SCAVENGERS STUDIO
DEVELOPMENT BLOG

A creative journey through Season

My name is Mathieu S. Leroux. I work as an environment artist on Season. Ever since my childhood I have always been passionate about cycling – As early as 15 years of age, I rode from my then hometown – Valleyfield – all the way to Montreal, alone, without the aid of maps or any cell phone for guidance. I simply craved adventure and the unknown. As I got there, I almost instantly lost my bicycle to thieves while I was out to get food. That ride turned out to be a disaster, but it had been worth it, as it set me up to the passion of bicycling. Although next time, I would be better prepared!

And so, ever since I can remember, I have been going on increasingly daring rides across Canada and the US. There is nothing like coming across a village or place you’ve never heard of, stopping for a warm beverage and meeting some of the locals. I feel very thankful to have the chance to help bring some of that passion to the world of Season.

My last ride was Mont-Laurier – Montreal. It was about 250 kilometers. The autumn scenery was beautiful. I went off the beaten path several times, as over the years I’ve become some sort of an exploration kamikaze, often risking personal injury to find new places. For example, last year I did a similar ride on the eastern coast of the US. I stopped at a little cottage in Marblehead, near Salem. There was an island on the horizon that intrigued me greatly, but I found no way to get there and had no intention to rent a boat. So I simply jumped into the ocean and swam all the way there. At one point, in the waves, I started to doubt my decision and panicked, but I didn’t turn back. It was stirring. Once I landed on the beach, however, the feeling of achievement was immense. The excitement made everything seem sweeter than nature. The leaves seemed greener than green, the air was lighter than air. It was all just sand, trees and rocks, but those felt infinitely more intriguing when you’ve carved your way there yourself. I had become addicted to adventure.

This too happened on my ride between Mt Laurier and Montreal. I would jump in rivers, climb impossible rocks and go places where careful people would never dare go, but it was always worth it. I once strapped a life jacket and threw myself down the rapids, letting the current take me to where currents go. When you understand your strengths and limits, there is no reason to hold back on going where you want.

The true goal of my last ride was to take some time to be by myself and meditate on the book I am currently writing. It is called The Phenomenon of Beauty. It is sort of a self-help book, mixed with a heavy dose of philosophy. In it, I talk about ways to find meaning and what I describe as beauty in places where we culturally expect not to find any. For example, living in a city, a noisy neighbourhood, or when you live trying moments or a crushing schedule.

Beauty in this application is not what you observe when, say, you see a pretty flower – It transcends the aesthetics of this world and goes deeper than that. Beauty is the feeling you get when you observe things for what they really are; it is a feeling of awe, of inspiration and a momentary reminder of where you are in the grand scheme of life and all its complexity.

It is true that what takes part in our environment has a direct impact on the way you arrange your thoughts in your mind. For example, and this is one of the founding principles of the modern currents of minimalism: you can reduce clutter to a strict minimum, so as to give breathing space for your eyes and for your mind. It goes in the same precedent as meditation, to “streamline your thoughts” and flush out unnecessary noise.

And so colours and space have meanings, but those meanings are also heavily tainted by our own perceptions – what we assume things are and how we let them affect our thoughts. This is the very core of my book; to learn to observe how your mind treats what it perceives as ugly and bothersome and allow it not to give any room to unreasonable ideas to take root. Sometimes, in the spur of difficult situations, we allow all sorts of unsound thoughts to pass through unfiltered and those unrealistic ideas can unfortunately affect our judgment, ultimately to the detriment of our happiness.

THE CREATIVITY IN MY LIFE AND FOR THE GAME

Raw talent is necessary for all artistic jobs in the video game industry, but what sets Season apart is a bit more abstract. Creativity is a complicated term to describe and even more so to quantify. In my view, I’d go as far as to say that knowledge is just as important as drawing skills are for an artist. The meaning of creativity is the ability to assemble concepts into new ideas; ideas do not exist in a vacuum. All inventions are assemblages of many different concepts that already exist in the world. Creative talent can be measured by how complicated, and how cleverly those fragments of information are assembled together to form “new” interesting ideas.

For Season, the depth of feelings that come to life as you explore the world comes from a creative use of imagery that is elusive but also relatable, springing forth a sense of familiarity for places you’ve never been to, while still being impossible to frame in time and space. The world of Season feels like a daydream; you’ve seen something like it, but also never have. It is like nostalgia for memories you’ve never experienced.

