ANIMAL’s feature Game Plan asks game developers to share a bit about their process and some working images from the creation of a recent game. This week, we spoke with Vincent Morisset of Montreal studio AATOAA and Hugues Sweeney of the National Film Board of Canada about Way to Go, a game that suggests you stop, walk, run or fly and smell the roses.
Way to Go is a game about how we experience time and space and the events of our lives. You travel through the woods, now black and white, now awash with psychedelic colors, stopping to gaze at birds or leaves, flying through the air, catching your reflection on the river’s surface. You set the pace, and your speed conducts the harmonic chimes and beats that accompany you.
When ANIMAL spoke with the game’s creator, Vincent Morisset, he was in San Francisco attending the annual Game Developers Conference, but he wasn’t at the convention. He was with the crowds of tourists by the water near Alcatraz, soaking in the sights and sounds.
“Me, here, in San Francisco, it’s a new environment, I’m in a way ultra lucid. I’m looking at every single detail,” he said. “It’s a bit cliché, but at the same time there’s something really universal about that.”
Way to Go was created by Morisset’s Montreal studio AATOAA, well known for projects like Bla Bla, “an interactive tale that explores the fundamental principles of human communication,” and Just A Reflektor, the technology-mashing music video for Arcade Fire’s song “Reflektor.” It premiered at Sundance this year. Way to Go was produced by the National Film Board of Canada, famous for achievements over the years ranging from the invention of IMAX to the development of early computer animation. The NFB has worked with Morisset since it began dabbling in interactive art in 2009.
The game’s producer at the NFB, Hugues Sweeney, said the “ultra lucid” state Morisset described in San Francisco was part of his original pitch for Way to Go. “You have these specific moments when you notice, like, a very specific detail, and it kind of warps your time experience. Suddenly five seconds can feel like five minutes,” Sweeney described. “And [Way To Go] is really about how we shape our experience of time—the way we just walk around.”
The game features a blend of 2D art, abstract colors and live footage. You traverse a linear path through a forest and field, but can look all around your character using your mouse. Morisset and his fellow developers, Caroline Robert, Édouard Lanctôt-Benoit and Philippe Lambert, captured the actual footage over a period of three years using a small 360-degree camera rig. The characters in the game represent the developers, down to the black jumpsuits and the goofy helmets they used for motion capture. When they ran into hikers in the woods, “they thought we were like a cult or a black metal band,” Morisset said.
One challenge they faced was making sure they didn’t capture their shadows or those of the camera rig, which dictated when they could shoot. “So we needed to be always prepared, when we were looking at the weather and we were like, ‘Oh, it’s grey!’ So we just put on our black suits and jump in the car,” Morisset said. “It was really like documentary-style, guerilla-style.”
They shot in cities and other locations, but ultimately he felt the forest was a more universal, “absolute escape.” Then, over the live footage, they added colorful, dream-like animations. “The colors that are moving in the skies in the field are actually inks and paper, like using this Japanese technique,” Morisset described. “They’re using cumulative structures where the different drawings move at different speeds and change through the interactions, and there’s a similar connection between what we’re doing and the environment.”
Running or flying through the game’s ever-shifting world, acid-trip scenery flashing by and music pounding to keep pace, is exhilarating.
But standing still and clicking around provides a different kind of thrill when the game cuts to real footage of birds and other sights from nature. “Each time I go birdwatching I have this sense of opening my eyes and being receptive to my environment,” Morisset said. “Again, it’s a cliché, but if you take your time, details unfold.”
Way to Go’s origins lie in Morisset’s previous project, Bla Bla. “For us it was eye-opening in the sense that I’d always been doing projects for others, like brands, bands,” Morisset said. “After that project I automatically told my producer, Sweeney at the NFB, that I wish we could continue the exploration of this medium and that I wanted to continue to work with the same little team…and I told these guys I wanted to explore the notion of space and time and how we look at things when we go from point A to point B.”
That’s the broad idea from which Way to Go was born. “And then it was like, ‘OK, how do we translate that into an interactive experience?'” Morisset said.
“The end result can be something very playful,” said Sweeney. “But also on a second degree of reading it, or a third degree, it can become quite philosophical about how we go around and the attention we can spend on details.”
Like Morisset’s other projects, Way to Go is also an impressive marriage of art—a uniquely human endeavor—and technology, which is sometimes perceived as inhuman. Morisset sees that aspect of tech, but he fights through it to find the humanity underneath.
“It’s kind of an ambiguous relation, in the sense that I’m always kind of working kind of trying to fight with [technology] to keep the humanity,” he said. “For this it’s always more difficult, because its true nature is clean and perfect and to bring back the human in it takes creativity and work. But I really believe that that’s the trick to kind of short circuit the spectator so that you forget about the technology and just accept the world you’re presented.”
Way to Go is available now for free at a-way-to-go.com.