Since 2012, I’ve struggled on how, if, and when I should publish what I’m about to say. For this first fully public disclosure, I’ll stick to the main points.
I loved working at Telltale Games. I worked with a number of people whose work I grew up on. Worked with franchises I loved and lead me to working in video games. This is what happened to me for that dedication.
This does not begin to describe what I endured by these events. It doesn’t cover the isolation, the paranoia, and assortment of other forms of trauma and recovery from the last seven years. This doesn’t include the people who did make positive work to assist me though this time. If there’s interest in the deeper story, I’m willing to give further details and the few receipts I have. Though I confess that most of my information came from individuals who spoke to me and no recordings exist.
To be clear: I don’t believe that every studio had me on a list. I had a narrow set of skills that only a few places would find relevant. These places were actively closed to me. In other cases, recruiters of certain studios had blanket policies against Telltale content programmers as the skill set was seen as incompatible. That too was told to me in-person at a recruiting event. I was a narrative designer in a world where that wasn’t a title one could have.
At this point, it’s hard for me to see a path to work in video games again. Too much time has passed for my experience to be relevant in the eyes of the current state of the industry. The management of Telltale succeeded in their goals, for whatever their reasons, to remove me from the industry. Even with the closure of the studio, they won and I lost.
For today, it’s a big step for me to come forward. With the support of friends and years of therapy, I’m finally able to share this testimony with you. It’s not a complete, but it’s enough.
This article won’t contain spoilers. I haven’t experienced Bandersnatch yet.
As 2018 came to a close, Netflix released Black Mirror: Bandersnatch, an interactive film exclusive to the platform. Black Mirror is our current time’s Twilight Zone where the genre allows for a deep dive into a single idea of fiction and allowing us to reexamine choices in our present time. And it’s time that the Interactive Fiction world to get their butts together and make pitches to Netflix.
In 2015, The Atlantic wrote about the process Netflix undergoes to improve the dataset for their recommendation engine. The company spent the resources to define every piece of media it could define, including media it hasn’t (or ever) released on the platform. Using this dataset, Netflix is able to obtain the value of the property by how many users the company believes will enjoy that content.
With that dataset and recommendation engine dialed in, Netflix knows the value of a piece of content. This dataset is absolutely instrumental to the development of self-published content. The pitch process for motion pictures is along the lines of tastemakers dictating if a project was financially viable. This was based more on subjective opinions of executives, mostly of white men.
What happens when you take a pitch, do the tagging work as if the piece existed, and see what potential viewership numbers come out? Now you have a more calculated guess to the financial viability of a project. This is how we got Orange is the New Black after their endless search and turndown across other media buyers.
I turn to the Interactive Fiction (IF) community and ask: Which of your works can be adapted to film and Netflix’s interactivity capabilities?
And if you have any recommendations for any IF I should read, reply to me on Twitter @TheSeg!
There’s… there’s a lot for me to say. I still find myself deciding on what is appropriate.
I’m trying to find the line between the sudden freedom I have in speaking about my time during and especially after my layoff in 2012, but not drowning the voices and needs of the 250+ souls who not only lost their jobs, but have no financial support. #TelltaleJobs is an important hashtag. It comforts me that the class of 2018 is able to say they were laid off without being questioned by it.
In the next few weeks and months, I’ll start opening up more. Till then, I sum up my time at Telltale with a few small bits:
And it’s really great to hear from the other artists I worked with.
This Friday June 17th, the final episode of Dreamfall Chapters will close a story told over 17 years. Starting with The Longest Journey in 1999, the storyline has been with me for my post high school professional career.
This will be one of the last titles with the work of my friend, Jory Prum.
I first met Jory early on during my time at Telltale Games. The Nordic sound guy with his own studios, Jory was one of the most friendly people I have ever met in not only video games, but in all of the entertainment business. That’s the thing about talented sound engineers. They always take the time to listen.
The last time I saw him was January. I got him a bottle of Prager Port Wine as a small thank you gift and met for dinner with Scott Looney. The gift was for two reasons: Years ago, Jory hired my friend Amanda Rose Smith purely by my direct insistance. The other: Jory was one of the few people I worked with that reminded me of the work at Telltale was valued. During the darker periods after the layoff from Telltale, it was a beacon of light and hope. I was able to tell him why he was so importantly helpful to me. There’s a small comfort knowing he knew exactly how and why I valued him as a friend.
There’s a few times that video games deeply affected me emotionally. Even with the rise and fall of my career in video games, Ragnar Tørnquist‘s story remained to be the art I strove for. I’m even humbled that Dreamfall borrowed from my contributions to analytics in narrative based gameplay. It brought me further joy to see two of my friends working on game, Jory and Amanda Rose. I’m going to be in a very private space when I get to play the episode. There will be moments of sadness for all the endings it presents and joy that this work is celebrated.
As artists, the truest celebration of our lives is to experience the art we create. While we are deprived of what could have been, we have what is already out there. We are able to treasure every moment this beautiful person created.
Everyone’s doing it, so am I! These are the games of note for me, but I had to separate into categories of titles my friends or myself worked on. I haven’t been able to play many newly released games this year, but here’s a few released this year I’d like to note.
As the producer for Dominique Pamplemousse (or ‘Professional Extrovert’ as Squinky calls me), I have to get the game in front of as many people as possible. With the IGF Grand Prize & other nominations, there’s a lot of opportunities presented to the game and it’s my roll to capture them. Course, we’re limited by budget (there is none) and time (I have little of).