In the game, you may ride through an old road and come across ruins that belong to another era – an era that seems distant and strange, but also more advanced than our own. This is how it may have felt like to roam the fields of England during the times of the Saxons, or the Franks during the days of the Carolingian Empire; to witness strange temples and bath houses lost to time, far beyond the technological knowledge of the era, its true function buried along with the remains of the Roman Empire.

And this brings me back to the meaning of creativity. The richness of the world of Season stems from the inspiration our writer, designers and artists have found in their travels, their books and their overall personal lives. We’ve maintained a very open atmosphere in our studio that encourages exchange of ideas between all trades. The end result is a product that is shaped by our collective energy, a product that feels like our own.

So, if you want to create your own worlds that are both believable and highly intriguing, you must stay curious. Hone in the talents necessary for your trade, but do not forget to put aside some time to learn about our world, to expand the richness of your creative power. So hop on that bike now and go exploring!

– Mathieu

The first believer of Season – A short story of passion

Hello! I am Amélie, co-founder of Scavengers Studio. As CEO and Executive Producer of the company, I finance video game projects and participate in the creative effort. I hire the key leaders/talents and I supervise them. I can do a lot of different things; funding, attracting investors into the videogame project, legal, design, marketing and advisory, etc. As our mission is to brand/create new IP, I spend most of my time building strategy and work plans with the directors. Also, I think it’s important to improve processes to build a studio culture and human resource strategy that fits the studio’s mission. I do not get involved with the day-to-day of a production like a director/producer does (unless I have to ;)).

Who am I?

I am a curious, enthusiastic, resourceful woman who loves team projects. As a kid, I truly pushed every boundary I could. At 10 years old, I got suspended from elementary school and kicked out of high school at 14. From my teenage years, I searched for eclectic work experiences. The more outside of my comfort zone I was, the more fun I had.

These experiences have brought me to many different places…

1. In the woods, where I learned the true value of a good and hot meal.

2. Into the craziness of the entertainment industry, where I learned what it REALLY means to “work hard”

3. All the way to Northern Quebec, taking part in a program that helped create more Inuit jobs and career opportunities at Glencore Raglan Mine -Tamatumani, where I learned to enjoy (for real) the present moment.

Finally, at the age of 24, I decided to invest myself (and all my savings!) in my first video game project: Darwin Project. Looking back at my journey, becoming an entrepreneur and managing my own business was a natural progression as I was constantly looking to discover new horizons and challenge myself.

Having my own company allowed me to live my greatest personal and professional adventure to date. The youth of the video game industry allows me to create from scratch the entrepreneurial environment that I want because there is room for creativity, going beyond my limits and above all, room for failures and learning. 

Being an outsider of the video game industry, the first 4 years were a kind of a MBA crash course into the business, production and support of video games. Building a studio/business from the ground up is the most difficult thing you can try to do. There is no class, no books that can prepare you for what’s to come. Everything that you do is always a first timer, so it’s inevitable that you make mistakes. I made a decision that I would never do the same now this demonstrates how I learned so much. I keep learning every day. Thanks to the indie community in Montreal. Each studio is really close to one another. We share and learn a lot from the experience of others as well. 

Those years were crucial to Season. As I was starting to play a whole bunch of games, I was also building a unique vision of what video games should be as a powerful medium of art and storytelling.

About my vision

You can have all the inclusion policies and space-free politics in the world inside your company, you need a diverse workforce in a position of leadership to have a real impact.

It took me a lot of courage to invest all my savings in Simon Darveau ideas. 

Now, he is investing in my direction and there’s nothing more that I wish for other women and people from diverse backgrounds. Simon is far from being perfect (neither am I), but when people asked me how women can be more included into positions of leadership, I say take a risk and just hire a woman. That’s it. I don’t want to hear about the fact that she doesn’t have the same background or as much experience as a more suitable candidate. If your mission is really to bring more women into the video game industry, you need to put your foot down and take a look at all the female candidates you have and just hire one of them. 

And naturally, I turned around and took a risk in hiring artists from outside the industry, our art director and our creative director. Being junior in the video game industry, it does involve a bumpy road of production, but thanks to the experience of our core team on Darwin Project, we are able to work all together into building something new. I do believe that there are no greater gains without taking big risks. I am not here for the status quo. I have been pushing boundaries my whole life and this is what I will keep doing.

