This is Part 2 of The Indie Toaster’s interview with Ceri Williams and James Morgan of Small Island Games about their exhibition, “Haiku Adventure: The Craft of Games“. The exhibition is sponsored by the London Games Festival and runs at the William Morris Gallery until 15 September 2019. Check out Part 1 of the interview for more about the development of their game, Haiku Adventure.

The Craft of Games

In addition to development work on Haiku Adventure, Ceri Williams and James Morgan also got in touch with the William Morris Gallery in April 2018. When the gallery learned of how its exhibition had inspired their work, it shared that it had been looking at ways to connect its collections with the medium of videogames.

The gallery then suggested the possibility of displaying the game-making process and demo of Haiku Adventure alongside the ukiyo-e prints that had been a direct artistic influence on the game. Curated by Small Island Games, the “Haiku Adventure: The Craft of Games” exhibition aims to highlight the similarities between the mediums of ukiyo-e and videogames.

Haiku Adventure, river, old man, spirit, ukiyo-e, art

Williams explains, “The first part of the display will show three original Japanese woodblock prints by artists including Hiroshige and Hokusai. We had access to a larger collection of prints but wanted to just pick three that help to show the kind of qualities that have inspired us. The Hokusai print (Fuji from the seashore at Tago) is a great example of the kind of framing and composition being used in the game.”

He says, “The Hiroshige print (Shôno: Driving Rain) is a great example of how things like rain and wind are depicted to bring a dynamic and experiential quality to the images. Lastly, the Urushibara print (The Pines) is a more contemporary example of how the techniques of woodblock printing have inspired artists to create their own interpretations of the medium. Alongside these prints, we’ll be illustrating the processes by which they were made and comparing these to the production of videogames.

The second part of the display shows the game-making process through means of photos, video and a collection of objects that were used to make the game. In addition to the display of Haiku Adventure and its development, five other indie games are showcased in the exhibition: Before I Forget by 3-Fold Games which explores dementia; In Other Waters by Jump Over The Age where players explore a mysterious subaquatic world; the thrilling Over The Alps by Stave Studios; the William Morris-inspired Strawberry Thief by Sophia George; and Astrologaster by Nyamyam which remixes Elizabethan historical drama with astrological interpretation.

Collaboration and Technology

Haiku Adventure, bird, old man, conversation

Morgan and Williams saw clear parallels between the collaborative efforts of ukiyo-e artists, publishers and craftspeople who worked together two centuries ago and present-day game development teams. Williams points out, “Ukiyo-e prints are the resulting effort of a collaboration between a skilled and specialised team of publishers, artists and craftspeople working together to conceive, paint, carve and print the final image.”

He says, “We see a direct correlation with game development which is usually also the collaborative effort of a team of people working skilfully towards a single vision.” In a similar manner, the developers have been working with Amy Butt, who is responsible for composing the haiku poetry, and Zands and Louise Anna Duggan, who have been creating the original game soundtrack. They’ve also recently brought on board Cash DeCuir who is advising on as well as editing the game’s narrative.

The other correlation the game developers noted was how both ukiyo-e prints and video games benefited greatly from the technological revolutions of their time. Williams explains, “New printing processes that allowed the vibrantly-coloured, detailed and mass-produced ukiyo-e prints of Edo-era Japan opened up art to a mass audience who could now more simply and cheaply pick up prints.

In a similar way, the explosion of digital distribution platforms and increased ownership of smartphones mean that most people now have a device capable of playing games as well as the ability to easily download games from a huge catalogue of accessibly-priced titles. Without these technical advances, both the craftspeople making ukiyo-e prints and indie game developers today wouldn’t have the market and audience to expose their creative works to.”

Challenges and Hopes

Asked about the biggest challenge they’ve encountered so far, Williams shares that it was taking on board and properly processing all the advice and guidance they’d sought, while balancing it with time to develop Haiku Adventure. Two years after the initial discussion about the game, the developers feel like they’ve finally reached the stage where they can now begin the process of final production, stressing that it was a shrewd decision to avoid rushing ahead before properly assessing the demo, refining the game’s scope and planning out a commercial strategy.

Morgan and Williams hope that players will enjoy both exploring the game world and composing haiku poetry. Williams says, “It would be great if the game can allow a new appreciation of ukiyo-e prints and help to showcase the craft behind them. On a deeper level, we hope that the narrative themes will prompt conversations and thoughts about the impact of humankind on the natural world. Perhaps, if we’re lucky, we can inspire a new poet, artist or philosopher!”