Meditations, I obviously have a specific view on this project. To me, Meditations is this year-long arts project. It is a live performance that is ongoing and evolving as we go. And as we go, we will get a better understanding, we will get a better idea. We will get more context. We will get more. So that’s its own thing. And for me, the idea is that if you do a live performance, just like in any other media, then the credits would be at the end. That you have this performance, then at the end of it, you bring everyone on stage, and this is the people who made it possible.
What I should have done is that I should have made that really clear when people signed up. That this is how it is going to work. The reality is that I failed to do that. And failing to do that, I made it so that these 350+ developers who all have different attitudes to how crediting should work, who have different expectations as to how crediting [their] work, who all are in very different contexts and circumstances, whether it’s economically or in terms of employment or whatever- that they all had their own idea of how this was going to work. And then when the project came out, obviously it turned out that a lot of people disagreed. That there were people in this project who really needed that credit, that participated because now they would be in a giant list with three-hundred-and-sixty-five other developers, which would improve their chance for employment. And some people thought it was just for collaborative art – that there should always be all of the names at the start.
And for me, it was considerations that I was going through – I wanted to make sure that everyone gets equal credit. Everyone gets twenty-four hours of credit in the launcher while their game is up, and then at the end, everyone goes ‘on stage’ and will take a big bow and ta-da! done. And then the project switches to an archive for the next year – the project will loop, but it won’t be the performance, it will be a recording of the performance. That was sort of my high-level philosophy for this project. And then when it turned out that people disagreed, I realized that I made a huge mistake in not communicating. From that point on, and I’m still – by now, it’s resolved philosophically, but it’s not practically resolved.
For the past [ten] days of January, I’ve been working and holding surveys with the contributors, trying to get a solution that’s as representative of the community as a whole as possible. And yesterday, we reached an agreement that was backed by over ninety-percent of the community. Which still isn’t one-hundred, which I will be forever sad about. And I’ll hold myself accountable to that ten-percent. But, I think, you know, given that we didn’t get it right, given that I didn’t get it right on first try, I think this is the best I could do for second try. And I’m proud of the community for getting together and discussing, and rapidly listening to the surveys so we could resolve this as soon as possible with as few people feeling slighted by the project.
[OR Note: Since this this interview was conducted, Rami Ismail has published a list of developers who wished to be credited at the present time online. You can check out the list here.]
“[T]hree-hundred-and-fifty people depend on me getting this right. Three-hundred-and-fifty people placed their trust in me to get this right. So I should get it right. End of story.”
“It stays impossible to wrap my mind around, right? Because, to me, I’m just the same flawed Rami that I was when I was ten or twelve or fourteen or sixteen. At some point, you have to come terms with the fact that that’s not who you are anymore.”
“So I try. I try as hard as I can.”
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