Oh my, collaborations! For some reason Freditor insisted on three separate people chipping in to work on this interview, and considering we’re uploading answers as-is, I probably could have just mailed them for a mission statement.
Someone is in love with the game Glitchhikers, and- ohh, I just now got that title. Anyway, we contacted the lovely people at Silverstring Media to learn about what they were hoping to achieve with this delightful free game, and whether or not they achieved it. Learning about it was almost as interesting as playing it – the game received rave reviews for good reason. We definitely recommend trying it out.I believe Chris Priestman said he learnt more about himself and the universe in fifteen minutes of gameplay than most other games manage in hours, but then I don’t learn my life lessons from video games, so who even knows. Go fetch!
How did Silverstring Media get started? What’s the story behind you guys?
When I got out of school and was starting to work in interactive media and getting into videogames, Silverstring Media was the starting point in my dream to create my own projects with a team of amazing creatives, artists, and developers. Obviously any such dream starts small, and at first it was mostly an avenue through which to work as a writer and designer for clients like The Time Tribe and Extrasolar. After a couple of years I met Claris Cyarron, who was very interested in pushing media and design boundaries. Now she’s a partner in the company, and our focus is more on experimentation and development of our own projects (while still working with clients on their games and stories).
Bringing on a partner was a big structural change, though something I had been looking for since beginning the endeavour. It allowed us to take the company from my personal brand as a writer to really refining its purpose and making something greater than the sum of its parts. As a partnership, we combine interests in story and design, art and architecture, fiction, videogames, music, live experiences, and more. Experimentation leads to creating projects far outside the “traditional” (and oftentimes problematic) expectations, and we apply what we learn to future projects and client work. We’re also highly focused on creating diverse and different stories, stories that are personally important to us and aimed at underserved audiences–while trying to bring queer and feminist art to the mainstream.
I know it’s an ongoing process, but have you accomplished any goals you set out for Silverstring Media?
Oh, absolutely. Glitchhikers, our first original game, was a major milestone for us. It represented not only our ability to actually produce an original game project, but one that was also very well-received critically. We were blown away by the press we’ve received about it and the overall positive reactions. It was even a finalist at the Canadian Videogame Awards for Best Indie Game of 2014–not something I envisioned happening when I came out of school a few short years ago.
Beyond that, we’ve been honoured to work on some amazing client projects like Extrasolar, which itself has won or been nominated for numerous awards and was a great team to work with. And we’re currently working on several new original projects that we’re very excited about.
What are your plans for the future of the company?
We’ve just redesigned our website to better reflect our organization going forward: a studio that produces original experimental projects, a consultancy that works with clients to improve their stories and designs, and we’ve just announced our new arm: supporting critical discourse in the industry by bringing the publication Memory Insufficient under our banner.
Real art criticism in gaming has proven to be such an unsustainable career for so many brilliant writers, and yet it’s one of the most important things we can do to push our medium forward and make better and more inclusive games. With Memory Insufficient creator Zoya Street joining Silverstring Media, we want to bring together better understandings of both critical theory and design practice, while also being able to help support some of the greatest writers in our industry.
We’ll also have two or three new original projects that will release this year, along with countless new experiments. The future is onward and upward: creating more original projects (from games to fiction to music), and getting our critical publishing arm off the ground. And bigger dreams to come!
And we’re always looking for new contract work–consulting, designing, writing, producing–to which we apply everything we’ve learned from our own experimentation, and which always provide amazing new challenges and experiences. (Contact us!)
You say on your site that long rides at night inspired Glitchhikers. Can you go into more detail about that?
Each of the main designers on the game have all had experience with long night drives, whether between Seattle and Vancouver, Calgary and Vancouver, or around Texas. They’re times when you get lost in your thoughts, times to reflect on yourself, times when even the most random thoughts feel more meaningful. But that long night drive is not a rare thing; especially in North America where cars and highways are a way of life, most people have had some experience like it.
We weren’t aiming to reproduce a particular experience, but rather the universality of that space, the liminal place you enter when you are driving.
Were the random conversations the player can have with the hitch hikers in the car inspired by real conversations or were they created along with the game?
I’ve actually had a conversation with a pregnant alien.
The conversations were all written specifically for Glitchhikers, and while they were inspired in bits and pieces by a wide variety of things (media, facts, character ideas) weren’t directly drawn from anywhere but my imagination. I took a lot of the themes we wanted to explore and came up with a series of characters, points of view, made-up anecdotes and the like to help explore them, using references to literature or interesting facts as an anchor around which to craft the conversations (such as the one about beached whales). Each hitchhiker had a specific point of view or goal that they brought to the conversation for the player to react and respond to; we were never trying to impose a belief, instead merely probing the beliefs of the player.
What inspired the art style of the characters and environment? Especially the cheese moon.
I asked Claris about her design meetings with our developer and artist ceMelusine, and she said “drugs.”
ceMelusine brought this amazing low-poly look to the game that really helps anchor it in this surreal kind of space. He was inspired a lot by key imagery like moons and stars, and of course by the glitch aesthetic. The low-poly moon is a great weenie (a term coined by Walt Disney to describe a visual anchor that can be seen from anywhere [in the Disney parks] to help give people a sense of location and help with wayfinding) to orient the player and serve as a constant visual cue, and turns red as you drive through the tunnel and things start to get a little more surreal.
What does the final choice (take the off ramp or don’t) in Glitchhikers mean to you?
We don’t like giving specific meaning to any of the choices we made in Glitchhikers; the goal was instead to make something that players would bring their own context to and their own meaning. While different conversation options change the immediate responses of the hikers (and may affect which hikers you see), the most meaning comes purely from what you invest in the choice. Similarly, the off ramp has what meaning you give it. It could be simply a measure of whether you think you’ve arrived at your destination or not, or perhaps decided to avoid your original destination. It could be a death or purgatory metaphor, or indicate that you want to wake up now. Maybe you missed the choice entirely, or just don’t want the game to end just yet.
To me, it boils down to one broadly thematic metaphorical choice: whether you have arrived at your destination, or are still searching for it.