The Klondike collective is a group of ten video game creators and multimedia artists based in Northern France. Over the past few years Klondike have released an eclectic mix of autobiographical projects, analogue & digital interactive toys and mesmeric wonderscapes. We talked to founding member Pitoum plus newer members Héloïse and Tyu about how the collective was formed, what inspires them and what they’re doing next.
Outermode: Could you give a quick summary of how, when, and why you formed as a collective?
Pitoum: As with any legend, there will probably be as many answers as members, but here is mine. At the very beginning I met Armel and Delphine (Dziff) at work. We were working at CCCP, a small dev studio in Valenciennes, Northern France. We quickly became friends and shared our views about videogames etc. At some point, Armel really wanted to buy an old arcade cabinet to make something like the winnitron. So, he talked to me about it and we started to look for one. We found it (and it’s a good story too) and started to work on it. We decided to create an association to manage the cabinet, and Klondike was born. After that Armel met new people (Tom, Lucie and Titouan) who were studying videogames in Valenciennes and doing cool stuff. They helped on the cabinet too and made games for it. And then Felix and Pol joined us, then Tyu and Heloise. And that’s it.
At first it was about the cabinet, but then about making games; we had a lot of discussions about what Klondike is, what we want to do with it, but it’s mainly a group of people doing creative stuff linked to video games, and spending New Year’s Eve together.
Héloïse: I joined Klondike some time after its creation. Klondike was first three people and began to grow as a group of friends sharing the same interest in games and collaborating together. So from three people, the collective grew to eight and then ten. Klondike answered a feeling of dissatisfaction we all shared: we wanted the space and possibilities to create the things we wanted and talk about them – get feedback, help and motivation from friends with the same interests. Klondike allowed us to do that.
OM: In other interviews you have talked about wanting to remain distinct as creators despite the “collective” label, but I feel there is a ‘Klondike style’ emerging, certainly at a visual level. Is that something you’re conscious of (or excited about) as a group?
Pitoum: I think we cannot ignore that, even if my own creations are not so much in that ‘Klondike style’. I feel like this is more the result of people sharing a lot. We spend a lot of time talking about stuff we like and sharing what we’re excited about. I guess it contributes to building a common taste, or a common style. Because we formed as a collective out of mutual “admiration” – well, at least because we found each other interesting enough – there was common taste at the very beginning.
“For a very long time people have associated Klondike with simple colourful and joyful shapes, but mostly because some very specific games, like Naut, got a lot of visibility.”
Tyu: I’d say it’s a bit trickier than that. Since a lot of us make games on our own, or are a hybrid between a developer and an artist, we tend to go for art styles that are quick to make but still visually impactful. For a very long time people have associated Klondike with simple colourful and joyful shapes, but mostly because some very specific games, like Naut, got a lot of visibility. If you look through our website, we actually have all sorts of art styles: some hand-drawn, some only based on shaders, some in black and white and some text-based.
I tend to emphasize this diversity whenever people talk to me about Klondike. Since I’m one of the latest members, people associate me being in Klondike with that “simple colourful joyful” art style, even though my own games are super dark. Though, I do work on cute things from time to time.
Héloïse: Each one of us has its own style and art preferences, but I think we all share a love for the use of strong colours in our projects. As lots of us studied and lived together for five years, I think we influenced each other consciously or unconsciously, as is often the case in a group of friends that have been living and working together so long.
OM: When you work together do you have fairly set roles (artist, programmer etc.) or do you prefer to be more fluid?
Tyu: It really depends on what kind of game we’re working on, and who’s available to work on what. Some of us work fully solo, but sometimes when one member wants to code without having to worry about the art style, they ask a more art-driven member to help out, or vice versa. In any case we’re always helping each other out whenever someone has a dev or art question, or wants feedback on what they’re working on.
OM: France has quite a rich history of art collectives or movements, especially over the past century (dada, surrealism, situationism spring to mind). Do you feel connected to that history at all or is it a narrative that you resist?
