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Queer Man Peering Into a Rock Pool.jpg explores the unreliability of memory

Queer Man Peering Into a Rock Pool.jpg sees a middle-aged man collecting sparkly memories in a broken world to furnish his house.

Joel Couture, Contributor

February 20, 2023

7 Min Read
a long-legged man peers into the distance, a yellow house sitting in the waters behind him
Game Developer and GDC are sibling organizations under parent company Informa Tech

This interview is part of our Road to the IGF series. The IGF (Independent Games Festival) aims to encourage innovation in game development and to recognize independent game developers advancing the medium. Every year, Game Developer sits down with the finalists for the IGF ahead of GDC to explore the themes, design decisions, and tools behind each entry.

Queer Man Peering Into a Rock Pool.jpg (QMP) sees a middle-aged man collecting sparkly memories in a broken world to furnish his house.

Scott Ford and Pete Foley, creators of the Nuovo Award-nominated game, took some time to talk with Game Developer about designing a game that encouraged players to slow down and appreciate what's around them and what drew them to explore how our memories tend to reshape things.

Who are you, and what was your role in developing Queer Man Peering Into a Rock Pool.jpg?

Hello! We are Scott Ford and Pete Foley, and we did pretty much everything on Queer Man Peering Into a Rock Pool.jpg (Except for the music and Pingu voice).

What's your background in making games?

Ford: We started in late 2019, so we are still games developer babies, but we both come from animation, illustration, and film backgrounds. Pete has been a commercial animator for 15+ years and I have been doing it for about 7 years now. That has helped.

Two characters kissing against a bright background

How did you come up with the concept for Queer Man Peering Into a Rock Pool.jpg?

Ford: During COVID-19 we had a very regular morning walk routine. I think it started there. Pete was playing Animal Crossing then, too, and that also has a lot of calming routines. I particularly liked watching him pick up things on the beach. Sydney has gorgeous rock pools that I have always loved, so I put them together. That was the beginning. So sweet, so cozy. Then we re-watched Neon Genesis Evangelion and shows like Paranoia Agent, as well as slow films by Tsai Ming Lang and Apitchatpong Weerskathul. Things got a bit weirder after that.

What development tools were used to build your game?

Foley: Blender and Unity were the core two. Audacity for audio. We come from an Adobe-heavy background so Photoshop and Illustrator and After Effects, too. Neither of us can code, so all logic was created in Bolt (now Unity Visual Scripting).

Exploration and wandering are core parts of the game. What appealed to you about evoking a need to wander, think, and explore with your game? What thoughts went into its design to encourage these feelings?

Ford: I love to walk. For a long time I felt it was the only way I could get myself to think properly. I would walk around for hours. In terms of design, I think the whole daily routine of picking up things that have washed up and looking into rock-pools was the initial motivation. The slow reveal of the world as the waters recede came later. But they were all designed to motivate a closer inspection of the world. There are things in the game we draw your attention to, and other details that are quieter.

Foley: I really struggle with multi-tasking. If I'm on my phone while a movie is playing, I end up not enjoying either activity. Our first game (Pebble Witch) was largely about slowing the player down and forcing them to wait and listen. I think QMP was just further exploring gentle routine and slowness.

What thoughts went into the visuals of this broken, beautiful world? Into weaving broken memories into the landscapes?

Ford: A few years ago I read a short story by Gerald Murnane called Landscape with Freckled Woman, and there’s a moment where the narrator talks about how he walked out of a movie because he didn’t want it to affect his “inner landscape.” It stayed with me. I consume a lot of movies and games and media in general. Consumption seems like a key idea there: I thought of how we use words like “Feed” relating to how we view media. It seems bodily. So this idea of bodies and pixels and memories, this great big soup, started there.

House partially submerged in an ocean

What drew you to have players collect memories/furniture (sparklies) to bring to the house? To carry these sparkly memories home?

Ford: I think it was partly inspired by Animal Crossing. Also Dark Cloud. I love that simple satisfaction of reconstructing something broken. But of course we went and put our fruity little spin on it.

Likewise, what ideas went into cleaning and polishing the sparklies after you bring them home. Why were these moments of examination and caring for sparkly memories important to have in the game?

Ford: I think that has something to do with how memory warps things. Things change color, shape, and scale. Sometimes they become something else entirely, yet still connected to the original. Collages. Or at least that’s how it is for me, but my memory seems to be pretty bad. I think we were trying to externalize that process.

Foley: We definitely were. Early on, we got really excited at a core idea being the inaccuracy of memory. Many films and games show flashbacks and memories as these true and accurate accounts, but that is absolutely not how memory works for many people. So if you had a world that was somehow relying on you remembering things…what does that end up looking like? You get lorikeet rocks and chubby fridges.

Players will help the main character decorate his home over the course of the game. Why was it important to have this connection with a personal space? To take part in shaping it?

Ford: We were bringing players into a strange world that only gets stranger, so we felt that it should be paired with something more familiar. Comforting.

Foley: Early on, I think we toyed with the idea of being able to choose how you furnish his house too. Very Animal Crossing-inspired. I think we dropped that pretty quickly because that was so far out of scope. Refilling his house became a way of us to show really mundane things that he had not thought about, like eating or sleeping in a bed. Even in the end, he doesn't have a sleep space beyond his computer.

Pink computer screen and hand

Players can help the main character write lovely letters to Darl. What drew you to add this element? Why was letter-writing something important to the feeling of the game? And why was it important that these letters remain unsent?

Ford: I think It actually started as a smaller aspect but I loved the way Pete animated the keyboard slapping that it became larger. Again, I think this goes back to offering players some comfort in the broken world we’d made. This universal, emotional core.

Oh! Actually I just remembered that it was partly inspired by how episodes of Doogie Howser end, with Neil Patrick Harris diarizing on his computer. I don’t think I’ve ever watched a full episode, but that satisfying keyboard clicking sound stayed with me. So soothing.

Foley: And we found that him reflecting in the letters was a nice respite from him just monologuing exposition over and over.

Ford: The question of whether or not the letters are sent is an interesting one. I think it touches on the journey Bong...

Foley: That's actually his name! It's Khmer for friend.

Ford:...has, questioning why he’s doing the things he’s doing, why the world isn’t working the way he feels it’s supposed to. Although, at the same time, he doesn’t seem to notice just how very, very broken everything is. It's normal for him, and that is charming.

The main character seems to have lost their memories or has a memory that has deteriorated. What interested you about exploring someone dealing with lost memories and longing for a love that they are having a hard time remembering?

Ford: It was unexpected for us, actually, because we usually dislike amnesia storylines. So, yeah, throughout production we did ask ourselves "Why have we done this?"

I think it’s the aspect of lost memories, of warped and broken memories, that kept us interested.

What do you hope the player feels in sharing in this journey with the main character?

Ford: We wanted to make a game that centered on an older queer character who didn’t fit any conventional mold or stereotype. We hope to make games that focus on unconventional people, on kooks and weirdoes. Which covers so many people, really, we just don’t see them depicted in games all that often. So, we hope they felt some care for Bong and Darl, and in doing so it brought them some warmth, too. And some silly joy.

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