When you play the games made by nuprahtor, you might have the impression that they are made by a crazy, even mad person: They often involve war scenarios, they are about living guns as well as obscure, spooky ghost creatures and he always manages to deliver a very special kind of atmosphere. But when you talk with him for a bit, you will realize that you are in conversation with a lovely guy from Southern Russia with a sharp mind. Feel invited to read our interview with nuprahtor about the magic of game jams, his fascination with weapons and war, his own irrelevance as well as his thoughts on political games.
Sebastian: Tell me about your first game jam experience. When was it and what was the theme?
nuprahtor: The very first jam I participated in was on a Russian forum in 2010. The jam’s theme was pretty simple: Water. I made a small text-based game with arcade elements in Unity – for the first time by the way. I was learning the engine and I am still surprised how accessible Unity is to novices. The game itself – I called it “Deepwater Blues” – was about a soldier who piloted a small battle submarine. There was a war, his submarine crashed and he was left alone underwater.
The player must read his thoughts about his life, his childhood, his family and his love (those were random elements, the name of his wife and hometown were randomly generated, for example). The oxygen level is constantly depleting and the player must use the mouse cursor to click on air bubbles. Each popped bubble increased the amount of oxygen a little bit. So to read the full text, you must constantly catch the bubbles. I liked how I fused a text-based game with a frantic clicker.
In the end the soldier says his last farewell to his loved ones and tells the player to stop clicking so he could finally die. Unfortunately I cannot find this game on the internet anymore and I lost the source code. It has been a good lesson, though: Never host your game on file-sharing platforms where your file will be deleted someday. Even if it is your first game, you should always keep all your files in a safe place. I recommend itch.io to do this.
Sebastian: How do you feel nowadays about that game?
nuprahtor: It was a rushed game with bad graphics and sound, but I would like to play it now. It is good to go back to your old games and see how you progressed since. I was making the game all by myself because I like the feeling of controlling the whole process. Though, I have a friend with whom I made a pretty great demo for another competition on the Russian independent gaming site gamin.me in spring 2016. It was a great collaboration and it led me to work on an action game.
Sebastian: I find it interesting that you developed a kind of ‘narrative gameplay’ mechanic in your first jam game. Was it important for you that the player could find something out about the soldier?
nuprahtor: I did not want to create a story of the soldier, but a story of a soldier: A war between two countries was going on and I wanted to tell this story through his last monologue. I remember his words were about how he became a pilot of a war submarine, about the military academy, how his parents and his wife were proud of him et cetera. Most of the story just vanished in my head instead of getting in the final game, though.
Sebastian: But your love for such details is enormous! I remember how you even mentioned the fear of an horse in your game “Real War”.
nuprahtor: “Real War” is about a child playing war, which does not seem real at all, but in the end the player finds out about this child’s fate in a pretty vague way. I wanted the words in the beginning to mirror the standard propaganda speeches during wartime. Bombastic. Patriotic. But in the end we see what he really thinks about war. The moment with the horse was inspired by Remarque’s “All Quiet on the Western Front” episode with the wounded horses. This moment in the book really impressed me and I wanted to recreate it, so I did it with an imaginary horse depicted by a chess figure.
Sebastian: Whoa, thanks! It is really great to know your own intention now! I always thought you wanted to show the hideousness, the cruelty of war in general by using some kind of ‘contradiction’: In my interpretation you showed all the horrors in an effective way by triggering the imagination of the player. Like, “Okay, the action is awful, but it was just a doll… Oh wait, fuck, that shit really happens in a real war!” Thanks, your words changed my reception!
nuprahtor: Well, your interpretation is kind of correct, too. I mean, this is what actually happens to people and animals, but in this case they are toys, so it is okay… Or is it? I think it is pretty easy to make a gory depiction of war, but it will lessen the impact. People get desensitized to this kind of violence really fast. And I think you are right about the imagination: I believe it is true to a lot of things in games, movies, books et cetera. Do not tell something straight, let your audience use their imagination, let them find out what you want to tell by using some subtle clues. This way it will impress them more.
Sebastian: That might be true. By the way, you seem to have a huge fascination about soldiers, wars and violence in general. What is your deal with that kind of topics?
nuprahtor: In Russia, World War II is a really difficult page of history. Almost every family was affected. My grandmother was a child in the 1940s, she told me how difficult it was. When I was a kid, I went to an museum exhibition about weapons of that era. I believe since then I became interested in military weapons. Also, I remember photographs from World War II battlefields, concentration camps, executions. War is very scary. That is why I think that video games must help you to escape this terrible world into even more horrible places. At least that is the type of games I like to play and love to make, because war is a perfect example of a terrible world.
I am not making anti-war or pacifistic games based on politics or real world events, though. My games are never a statement. I am depicting the war as I understand the whole concept of it, in all its cruelty and hideousness. All my games with war themes are based on an abstract war in a completely different world. But thematically I always base my imaginary wars on some version of the Great War: Trenches, mustard gas, gas masks… It was a time when people still believed in God, but already started flying in the sky.
Sebastian: Why exactly are you not developing games about real events or why do you not use games as a form of personal statement? Do you not see yourself as a politcal person? Or do you follow some kind of ‘development manifesto’?
nuprahtor: I created a manifesto when I started to make games in Unity. I was obsessed with the new art games movement… Was it new though? Maybe it just began to gain popularity in 2010. Anyway, I created a set of rules, mirroring the various art manifestos of cinema. I hated the classical arcade gameplay at the time and basically my manifesto was a list of restrictions. I do not use it anymore, but this manifesto helped me to create some kind of a style.