Héloïse: I think it is different for everyone in the collective, so I’ll speak for myself: I am quite inspired by art and I love to study and learn more about the different kinds of art that surrounds us, in France and other countries. I studied cinema and history of art before I joined a videogame school, so I automatically feel connected to art, but not French art or particular movements. I’ve never really thought of Klondike as being part of a bigger art movement; to me, we just do what we like to do and don’t really question the reason why – or our place regarding art.
Pitoum: Nah, the others are too punk for that!
More seriously, I think it’s something that videogames lack in general. I would love to see conferences about something else when I go to A MAZE or Indiecade or GDC, but game developers tend (in my opinion) to ignore that creation existed before videogames. It is always amazing to see a dev talk about his struggles with creation like it was something new when there are tons of books, movies, and even songs about that feeling. I would love videogames to be more self-conscious.
I feel connected as a person to the French history of art collectives, but not as a member of Klondike. Klondike is not a movement. It’s probably not even part of a movement because there is no such thing in the videogame industry. Almost, but not really.
“I’ve never really thought of Klondike as being part of a bigger art movement; to me, we just do what we like to do and don’t really question the reason why – or our place regarding art.”
Tyu: I think most of these movements have been founded around a certain manifesto, which implies a certain set of rules or principles that guides them. That’s not really the case for us. We make games because it’s fun, we do it together because we enjoy each other’s company. We’re friends before being fellow game devs. We’re also not pretending to do anything new, we’re just making whatever we want to make.
OM: Are there any artists or creators that serve as a shared reference point for all of you – that you have all drawn inspiration from?
Tyu: The references we share are the same as anyone who considers themselves an indie dev. Games that look fun and different, games that have a great and original art style, games that feel good when you play them. Then everyone has their own individual sets of references. Sometimes they overlap, but it’s more between three or four people than all ten of us.
I’m mostly into two extremely opposite things: super cute girly things that sparkle and hurt your eyes a bit – like magical girls and frilly dresses – and super dark mysterious scary stuff: horror movies and scary stories. History and art are also my main thing, it kinda permeates through what I do.
Pitoum: Vlambeer, probably?
OM: Most your works as a collective seem to be inspired by very personal experiences. I’m really intrigued firstly by what experiences you find yourselves reimagining as games, and also what kinds of places, because much of your work has this incredible sense of location – even though it might be surreal, or imagined.
Héloïse: It’s true that some of the projects made by the Klondike members are about very personal thoughts or fears. I can only speak of the projects I’ve worked on, as every member has their own perspective, and most of these very personal games were made individually. I can say that I love to imagine environments first; it’s one of the things that made me want to make games, to transport people to completely different and strange places.
“I’m using games to reflect on who I am and how I connect with other people, it doesn’t really go further than that.”
Tyu: Well, some of us work on games that have broader themes than our own personal experiences. They are still themes that we want to talk about (even the stars_ and orchids to dusk are both about a lonely self in unknown territory, and the finite state of life, I think?), but they are open enough for people to reflect on them and create their own personal experience based on what they’ve just played. In my case it’s mostly based on my own experiences. I’m using games to reflect on who I am and how I connect with other people, it doesn’t really go further than that. Armel and Delphine’s Oases is a bit broader: it’s based on a family story, but then reimagined by the developers and then reinterpreted by the players.
OM: There is a very pleasing opaqueness to how your games are presented online. In general, they are released with fairly minimal explanation as to what they’re about. They often feel like meditations – a tool to prompt the audience to think about a specific question or issue. Are you happy to let people take whatever they want away from your work? Are there times that you’re looking to communicate something more explicitly?
Héloïse: I think it’s nice to let the player or user form their own opinion about a game, have their own thoughts while playing the game. Some of our games don’t really invite contemplation though and are just fun to play with!