More about Season

What I like the most about our protagonist is her courage. She demonstrates that it is worth the trouble to “participate”. To demonstrate courage, you have to “go and participate” not to “win” something but to “live an experience”. Being deeply involved in a project, being ready to learn, to evolve. It’s hard and it creates friction and discomfort. But I believe that being out of my comfort zone is the place where I learn the most. 

She goes on a quest. Life does not come to us, we have to go towards it. To participate, to get involved, it takes a dose of courage and commitment. After that, it will probably bring out aspects of our personality that we do not know. That’s the spirit of the game; go elsewhere to see what’s going on and take back the best with us.

I also believe that it is “this participation” that connects me to the protagonist in Season. I go there, I face it, I explore, I learn, I expose myself and I am alive.

Those two different games make a unique piece of who I am; Darwin Project touched my brain, Season touched my heart. Season is an invitation to open up, it gets me vulnerable. It puts me in a position where I want to meet others. It turns you into something better. 

I shed tears without sound but with a slight smile. It’s the feeling I hope I will have when I die. 

I would tell people who want to get involved in the wonderful world of video games that it takes a good deal of courage and character. Yes. But above all, it takes passion. If that’s what you want, I’m sure you’ve got it. Thank you and I’m really excited to present you Season soon to make you feel that way too. 

– Amélie. x

Interview with Kevin

Kevin has been writing Season for over two years now. In other words, he can’t wait to present it to you (and the whole team too!).

Until we can show you a little more about the project itself, we wanted to talk to you a little more about the profession of a video game writer; meeting with our creative director Kevin Sullivan.

 

  1. Did you dream of becoming a writer when you were young?

It’s what I wanted to do from the moment I realized that a human being made up Star Wars.

 

  1. What is your favorite game?

Writing wise it’d be Kentucky Route Zero. It feels like it was beamed here from the future like they jumped a few spaces ahead. It’s encouraging it was well received considering it basically jettisons all the reliable tricks of storytelling and is more akin to the work of someone like Samuel Beckett or Gabriel García Márquez. It’s already influenced a lot of games but still feels ahead of its time.

 

  1. Do you think it’s easy to write a video game?

All writing is hard in different ways. Writing a game is hard in that you’re not only dealing with the multifaceted nature of the form but with the realities of production too. It depends on the nature of the game too; some games live and die on their text and some are less reliant on it.

 

  1. What are the good and bad sides of writing?

The good side is when you’re surprised by what’s happening in the story as it unrolls or by connections made by other people that you weren’t consciously aware of when writing. The bad side is that, for me, pretty quickly my feelings about my own writing become very neutral. There’s more enjoyment in listening back to a piece of music you’ve written than in reading your own text, I find.

 

  1. Do you have any habits when it comes to writing?

My routine for when I’m writing on paper is to read in the morning and write when I take my second coffee from around 2p.m. until the evening.

 

  1. Do you know how much time you have spent writing Season? 

Hoo boy, no idea. But hours were more spent in the conceptualization phase of trying to imagine a particular world and particular tone. That took awhile.

 

  1. Do you improvise as the story goes, or did you know the ending before you started writing Season?

It’s usually good to leave breathing room in the story for characters to make choices on their own or to let you make more intuitive associations. But with the resources involved in making a game, outlining quite a bit is smart, just to be safe.

 

  1. Is the story of the game drawn from real events and from personal anecdotes?

It’s a mixture of things I read about, saw, or that happened to me or people I know. I find when I’m writing a detail, some little bit of text, I tend to draw on my own life to try to make it feel specific and real.

 

  1. What made you want to write this game?

It had a long gestation period, so there wasn’t a single moment of inspiration. I feel like explaining why you wrote something is always a retrospective explanation and not what you were thinking at the time. So, looking back I think on my side it came out of becoming more extroverted in a way, from traveling and reading more history, being both more worried and more attached to other places and time periods.

 

We hope you appreciated this little insight into Kevin’s journey, and learn some things about what it is like to be both a creative director, and a writer in games! 

