This interview is part of our Road to the IGF series.
Independent Games Festival finalist Chasing Light aims to explore what a game is and what it can be, doing so by having the player guide a crew in the creation of a game.
Bae Sang Hyun of Vittgen Inc. spoke with Gamasutra about his work on the Nuovo Award-nominated project, what drew him to create this expression of his thoughts on games and existence, and how his work on the title was a road back to life.
CONTENT WARNING: Self-Harm, Suicide
Who are you, and what was your role in developing Chasing Light?
I'm Bae Sang Hyun, founder and CEO of Vittgen. I am a 27-year-old South Korean single man. I'm the producer, director, writer, game designer, cinematographer, editor, art director, voice actor for all the characters, music producer, composer and singer of some music, sound director, and English/Japanese translator of Chasing Light.
I started my early 20's career as a media artist by participating in art biennales and film festivals in South Korea. At first, I started with paintings and photos, but I began to gradually expand the scope of the media and the narrative of my work. I worked in drawing, painting, photography, video, film, VR, and I thought that through the experiential art form of the 'Video Game,' not through simply-played frames, I would be able to deliver a pure and ultimate artistic experience to people.
So, as a result, I got here. I have focused on experiences and emotions rather than rules, and I think that I will continue to work with this background in the future. Sorry, people.
How did you come up with the concept for Chasing Light?
It started with my death. After starting a company with ambition to make video games, for four years, when something went right, someone always created a problem or left. As a result, seven projects were buried in the grave. I lost most of my colleagues and couldn't make any more games. Only terrible depression remained with me. So, I decided to commit suicide, and the last work I planned with the thought of leaving after making a single game before dying was Chasing Light. “Let's release all my history in video games. By dismantling this, pouring it out as it is, then leaving this world.” That’s where I started. But, as a result, it was not a road to death but a road to redemption.
What development tools were used to build your game?
The engine used is one of the famous 'U' engines, used a lot by indie game companies. I don't want to reveal the name directly because I was greatly humiliated by that U's South Korean branch.
Art resources were used after photographing or scanning drawings drawn by hand with ink pens. And the video and photos were taken with my Sony DSLT camera by my hands.
So, what I can reveal is that my hands have done a lot of work as a development tool. You can actually meet my hands a lot in Chasing Light. Oh, I forgot my vocal cords and microphones. They are MVPs. Really.
What interested you in exploring the question of what a game is? How did you then turn that question into a game exploring its answers?
As I said before, it's an idea that started with my death. There was no longer any reason to wrap it up or make it shine, and for that reason, I wanted to leave only the essence and let people see the frame of it.
We have to start from scratch. There are a lot of people who claim that "This is how a game should be." But is this an idea that makes sense? Today, games that we couldn't have imagined or watched are pouring out constantly. But people always remain in the hot and outdated debate about "Is this a game or not?"
Come on...it's too slow and boring! Now is the time to deal with games inclusively. Anything can be a game, and people must be tolerant about it. Otherwise, games will remain something anachronistic. We have to push this possibility further as we love it. So, I think this dissatisfaction is the reason why I ended up making this long question.
We have to go to the 10th art. We shouldn't be rolling around in this mud.
What thoughts went into creating gameplay around creating a game?
I wanted to make this kind of game because it didn't exist until now. This fiercely-crashing game into the dark and deep inside of a game did not exist in the history of the games. I think every ambitious artist wants to put a brand new dot in history. And I am faithful to that desire.
There are hints of personal stories or histories within the work. What do you feel these human stories of difficult times added to the work and the themes you wanted to explore?
There are some cases I've experienced in my personal life, but causal relations and details are adapted for the drama. And, as I mentioned earlier, Chasing Light is a work that only leaves a 'frame'. It is not a story that will only resonate in a specific country, but a story that can and is happening in any country. Repressing or taking jobs based on one's career and position is a common occurrence in the East and the West, both in the past and today. Someone pressuring me to leave the company and do it on my own for an unique endeavor? That's also happening everywhere. This is a story about humans and society. It would be good to say that the stage of Chasing Light is 'The stage of all human beings who live passionately.'
In addition, the drama being dealt with in this work is a drama that has been carefully designed to approach the concept of 'Light.' If you understand and approach Chasing Light as someone's autobiography or historical event, the focus on the concept of 'Light' that I want to explore through this work will be blurred. Please, I would appreciate if you could think of how the linearly arranged dramas of Chasing Light intertwine, explode, and sublimate.
And, to give you some hints about 'Light,' as you can see from the fact that this work started from my death, it is very closely related to 'Life' itself. Of course, it's not a concept to be organized in one or two words (Yeah! Why else would you have spent more than two hours in that world!), but to give you a hint, it is.
What thoughts went into creating the visual world of Chasing Light? What made this visual style feel right for the work?
I wanted to start with only the skeleton left. As I already said. I wanted to get closer to the essence by starting with only the minimum elements that would be the conditions for it to be established, without any subsidiary. At the same time, I thought that such minimal expression would be more helpful to users' imagination and immersion. Not everyone is familiar with the process of making games, are they? To make them understand an unfamiliar process, I excluded the unfamiliar reality they encounter for the first time as much as possible, and provided only the minimum elements necessary for their perception to make them more immersed in the world of Chasing Light.
That's why the names of the characters are only ‘ ? ’. I hoped that the branches that exist in the intersection between the player's own event structure and Chasing Light could play a role in each player's cognitive world. I think it's generally well-accepted, so I'm glad. And why the codes and my hands appear is...비밀이야.
Personally, since it has not yet been sold in the West, I hope that this opportunity will allow more people in the West to encounter Chasing Light.
Do you feel you were looking for answers to your own questions about games in creating this work? What answers did you receive in creating it?
Maybe. This work is also the process of questioning itself. During the creative process, I constantly asked myself about the game and 'Light'. Temporarily, I did find my own answers to both the game and the light. But that is only a tentative answer. I think the answer to 'Light' and games is a concept that must be constantly renewed throughout life. As a game maker, as an artist, as a human being. So, I can't say my answer here. Because it might change again tomorrow.
What do you hope that players take away from experiencing your work? What thoughts do you hope it inspires?
"What the hell is a game? Why am I constantly chasing 'Light'? What is the 'Light'? Where is my 'Light'? Where am I going?" If players can face these questions through Chasing Light, I think this work has achieved some of the intentions. I even escaped from death. Try it, people.
We constantly repeat death and birth. I hope Chasing Light can play a significant role in that cycle. If you needed such a presence. Carry on, people.
Oh, and there's something I really want to say to Western companies. Invest in me. I'll make a work that sweeps all of GOTY. Get in touch with me.
This game, an IGF 2021 honoree, is featured as part of the Independent Games Festival ceremony. You can watch the ceremony starting at 4:30PM PT (7:30 ET) Wednesday, July 21 at GDC 2021.