Road to the IGF: Deirdra Kiai's Dominique Pamplemousse

One look at Kiai's stop motion musical detective adventure game about gender and the economy makes it easy to see why it's nominated for four IGF 2014 awards, including the Seumas McNally Grand Prize.
Take one look at Deirdra Kiai's stop motion musical detective adventure game Dominique Pamplemousse in "It's All Over Once the Fat Lady Sings!" and it's easy to see why it's nominated for four IGF 2014 awards, including the Nuovo Award and the Seumas McNally Grand Prize. Trying to succintly convey the essence of Kiai's game seems foolhardy -- like Kiai themselves, Dominique Pamplemousse defies easy codification. Thankfully, you can play a demo of the game right from your browser to get a better idea of why it earned so much acclaim during this year's IGF award nomination process. As part of our ongoing Road to the IGF series of interviews, we asked Kiai about how the creation of Dominique Pamplemousse reflects the passions of the creator and asked them to share their thoughts on life as an independent game maker.

What's your background in making games?

I've been making point-and-click adventure games since I was a teenager and, sometime in the middle of a computer science degree, decided I wanted to turn that into a career of sorts. I started out interning at Telltale in the summer/fall of 2006, then later went on to work with awesome folks like Ron Gilbert on DeathSpank and Emily Short on Versu. Right now, I'm in the middle of a stint in grad school studying Digital Arts & New Media at UC Santa Cruz. I got drawn to making games in the first place because it was the best way I knew to combine a lot of things I love doing: storytelling, programming, acting, making music, making visual art. I feel like I've gotten half decent at doing all of those things with limited time on a shoestring budget, so that's something, I guess.

What development tools did you use to build Dominique Pamplemousse?

Actionscript, Garageband, an ancient version of Photoshop, Sugru hacking putty, Sculpey, cardboard, origami paper, aluminum wire, old ratty t-shirt fabric, a cheap webcam, a euphonium, a guitar, a cornet, a Blue Snowball microphone, my voice, a refurbished iMac, a used iPad 1, and whatever else I had lying around my apartment.

How much time have you spent working on the game?

I developed a one-room demo part time over the course of the year, then, thanks to a successful Indiegogo campaign, worked on the rest of the game pretty much full time for six months.

And how did you come up with the original concept?

I've wanted to make a full-on musical adventure game ever since I saw that scene in The Curse of Monkey Island where all the pirates start singing. I've wanted to do a stop motion game ever since The Neverhood showed me it was possible. So, basically, this was the kind of game I've wanted to make ever since I was a baby game designer. It just happened to be the right time and place in my life when I finally had the ability to make it happen. My first game ever -- which I released over ten years ago -- was also a noir detective spoof, and I wanted to revisit that theme again with the wisdom and life experience I'd gained in the intervening time. I really wanted to explore being non-binary gendered, an identity I've lately been coming to terms with myself, and also the economic recession and how that's affected my career prospects and those of my generation in general.

So how has ten years of game development experience changed the way you approach game design, from both an artistic and a business perspective?

I feel like the games I develop now are definitely a lot more personal than when I first started out. Making games "for everyone" (a term with which I have problems because nothing can be "for everyone"; someone inevitably gets left out, and that someone is usually me) is something bigger companies do well, and what I can best offer as a solo artist is a very particular, individual perspective. It's okay if I don't make as many sales as a more traditionally developed title. It's more important that I stay true to myself. (This is probably terrible business sense.) Of course, staying true to myself has given me the side benefit of attracting a number of players who say they never play games because there's never anything out there that they can relate to. So that's something!

Much of your work seems to be at least partially autobiographical in nature, drawing on your own experiences and feelings. How much of yourself and your personal experiences did you pour into Dominique Pamplemousse?

I think the best way to describe it is, it's an allegory for my adult life thus far. Although the game is a work of fiction, it captures a lot of the disillusionment I've felt in my career, particularly during the recession. How do you balance staying true to yourself and the things you value with, well, needing to eat? There's the gender thing, too, and Dominique as a character captures both my desire to be seen gender-neutrally, and my corresponding exasperation with society for insisting that everything be sorted into a binary. As I like to say, binaries are for computers, not people.

Have you played any of the other IGF finalists? Any games you've particularly enjoyed?

A friend showed me Device 6 a couple of months ago, and I thought it was pretty neat. I played Towerfall a bit at E3, and found it cute and a little subversive, even though I'm generally bad at twitchy games. Other than that, well, I've been awful at having a lot of free time to actually play games these days, but I'm impressed with what I've seen of the other finalists, and am flattered to be in their company.

What do you think of the current state of the indie scene?

Does the word "indie" even mean anything anymore? The word gets used to describe anything from one person making a Twine game to actual development teams with salaried employees, and we're at a point where there's some significant overlap between the IGF and the Game Developers Choice Awards. It's become so broad that there doesn't seem to me like there's any kind of a unified "scene" so much as groups of people clustered around particular regions and interests. Even though I've been independently making games for half my life, I never really felt like part of "the indie scene" when there was one, anyway, so it's no real loss to me. I'm more thrilled by the fact that game-making is opening up to a greater diversity of people, particularly thanks to tools like Twine.


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