Tyu: I think it’s interesting to watch people play your games without having any context. I love watching Let’s Play videos or people playing at events, and seeing how they react. Even when they don’t get it, or when they say bad things about the game, it’s always entertaining and good feedback you’ll maybe include in your next game.
If we wanted to further explain what we intended to do, I think that giving a talk would be more efficient than adding a huge block of text to our games. Or interviews!
Also that opaqueness may or may not be due to us being a bit lazy and not wanting to bother with the game pages too much. We’re not trying to sell those games; we just want to put them online. When we release commercial games, like Vignettes, we’re obviously much more careful with the presentation.
OM: I’ve noticed a few releases that are like tools made to deal with a specific personal problem, Your Darkest Thoughts would be the obvious example. It’s interesting because a lot of art is made as a way of coping but these games make that relationship very overt. Is this idea – a kind of self-healing art-tool – something you think you’ll be exploring more in the future, or something that you’d like to see games as an industry produce more frequently?
Héloïse: The first part of the question is more for Tyu to answer. I would love to see more of these games in the industry, but I doubt it will happen this way; it’s more considered as an interactive object than a game and fun is not the goal of those kind of projects.
Pitoum: Not for me to answer, but the videogame industry should explore anything.
Tyu: Your Darkest Thoughts was definitely made for coping. I was feeling super bad, I needed something like this to exist and apart from Albert Lai’s Only At Night I couldn’t think of anything else. But Only At Night has a lot of “realistic” ambient sounds and things happening, it has random procedural thoughts. It is what it says on the itch.io page: “a homage to late nights spent unable to sleep”. You can also read all the things you’ve written in the game, and there’s an option to export them as a .txt file. It’s very linked to a place and a time, and it’s more meant as a way to dwell over your thoughts by yourself, as one does before sleeping.
“I would love to see more of these games in the industry, but I doubt it will happen this way; it’s more considered as an interactive object than a game and fun is not the goal of those kind of projects.”
Your Darkest Thoughts is slightly different and better responds to the needs I had at that time: feeling heard, and venting without having to reconsider what you just said. The setting is much more abstract – you don’t feel like you’re “roleplaying” staying awake in the middle of the night, and the eye figure serves as a character that talks to you and encourages you to just let it all out while it listens. It doesn’t really listen, though, nothing you type is saved in the game, and it’s just a looping animation of an eye that blinks, but it creates enough of an illusion for you to feel safe and ready to express whatever you’ve kept deep inside you.
So, yes, this was first meant as a tool by me for me. I didn’t think it’d get much attention when I put it online, but I remember someone commenting under the interview I had with Hannah Nicklin that it had actually really helped them, and that was very touching. So I believe that by making more personal games other people struggling with similar feelings can connect with them, and maybe we can share our experiences, or maybe that will help them feel better.
Last December for the Self Care Jam I released a zine called Brighter Thoughts, which is kind of an answer to Your Darkest Thoughts: me talking to myself from the year before on how to cope in a more positive way.
I have at least three other game projects around deeply personal experiences and feelings, but they’re all progressing at an extremely slow pace (and I’m so stubborn I don’t want to give up on them). I’ve been talking a bit about More, but even though I’ve cornered the art style I’ve barely coded anything yet!
I’m definitely into more people talking about personal experiences. I think it’s through that kind of game that I started wanting to make my own, and it’s still through works that have that intimacy that I find my inspiration. Self-care is something that’s heavily marketed and commercialized these days, and there’s so many self-help apps already, but they don’t seem to get to the point, or really “speak” to those in need of help. So that’s what I want it to be: people talking about their own personal experiences, and their own feelings. Trying to recreate someone else’s struggle can do more harm than good, and a few algorithms based on studies and statistics won’t work for everyone. Self-care should also be accessible to anyone; I see way too many self-care tips about getting a manicure or a massage. In reality you can calm yourself and do enjoyable things with just a pen, paper and your imagination.
