Tale Of Tales On The Making Of Sunset: Stories In The Sun

The Making of Sunset: Part 2

Last week, I discussed the inspiration behind Sunset, as well as our secret formula behind its plot structure. This week, I’d like to delve deeper into what inspired us and why, discuss more about the different conversations we hope Sunset will bring about, as well as how we feel about presenting our game to you, the players.

So it would seem that we “sold out”, gave into “The Man” and set out to create some “mainstream pulp”. Part of us felt rather uncomfortable about this actually (the part that is usually referred to as pretentious and artsy fartsy). We think of all of our games a little bit as our children. We love them no matter what other people say of them. Sunset was feeling a bit like a bastard child: a mix between what we wanted and what we thought people would appreciate. But as we dove into the source material for our story, we really started to enjoy the journey. And Sunset was quickly adopted in the Tale of Tales family.

We had decided to set our story in a foreign location, in the past because this would give us and our players some distance to allow ourselves to believe in the fiction. Since we know that the large majority of the people who play our games are either from the US or the UK, we decided on Latin America. There’s some interesting political and social friction between North and South America, Sunset_James_Bond_01Spanish is a second language for many US citizens, and Latin America is at least partially part of the Southern hemisphere while still being sufficiently modern to host the skyscraper city that we needed for Gabriel’s pad. It also happens to be a prime location for left-wing revolutions and right-wing military coups (we wanted the conservatives to be the bad guys because that worked best with our characters).

For the time period, we randomly called out “1972!” and somehow stuck to it. As it turns out, 1972 is a super interesting time. It’s when the 20th century broke in two and different visions of society clashed head-on. The conservative mundane well-to-do bourgeoisie was confronted with the escalating demands for liberty and civil rights from countless minorities. In 1972 the world shifted from a modern fairy tale land to a hard and cynical reality. We had discovered the man behind the curtain and still live in the shadow of that schism as the postmodern crisis remains unresolved.

But as happens often in turbulent times, the friction between cultures gave rise to an explosion of creativity.

As we dove into that source material, we discovered a lot of things that we loved. Fondness for the early 007 movies was something that Auriea and I Bond-ed over when we met in 1999. We love the suave man-of-the-world attitude the definitive secret agent holds and find the sexy sexism highly amusing (it’s doubtful that you could get away with that stuff anymore). Sunset is not an action game, but it does have an element of spying and the apartment has its fair set of gadgets.

Sunset_Design_Inspiration_01Time for a confession. I own a moderate collection of Playboy magazines from the 1960s and 1970s. I love the smell of old paper and yes I not only read the articles but also look at the pictures. In one of those copies, I found pictures of the perfect bachelor pad, equipped with the latest in technological comfort, a duplex penthouse destined for the heart of a metropolis. In other words: the perfect mansion for our disgruntled intellectual Gabriel Ortega. He doesn’t appreciate the sleek minimalist modern swingers apartment one bit. This is how the other side of seventies aesthetic enters: eclecticism.

We had been looking at pictures of Yves Saint-Laurent’s apartments that were circling around when his partner was auctioning off many of the art and design pieces the couple had collected over the years (somehow we had ended up on a mailing list that all the fancy invitations for these auctions get sent to). Beautiful stuff in overwhelming combinations: ancient Greek sculptures, cubist paintings, art deco furniture, Louis chandeliers, salon statuettes, religious ornaments, lush flowers, all togetherSunset_Yves_Saint_Laurent_reference in a dizzying whirl that was so seventies! We wanted some of that in our game.

The final, huge, piece of the narrative puzzle was blackness. Auriea is black. In fact, she’s a black American immigrant just like the player’s character. 1972 Is the year when the trial against Angela Davis took place. It’s a long and complex story that by now we know way too much about but suffice it to say that this was a crucial point in the American civil rights movement. The trial demonstrated exactly how racist (and sexist) the American establishment really was and Miss Davis became a symbol for Black Power, almost as prominent as Malcom X and Martin Luther King.

Sunset_Design_inspiration_blaxploitation_02It’s been a joy to immerse myself in that history. It’s not something many black people talk a lot about and when you’re in a relationship with a black person, the color of their skin doesn’t really remain a topic of acute interest for very long. Researching Sunset gave me the opportunity to understand the struggle that black Americans are still going through on a daily basis. I was moved to tears by Angela Davis’ biography. So we named our character after her. It is ultimately her insight into our society and her energy to fight that inspired the revolutionary narrative in Sunset.

We feel current times could use a bit of the ‘hope for a better world’ that still existed in 1972 and the belief that humans can create such a world, for all its occupants. If you get anything out of Sunset, we wish it to be that.

Entertaining guests

Embracing several accepted game conventions has been a new and exciting development for us. In the past we tended to approach videogames as typical media artists: you look at the technology and break it down and do something with it that you feel makes more sense than how the technology is normally used. This is a great process for discovery and innovation but it is slanted heavily towards the creators and medium itself, not the people engaging with it.

We’ve always wanted to create for people. That’s why we started using computers and the internet in the first place – it’s why we make videogames. The The Making of Sunset: Part 2desire to innovate, to do things that haven’t been done before is a sort of reflex for us and it has led us astray, away from many of the people we wanted to reach in the first place.

Sunset is still filled to the brim with things we find interesting and haven’t seen anywhere else, but we’re working hard on wrapping all of that up in a package that is fun to play. It feels a bit like preparing our home for an evening of entertaining guests. We want to be good hosts!

Somehow, along the way the story of Sunset and the world we’ve built up around it have become a vehicle for many themes and concerns that are dear to us. The whole thing has quickly become an elaborate metaphor for how we see the world. But we’ll let you discover that yourself.

Sunset will be released for PC on May 21st.

Michael Samyn
Auriea Harvey and Michael Samyn started Tale of Tales 12 years ago with the purpose of creating artistic videogames. Seven games and multiple experiments later they are currently in the final phase of what they hope will be the crowning achievement of their career so far: a first person exploration game called Sunset. While their skill sets complement each other well, they do enjoy collaborating with other artists too. Sunset is no exception and is being created with the biggest Tale of Tales team yet, including long time collaborators Kris Force on sound and Laura Raines Smith on animation, but also composer Austin Wintory, voice actress Tina Marie Murray and the mysterious Señor X, who helps with the writing.
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