Ode of Odes 6

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.

What kind of shadow will Angela's story cast?

What kind of shad­ow will Angela’s story cast?

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.

  1. I can’t recall which came first. Probably The Path. []
  2. I ended up here as a guest con­trib­u­tor, for one thing []

Odile Strik

About Odile Strik

Odile A. O. Strik is editor-in-chief of The Ontological Geek. She is also a linguist from the Netherlands. She occasionally writes in other places, such as her own blog Sub Specie. You can read her innermost secrets on Twitter @oaostrik.

6 thoughts on “Ode of Odes

      • Corvus the Elder

        You hon­est­ly think a game about domes­tic chores has a chance of going any­way besides down­hill?

        • Oscar Strik

          See, I don’t think the game is about domes­tic work, just like the pro­tag­o­nist is defined less by her work than her posi­tion between Ortega and her rev­o­lu­tion­ary broth­er, and indeed her own per­spec­tive on the polit­i­cal sit­u­a­tion in the game.

          That said, that you did get that impres­sion seems to indi­cate that marketing-wise, things could have gone bet­ter.

          • Corvus the Elder

            Of course it is. That’s essen­tial­ly what the game play amounts to which is the pri­ma­ry ele­ment that defines a video game. So yes, even if I got that impres­sion in all it’s glo­ri­fied pre­ten­tious­ness and per­pet­u­al bore­dom it still would­n’t have sold any bet­ter. There’s noth­ing wrong with explor­ing such ideas and themes but they’re bet­ter expressed in other visu­al medi­ums like a short film, rather than a game. By doing so in the lat­ter you can­not expect a lot of peo­ple to play the game you pro­duced due to its lack of engag­ing game­play and replaya­bil­i­ty.

          • Oscar Strik

            I real­ly don’t agree. Gameplay is a vague term in the first place, and in my expe­ri­ence, this game is much more about explor­ing and being in the apart­ment than it is about doing house­hold work. Exploring and try­ing to fit togeth­er what all the objects in the apart­ment say about Ortega, and about the con­text in gen­er­al. Being in a game space is quite dif­fer­ent from watch­ing a film, at least in my expe­ri­ence.

            Anyway, the point of the whole arti­cle was­n’t that Sunset *should* have sold any bet­ter. In that sense, the mar­ket is always right, how­ev­er you want to define ‘right’. It was just a per­son­al way of say­ing that I’ve liked what ToT have done over the years.

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