18 Feb 2010

Leake Street and Clover (or TL;DR)

Hopefully by now you should have seen the below video. If you haven't, stick on your headphones, get ready to pay attention, and click play.

I used to live in Elephant & Castle, near Waterloo station in London. I lived there for at least five years, and got to know the area pretty well.

As some of you may know, I used to work in an IT/finance company until September 2008. As was the case for a lot of people I got made redundant, except I had the good fortune to find out about this just as it was announced that Xbox Live Community Games (as it was then called) would enable people to sell their games over Xbox Live. As an aspiring games developer who got sidetracked by the inforwebs, this seemed like a pretty good way to use my redundancy cash.

I already knew that I wanted to make a Dizzy-style game. It was something no-one else was doing at the time, a genre I knew inside-and-out, and something I thought I could do with the meagre resources available to me; that is to say, muggins here and favours from a few mates.

I've always been a bit of an angry leftie, and it's something I never really got to express when I was in a band - I can't sing for toffee, and I was the bassist anyway. That summer I'd finally achieved a long-time ambition of seeing Rage Against The Machine play live at the Reading Festival. I'd also been listening to a lot of Pink Punk's first album, as well as a good helping of One Minute Silence.

Rewind to 2002. I'm living in student halls, with great mix of people of all nationalities and ages. The war in Iraq is looming, and a year previously I'd been told by someone who really shouldn't have said anything that the war was inevitable, it had been decided upon by the military planners behind the scenes, and that they were just waiting for the "political pretext" before they could move in. This was the sort of person that had an armed guard when he went to work - not for their protection, but to make sure they didn't take any wrong turns.

My mate Carlos and I had many a long, rambling philosophical discussion in the shared kitchen of our flat. As the Iraq issue progressed, naturally we spent a lot of time debating the possibility of war, and if it was at all grounded in fact.

I had a lot of doubts. Carlos was flat-out in opposition of military action, and in principal I was. I'd always looked at history like the Vietnam War, and was bewildered how anyone could support it, let alone think it was a good idea. I'd always thought if I was living in that era, I'd've fought to have my dissent heard.

The problem came down to the fact that neither Carlos nor I really knew what was going on in Iraq. You can't believe tabloid papers, because it's all spin. You can't believe broadsheets, because they're stealth-spin for people that think they're somehow enlightened by reading bigger bits of paper. Whatever decision we came to, it was a matter of taking someone's word as truth, because we could never be in a position to find out the truth first-hand.

Ultimately my stance was that I felt I had to place my trust in the country and system that had enabled the life I was leading. There was no way of telling what the truth was, so I had fearfully hope that the society I was a part of was trustworthy and honest.

I didn't oppose the war. I wasn't one of the million who turned out to protest against it.

I was lied to.

Over the years, I'd teach Iraqi asylum seekers, get in near-scraps with discharged Royal Marines (bad idea, let me assure you), train with paratroopers, have drunken conversations with troopers from 2 Para nearly in tears, and be taught by 'offshore security experts'. I heard a lot of points of view.

Skip forward to September 2008. Along with nagging and pervading regrets about the war in Iraq, it had always bugged me that despite knowing my taxes had gone towards things I didn't agree with, and despite opening my mind to truths about the world, I'd never really done anything about it.

Something I'd been toying with was the idea that we don't all need to be revolutionaries, and that just perpetuating a tradition of socially-acceptable counter-culture in popular media would be enough to instil an intolerance of injustice in future generations. This is a theme that is more heavily played upon in A Curious Tale.

I find my newly-unemployed-self wandering around Waterloo. I can't really remember why I took this route, but I found myself walking into Leake Street, presented by this:

I quite like graffiti, as long as it's not just shitty tags that have no artistic merit. Tempted to go off on a tangent here about my favourite ever bit of street-art, but this post is long enough already :P

So on I strolled, looking at some of the more thoughtful daubings, and pondering about the theme for my first game. That's when I came across this:

It was the first time I'd ever read this quote, and it summed up pretty much exactly how I thought about what was going in the world. The fact it was first said some 60 years previously by a Nazi gave it quite some gravitas.

This is what Clover is about. If I presented to you a cartoony, childish-looking fantasy world where similar events took place, you'd have no hesitation in condemning those same things that have happened in the West. The plot of Clover is for the most part presented as pretty clear-cut, but people that think that way tend not to be reading between the lines. So... Why have we done nothing in the real world?

There's been some discussions going on here about whether this little video is too pretentious. I think it is. But that's exactly the point. The game does have an agenda, perhaps not presented in a terribly subtle way, but that's part of its purpose.

I should absolutely point out that the photo of the Goering quote came from Paul In London, and he's been a very helpful chap in letting me use it. The graffiti has since been covered with crappy tags, so unfortunately it's no longer there for other people to enjoy.