If you’re within the indie games and/or games journalism bubble, you’ve probably heard that Belgian studio Tales of Tales has announced that they will stop making games for the foreseeable future, since the lack of commercial success for their latest game, Sunset, in its first month of release, is making the studio’s financial situation look rather grim. As they explain in what is something of a farewell letter, they gambled on this one and lost, which has made them reconsider whether they want to be part of this industry.
At the risk of writing a dreaded hot take, I want to take a brief moment to reflect on these developments, but also particularly on what came before, and why it matters to me as much as it does.
I don’t want to get into speculation about whether Sunset is a failure or why — commercially, it is, according to the standards set by the studio themselves; critically, it certainly isn’t, as it has received mostly positive reviews. And artistically? Not in my book: while I haven’t finished playing through Angela Burnes’ story entirely, my time spent in the apartment was supremely relaxing and interesting. Sipping a drink, listening to Austin Wintory’s gorgeous soundtrack, reflecting on personal distance and political influence.
I’m quite sure others will draw the lessons they need to from the performance of Sunset after it was launched. What kind of legacy the game will leave in the long run is still anyone’s guess.
Instead, I want to talk about the rest of Tale of Tales’ legacy, since their work has been highly formative for me as a writer about games and culture. I’ve written a handful of pieces on the studio’s games throughout the years, and I’d like to share them here as something of a minor ode, a way of reminding myself and you all about their oeuvre.
It started roughly five years ago. I had been running my music blog Evening of Light for a little over three years and decided that I wanted to start writing about videogames as well. Now, I’ve been playing games since I was around five or six years old, and have written about music since I was sixteen. So why not write about games from a cultural perspective? It never occurred to me.
That is, until I came across The Path and The Endless Forest.1 There was something about these games, an urgency, a fascination. They wanted to be interpreted, not just by being played, but by being written about. Perhaps it’s because I bounced off literary studies in college in favour of linguistics, but part of me will always be a cultural writer. That buried part of me found a thin, permeable spot in these games so that it could penetrate the surface again.
Since The Path made such a huge impression on me at the time, I felt more comfortable cutting my teeth on The Endless Forest. On Evening of Light,I had already started writing a few pieces about things other than music, so I decided “why the hell not”, and wrote a piece about The Endless Forest and its communicatory aspects. There was — and is still — something extremely inspiring about a non-violent multiplayer online magical deer RPG.
A brief write-up on original granny simulator The Graveyard was soon to follow. This vignette was an excellent example of how short pieces can work in a digital medium.
A while later, having moved over to my personal blog Sub Specie for this kind of writing, I wrote a long piece on FATALE, taking a look at its text and context, backed with a history of the figure of Salomé and her depiction and gradual sexualisation in visual art.
Near the end of 2012, I decided I wanted to improve my writing and started sending pitches to games websites run by people who actually knew what they were doing. It so happened that after three years I had mustered the courage to write about the The Path, and the now defunct Gaming Daily was kind enough to edit and publish it. You can now read this naive but heartfelt ode on Sub Specie. Even now, being a few more years richer in experience, there’s no doubt that The Path is among the few games that have truly left a mark on my life.
The next year, things started rolling a bit more with my games criticism,2 and I published a piece on — the now also defunct — Nightmare Mode about Tale of Tales’ then current game Bientôt l’éte, again focussing on what it tells us about communication in online games. This piece, too, is mirrored on Sub Specie.
Later that year, I wrote an experimental fictional review of the same game, published nowhere. I eventually put it on my own blog.
I’m afraid this it where the story ends. I never got around to writing about the studio’s phone toy Vanitas, nor the sensual explosion of colour and warm feelings that is Luxuria Superbia, let alone Sunset, which I’m still digesting. Some day…
So, is this the end for Tale of Tales as a game studio? They seem to think so, at the moment. Personally, I find it hard to imagine them making art outside of a digital medium (game or not), since they’ve been at it for over fifteen years. But then again, that might simply be because our connections are through that medium. Sometimes it’s just time to move on. This is just my way of saying: so long, and thanks for everything.
If you’d like to support the studio in recovering from their recent setback, go check out and buy their games, or have a look at Auriea and Michael’s Patreon pages, which they are using to crowdfund new creative endeavours.