 

– Season team

Between real and imaginary travel

“Season” draws inspiration from a lot of sources. I’d like to talk about a twin axis of influence; some experiences traveling in Taiwan, and the cinema of that same country. The question I want to pose, and also avoid answering, is this: to what extent can we learn about other places and people through their art? If we read War and Peace, do we have a modicum of feeling for early 19th century Russia? Think of the qualifiers we’d have to add to this; well, Tolstoy was writing about Counts and Princes, not so much the peasants and serfs that made up the majority of the population. Tolstoy was writing about the generation of his parents and grandparents; he wasn’t alive at the time the novel takes place. The magic of narrative art may be in empathizing and becoming entangled in fictional lives set 215 years ago. It feels as though that time and distance have collapsed. Without going so far as to imagine these grant us any certainty or authority, I feel sure a parcel we can take with us is an affinity for the time and place, that when we imagine a scene set in a particular time, we project into it, into particular lives and details that make it real to us. Imagine you see a newspaper headline that says tensions are flaring up between your country and another. If that other country is a place you’ve been, you might picture the faces of people you met and knew. What if you’ve read their books or seen their films? For myself, the appearance of Iran in American news media feels different having seen movies by Abbas Kiarostami and Mohsen Makhmalbaf.¹

Another place that I knew from films is Taiwan. I first saw Yi-Yi by Edward Yang and became interested in Taiwanese New Wave² cinema. The style and content of these films are very beautiful and original. They’ve been on my mind while working on “Season” because of the way they locate an individual life, and the life of a family, within their environment and the larger historical context³. The style oftentimes eschewed traditional coverage and covered entire scenes in a master wide shot. This gives you a feeling of spending time in the place itself with the characters. Intimate but historical, emotional but distant.

A moment in A Brighter Summer Day – two highschool students talk in a field while a military exercise is conducted in the distance. This combination of nostalgia and tenderness, with an ominous feeling tied to a historical moment, is something we’re trying to create in “Season.” 

When I had the opportunity to travel to Asia four years ago, I wanted to go to Taiwan, a place I’d only seen in these films.

Here: A photo taken by someone just before they gave us a ride. The only POV shot of “I’m about to pick up these hitchhikers” that I have.

Hitchhiking in Taiwan is tied with Albania for being the easiest of anywhere I’ve done it. When hitchhiking, you may gently try to get the person giving you a ride to drop you off somewhere slightly out of their way, usually when you’re trying to avoid getting stuck in a bad spot. You’re already in their debt for the ride, so it can be a delicate ask. On the contrary, in Taiwan we realized that if the driver knew our final destination, they might drive us straight there regardless of how far out of the way it was. This made us feel guilty so we started to shield this information. We had multiple drivers who insisted on taking us to certain landmarks or to eat at a certain place.

Finding a couchsurfing host in a big city is always difficult. You may need to send up to 20 or 30 personalized requests before succeeding. Taipei was no different. The host we finally found was a young dentist/aspiring filmmaker. He said he accepted my request because I had the aforementioned Edward Yang as one of my favorite directors in my couchsurfing profile. We talked about movies and culture and he taught me a lot. We even went to see a Q&A with the excellent director Tsai Ming-liang. He took questions while sitting in front of a piano and would occasionally start playing and singing.

From the art of another culture, we can get a partially understood glimpse into something profound. And in traveling, we accumulate impressions and bits of information that we’re getting directly from the place. The feeling of incompleteness is part of what’s so enticing about going away from what we know. What I’ve learned from the two different ways of experiencing Taiwan is that interest, or an affinity, can be sparked by art and can open the door a little. There still remains the moment of passing through it. These kinds of encounters are at the heart of “Season.”

– Kevin

¹ Politicians are aware of this, in fact. A great artist may be like a prophet, not without honor – save in their own country. But after you die, they’ll start building statues of you.

² A “New Wave” of filmmaking often coincides with political and social reform, such as the brief Czech New Wave that was linked to the Prague Spring. It’s no coincidence that the Taiwanese New Wave emerged at the same time as the democratic reforms of the 1980s and 90s.

³ The first batch of films were groundbreaking in how they depicted modern life in Taiwan. After these autobiographical films like “Growing Up” and “A Summer At Grandpa’s”, they made films about their recent history which were even more acclaimed and controversial. “A City of Sadness” touched on taboo subjects like the February 28 incident, when thousands of protesters were killed by the government.

This is the historical background that the audience is given towards the beginning of A Brighter Summer Day
“Millions of mainland Chinese flew to Taiwan in 1949 with the Nationalist government after its defeat in the civil war by the Chinese Communists.
Their children were brought up in an uneasy atmosphere created by their parents uncertainty about the future.
Many formed street gangs to search for an identity and to strengthen their sense of security.”
The text is establishing the character’s emotional lives and environment within the historical moment, why things feel the way they feel.

⁵ Although the world and ‘history’ of Season is made up – what they called ‘lore.’