I believe that video games as an art form should not copy other art forms. What works good for cinema, theater, music or literature is not necessary good for video games. Video games as an art form have their own methods of interacting with their audience. We must explore this uniqueness to make better games further. For example, I believe that “Super Mario Bros.” deserves more to be called art than “Dear Esther” or “Gone Home”.
Sebastian: But why exactly do you tend to not bring politics and your own views into your games? Do you consider yourself ‘irrelevant’?
nuprahtor: Yes, I guess I do. I separate societal and individual. I am trying to approach my games individually, so to say. It is difficult to explain, though. A person cannot live without society, but I like to focus on things that are personal. For example, in “welcome to the forest” I used war as a part of the character’s background: The battlefield was a place that affected him greatly, but still he was able to overcome it. I have not explained who fought the war and even who won in the end, because it was irrelevant to the story about a soldier who returned home to his loved ones just to face something that broke him so much that he went to the forbidden town in order to reverse it.
I do not think I have some interesting views and statements to make with my games, I make them for people to play as individuals, not as members of society. Maybe that is why a lot of my games are so abstract. I guess it is impossible to separate your views from your creations, though – I think my games themes can say a lot about my views on the world.
Sebastian: But in game jams you are not completely free to choose your them
nuprahtor: That is true. They are the only restrictions I accept nowadays. Though, I must admit, I am not always trying to strictly follow the theme. Like, you know, in Ludum Dare, there is one rule: No matter which theme wins, there will always be people who hate it. I remember the “Two Buttons Controls” theme… I hated it so much. I mean, what can you do with two buttons? A mobile game? I was so pissed. But I came up with a first person game where the controls were composed of two mouse buttons and two mouse axes. It was a continuation of my attempts to create an action game for Ludum Dare. The first attempt, called “Geisterblut”, was not that good gameplay-wise, though I still like the style.
With the control restrictions I designed a gameplay that will later become the main battle system of my current big project in development. It will be some kind of arcade exploration shooter game, and besides battles with monsters the player must explore the vast world. Exploration is a very important part of it, inspired by the “Yume Nikki” and “Souls” games. So, in the end I believe that a bad theme is a great challenge to overcome.
Sebastian: I recognized you did not take part in the last Ludum Dare, though. Was it because of the theme?
nuprahtor: I actually tried to make a game, but I made a huge mistake: I started to prepare for the jam, I made a simple menu system, added some PlayStation-like shaders, a scene loading system et cetera – no assets, just technical things. But when I was making it, I already started to think about the concept I will make and by the weekend I already had a game in my mind, which I wanted to make. However, Ludum Dare is always an improvisation. You make a game based on the theme, and you make it quick. During these three days a concept constantly changes, it evolves. This is the magic of Ludum Dare.
And that is why on the second day my own hype was already gone. I had a concept, I started to make it – but it was not fun. There was no sense of wonder, no brainstorming with my friends on the internet, simply nothing. Never again I will prepare for a Ludum Dare.
Sebastian: At least you learned something by that little ‘failure’. Did you like some of the entries?
nuprahtor: I must admit that I am really selfish… If I do not participate in Ludum Dare, I do not play other entries that much. Maybe it is because then I feel like I am not a part of the event and then I lose interest. I do not know. If I release a game, I try to find good games and vote for them, but to be honest… It is not that easy.
The rules of Ludum Dare encourage you to play entries made by other people, and that is really great. But as a player I rarely get interested in jam games. It is like a jam session in an old smoky bar: You have to be there to feel it. Though, some jam games evolved into interesting large game projects… Just take “SUPERHOT”, “Gods Will Be Watching”, “Pony Island”, “Evoland” or “TITAN SOULS” for example! But my favorite jam game so far is “The Midnight Station”, which was made for the SpeccyJam.
Sebastian: When you think jam games are mostly not interesting, why do you continue to take part in game jams yourself?
nuprahtor: Game jams are a great opportunity to start working on something new and to playtest it immediately. And as I said, lots of jam games evolve into bigger games. I mean, I am also working on a game that consists of three different, but similar concepts I made for jams: Two of them were Ludum Dare entries (“Geisterblut” and “yaschiki”), the other one was made for a local Russian game jam.
Sebastian: Okay, that might explain the fascination of indie developers for game jams, but what is with the side of the player? Take our website for example: game-curator.com features a lot of jam submissions and acts as a curated collection of small indie games, which we find interesting or attracting. It is a thing we make not just for the developers, but for the players primarily. Do you think our work has any value then?
nuprahtor: No no, game jam curation is actually very important. Lots of people are interested in small indie games. I was constantly browsing Game Jolt, freeindiegam.es and IndieStatik in order to get new game experiences. I mean, it is not a secret that most jam games are far from great, but you have to understand that game jams are not for the players in first place… They are for the developers. Even if you are a complete novice, even if it is your first try to make a game, even if you do not know English very well – you can still make something and get feedback. It will help you to improve and to get things done.
That is why there are so many incomplete games with ‘bad’ graphics, sound, gameplay, et cetera – they are not bad, they are the first experiences and that is why they are very important for the developers. But for the gamer it is different: For example, Ludum Dare always has thousands of entries per event. It can be pretty difficult to find something good there, especially for non-developers. game-curator.com finds interesting, outstanding games. It helps both – players to find something interesting, developers to get attention to their projects -, so I think curation of small independent games has a great value.