“I don’t see Klondike as trying to convey any kind of message regarding the industry or games. We just make things we like.”
OM: You spoke in a Rock, Paper, Shotgun interview about how some of the more publicly visible Klondike members help to raise the profile of the whole group, so some less visible members get the recognition they deserve. Is there a degree to which the formation of the Klondike collective is a response to an industry that fails to recognise certain types of creators?
Pitoum: It was not at first but it became something like that, yes. We exist as a collective to allow our creators to rise up. That’s cool for everyone.
Tyu: I don’t see Klondike as trying to convey any kind of message regarding the industry or games. We just make things we like, and we all have our own opinions on what’s good and bad in the game dev environment. Now that the rest of us have graduated and we all more or less have a job, or a contract, or something to sustain us financially, I think some of us realize that parts of the industry have not been designed for profiles such as ours – we have to somehow find a place where we can fit. Pol has officially graduated as a game artist, but he’s now working as a game designer, even though he’s more of a mix between developer and artist. Titouan has a very specific process when he’s working on his games, and he’s really good at programming, but since it’s not the “traditional” way of doing it and Mu Cartographer is so different from anything that’s out there, it’s hard for him to fit in the standard developer job description. I’m currently working as a game artist, but because I like to put my hands in Unity and am very curious about our developers’ workflow, I’ve started doing more and more things that could be considered as developer tasks. People are now referring to me as a “devartist”, which is half a joke, but also half true.
Héloïse: I don’t think Klondike was conceived of in this way. Using a common name makes it easier to get global visibility and to participate in events – using a single name is easier than using ten people’s names! It automatically helps every one of us to get more visibility; it’s always easier to achieve things and get recognized for it when you’re united under one name. However, I’m not sure Klondike was thought up as an answer to a failure in the industry, just a group of friends getting together to work on what they like and exhibit their projects.
OM: I’ve noticed (or imagined) in your works a few themes that have a subtler political component – the alienating effects of modern life and the workplace, mental health and self-care, conservation of the environment etc. As a group do you have similar political positions? Do you have any desire to make games that are more explicitly political or is it something you deliberately try to avoid?
Héloïse: Klondike does not have a political goal. However, it is true that some of our games talk about politics; Murmurations is the more politically oriented one, as a project made during Mediajam. We all have different convictions and we are inspired by different things; society is one of these inspirations. There are ten of us, so that’s a lot of different inspirations and different preoccupations.
Tyu: The only thing that Klondike is about is friends who enjoy making their own games. We all have our own opinions and visions about the world, politics, or other big topics. Sometimes we all agree on them, sometimes we don’t.
Pitoum: This is a very good example of the differences between members. I honestly don’t really know the political view of fifty percent of Klondike, and that’s fine by me. I tend to put political content in my creations. I’m an activist for feminism and ecology, and I worked for a candidate during the last election. I would love to see more political content and points of view in video games. The games industry is born from a capitalist world; we need to have opposition in it. It’s difficult though: all is political, and not talking about it is a political statement too. But I guess these opinions won’t be shared by many!
OM: Can you tell us a little about some of your WIP projects or what else we can expect from Klondike in 2017?
Héloïse: The end of 2016 was a bit strange for us as a lot of Klondike’s members finished their studies at the same time and moved to different places in the world! So it’s a bit calmer in terms of the rhythm of production. But we still are working on different personal projects and giving talks at events.
Tyu: I’m still settling into “Being an Adult with A Full-Time Job”, so I still have to find some space where I can make time for myself and work on my own projects without burning out. I’m full of ideas but I don’t want to start anything if I can’t work regularly. But, we have a newsletter you can subscribe to, and we’ll probably be at some events!
OM: Final predictable question: what’s the significance of the name ‘Klondike’?
Pitoum: It’s where Scrooge McDuck found his first gold nugget.
Héloïse: Klondike is a Canadian river in which people discovered gold and precious metal.