[Gamasutra talks to Patrick Smith, creator of the beautiful Windosill, a visually stunning little web browser puzzle game -- discussing transferring art into something interactive, both in principle and practice.]
Can you explain a little about who you are and what you do?
I'm an artist who lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. My background is in traditional media — you can see my drawings and paintings here
— but if your readers have seen anything of mine, it's probably Vectorpark
, a collection of interactive animations that I've gradually added to over the past 7 or 8 years. I consider Windosill
to be part of that body of work.
The art style in Windosill is extremely distinctive and elegantly simple. How important do you think visuals are in something like Windosill, where it may not be as interactive and mechanically driven as other games?
The visuals are very important, of course. But so are the mechanics, and the interactive elements. Each of those aspects affects the others — for example, when I design a tree, I have to keep in mind how that tree will interact with the user and with other objects, and those considerations affects how I draw it. So, I try to consider the aesthetic and functional aspects holistically.
There's something very childlike about the game, and not merely in the aesthetics; the game seems to be played out of some sort of abstract toybox. Are the childish elements intentional, and what sort of age group are you aiming at, if any?
wasn't made with any particular audience in mind, although if children enjoy it, that's great. The toy-like aspect is more intentional, but I can't really explain why it's there. Nostalgia for childhood? A suggestion that the game is really a toy? Or maybe the simple forms of toys just translate well to my 3d system.
Being primarily an Artist, do you find it more natural to convey messages purely through visuals?
Sure, although I never think of my work as having a message. The end object IS the message, so to speak. I might have some ideas or concepts when I begin working on something, but they always change and evolve in response to the object taking shape. If you were to separate the ideas and visuals, I think you'd have to imagine it as a yin-yang relationship in which each is affected by the other.
Moving from art to making a flash game must have been an interesting transition. How did you find learning to use Flash, and making the game?
I started out using Flash using primarily as a straightforward animation tool, but I've gradually picked up programming as I've needed to. To me, really, the computer is just another tool — I might have just as easily picked up woodworking, for example, and been making wooden sculptures instead of flash games. That said, every medium has it's own qualities, and there's something uniquely satisfying about creating something that responds to your actions.
The game leaves you very much to your own devices, with the ability to manipulate different parts of the environment to eventually progress, with little help or direction from the game itself. How important do you think the element of discovery is to Windosill?
Discovery is probably the point of the game, at least the first time through. I've tried to make everything as intuitive as possible, but I also require the user to dive in and start engaging the environment in order to figure out the logic of each room.
Each of the puzzles in Windosill are very different, and not necessarily rational. Where does the inspiration for each come from?
Each room had a different source. Some are inspired by images from my own artwork, some are inspired by other artists, and still others just came to me out of the blue. But in each case I began with the idea or image of the environment before I worked out the puzzle aspect. In some ways, the task of finding (or generating) the cube to open the next door is just a pretext for encouraging the user to explore the environment.
How do you go about making sure the puzzles are enjoyable for the player?
I really just try to make them enjoyable for myself. All you can do is hope that other people will enjoy them, too.
With the exception of one of the 'scenes', the entire game is almost devoid of any other recognisable characters. Was this something you avoided intentionally? If so, is there a reason behind it?
No, I think that's just how it came out.
What projects are you looking at now? Will you stick to the more simple, flash based games like Windosill, or move onto something more complicated?
I honestly don't know. I've been trying to get back to painting and drawing for about a year now — maybe now that Windosill
is finally done, I'll do that. But I'm sure I'll keep a hand in interactive work.
Windosill is a very abstract game, creating many tiny, self contained narratives within each 'scene'. Have you ever thought of doing something a little more structured and plot driven?
Sure. In the past, I've drawn comics, for example, with more-or-less linear plots. And that has it's own challenges. But there's as much structure to Windosill
as to something like that — in some ways, more, because all of the possible responses by the user have to be anticipated.
It's just not a narrative structure in the traditional sense. In some ways, it's more like a painting, in the sense that all of the parts exist at once, and the job of the artist is to guide the viewer's eye — and, in the case of Windosill
, the user's mouse — from place to place.
You've offered a section of the game for free in demo form, with a request for $3 to get the full version. Have you seen a high conversion rate? Has Windosill funded itself?
I'm pleased with how it's been selling, but it will take a long time to fund itself. That's pretty much what I expected, though – for now, it's nice simply to be able to make something back.
Thanks for your time.
[Phill Cameron is a regular writer at The Reticule, a PC gaming website. You can contact him here, and follow him on Twitter here.]