Our sales are particularly high in Europe and Russia. Shocking as the game is English only and no advertising to speak of. Steam is a good partner and everyone at Humble is wonderful! I figured adding Good Old Games would compliment the Eurozone in coverage. The only contact I had was a Submit Your Game link. I gave a little bit of info in the form, and named drop our festival destinations along with the fact the game is already released.
Shipping the Empty Box
Releasing [string:titleOfGame] on [array:platforms]
Working on [string:titleOfGame], you need to release it on [array:platforms-0] and perhaps on [array:platforms-1] in the future. You have [int:NULL] time till release. Build engineer and programmer John “Seg” Seggerson (Telltale Games, John McNeil Studio, Dominique Pamplemousse) will help smooth the multi-platform release by outlining build engineering tips for platforms on desktop, mobile, console, and beyond. Increase artist, writer, and programmer efficiency with a set of core specifications and planning applied to existing platforms and future platforms. Skills and knowledge that will reduce release headaches for your [int:sizeOfTeam] team!
This is the build engineering panel I’ve always wanted to do and finally getting to do it. My experience with Dominique Pamplemousse was releasing a game without having to worry about making the game. I needed to create the empty box to ship to Steam & Humble. This clean-room process made me think about the build process in this perspective, and finally got me to apply for this lecture.
Talking with my game industry friends, we couldn’t think of ever seeing a build engineering panel offered. Not just PAX Dev, but GDC as well. My hope was to get accepted to PAX Dev to focus getting the content together in time to apply for GDC. I got my wish!
The lecture will be in two acts. The first act will be guidelines for a build system from my experience. Going into specifics isn’t helpful because game engines are too different for me to cover. Instead I’ll be going to broad guidelines. The second act will be releasing my master asset list, a core asset list, and the philosophy behind it. This list will contain all assets for every platform I can talk about. Then another core assets needed to convert over to these targets. If I have time, I may make a NPM/Bower app to do these conversations.
Over the summer I’ll be working on the details of the lecture and have everything ready for submitting for GDC 2015. I’m super excited to work on this and get to attend PAX Dev & PAX Prime!
First a quotable quote from me in case anyone wants the soundbite:
LucasArts in the 80′s and 90′s helped shape me into the interactive media artist I am today. My time at Telltale Games was as close to working in that environment, and I hope shaped positively the careers of future men and women of interactive media. – John “Seg” Seggerson
I am the product of the adventure gaming genre of the 90′s and squarely in the SCUMM engine camp. Besides Myst, Sam & Max and Monkey Island titles are the most influential titles in my life. They shaped how I created my career and thus my life itself. The news of the closure wasn’t unexpected, so I have already made peace with the fate that occurred. But this is a time to reflect on the importance LucasArts has made in my life.
My love for video games is rooted in an interactive narrative. I’m not one for shooting at things a lot. I’d rather be a part of the storytelling process than a hired gun. Growing up with the SCUMM engine games, I had a lifelong goal of working at a place like LucasArts with the likes of Dave Grossman, Tim Schafer, and Ron Gilbert. When the Star War prequels came out, the slow burn to the end of LucasArts began. The shutting of the successor of Sam & Max titles was a solid push in that direction.
With the advent of starting my own game studio and using the term “non-fiction games,” I figure I should explain my reasoning behind the term.
My work as an artist is narrative based interactive fiction. I grew up on SCUMM era games like Sam & Max and of Live-Action Video (LAV) titles like Tex Murphy. I explored the ages of Myst and the saved the time-space continuum in Buried in Time. Art to me is exploring the space between the audience member and the work of art itself. Good art allows the audience to fill in that space by giving enough information to make the experience owned by the audience. I’m constantly perfecting my skills in this craft to explore this space.
The Current Serious Space
While and establishing myself in fiction works, I started to think about the other areas of thought this art form can tackle. I’ve mused about this before with topics like “The Corporation for Public Gaming” for the Serious Games space. Loosely described as games that have a real-world purpose. While there are great works, I find the space lacking. There’s a series of toys created to find the quickest way to illustrate a narrowed concept. They’re not rewarding experiences for the most part and at best a sense of guilt that you must play this game rather than wanting to.
A browser based LAV game called “Bow Street Runner” has stuck out with me in what I want from non-fiction works. Done by Littleloud as a commission for a Channel 4 show called “City of Vice,” the game is arguably more rememberable than the show. The player is a Bow Street Runner, the pre-cursor to our modern police system. While the game is historical fiction, it is still taking history and only filling in gaps to make it approachable in our history. Different from the attempts that Assassin’s Creed takes where a completely alternative universe is created with our existing understanding of history.
For the better part of my career, I’ve worked on making games that fit within the universe of an existing IP. While some were more restrictive than others, the titles I help to realize had a certain degree of rules mandated by the franchise. The question I ask: How is this different from a non-fiction topics? How difficult is it to follow the rules of the universe of a fictional franchise to the universe we exist in?
Non-Fiction Gaming is my approach to close this gap. Non-fiction gaming is taking the same approach of fictional game development to non-fiction topics. Instead of deep-diving into a fictional world, I choose to dive into our own world. Gaming needs it’s Maus and Persepolis. It needs it’s NPR: Planet Money and This American Life. It needs it’s Cosmos: A Personal Journey. I choose to take the same love and care I approach an existing fictional universe to the world of science, history, art, and anything else I care to talk about though my art.
In the end, what I care about is the space between the work of art I create and the player themselves. That part where both sides come together and only the player can create. A space that isn’t restricted to works of fiction. This is why I started my studio.
Edits: Added headers and corrected grammar. (1/15/2013)