Everyone loves potatoes in Potatoland, as they are the bounty on which they survive. After his village is struck with misfortune, Chips finds himself to be sorely lacking in potatoes. Through innovation and human contact, he must learn to survive without them in order to save his community and overturn the potatosaurus Monster’s dominance.
I Love Potatoes is an adventure game for 7 to 77 year olds that deals with social innovation and sustainable economy issues in a slightly absurd, funny and quirky manner. Available for the Web, tablets and mobiles (IOS and Android), this playful journey will teach the steps of social innovation to people of all ages. Download this game whose narrative is designed to plant new ideas and harvest some change.
A Vali Fugulin game co-created with Minority and produced by the NFB. Illustrations by Patrick Doyon.
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I LOVE POTATOES
A game by Vali Fugulin
As a filmmaker in residence at the National Film Board of Canada, Vali Fugulin devoted two years to an extremely exciting project: creating a game for children that is also sure to be a hit with adults. This unique opportunity allowed the director to try her hand at a new form of writing, aided by the Montreal-based independent video game studio Minority Media. She also brought several talented collaborators on board for her project, including Patrick Doyon for the illustrations and two seasoned veterans from the Plaster trio for the music. Encounter with a happy creator.
ONE POTATO, TWO POTATO
Interview with Vali Fugulin by Marie-Claude Lamoureux
Compiled by Gérard Grugeau
WHO AM I?
It’s hard for me to categorize myself since I’ve often had to reinvent myself. I started at the NFB with producer André Gladu. Documentary filmmaking sort of fell into my lap by chance after I finished at INIS, and for the past 20 years I’ve making all kinds of documentaries – for the big screen, TV, and more and more in interactive formats, because there’s something new happening in the interactive world, something stimulating that TV no longer provides. And now, by taking on games, I’m broadening my horizons. I like the quick pace of interactive projects that lets you wrap things up in a short period of time. And I like working with a team, being surrounded. We filmmakers tend to work alone, but I’ve always disagreed with the idea of an all-powerful creator doing everything and making all the decisions. I seek out the strengths of the people around me. So with interactive works, nobody thinks I should be a «queen of the set», a vision of directing I’ve always hated. I was the artist in residence for the I Love Potatoes project and I opened up totally to my collaborators to tackle the challenge of new narratives head-on.
I’m interested in human groups, everything that leads people to band together, interact, support one another. All my films deal with that: Tupperware: Recipe for Success explored the status of women by focusing on a group of women. Toi, moi et la Charte showed how Quebecers define themselves as a group. As traditional documentaries are losing ground, TV is no longer an option, and film will become tantamount to going to the opera. I wonder a lot about these changes. I have young children and the content they consume comes usually from a gadget they’re holding in their hands, whether it’s a computer or a tablet. I want to reach out to these kids. So, for my residency, I proposed a fun interactive documentary about social entrepreneurs with a game interface. As residencies are for exploring, pushing the boundaries, and there’s a pioneering aspect to it, the more my work progressed, the more I tried to figure out how I could integrate a documentary aspect into a game. I researched what already existed. Together, my producer and I decided that my project would be not a docu-game, but a full on videogame, without losing sight of the fact that my strength lies in storytelling and human stories.
I wanted to reach kids who consume apps, and talk about a topic that is dear to my heart: social innovators. At the time, my son was obsessed with potatoes. At Christmas, he asked me to print him a T-shirt with potatoes on it to give to his friends. That’s how mesmerized he was. When I started designing my game, I decided to use that anecdote as a springboard. The idea came to me to have potatoes represent money in an imaginary world. The whole village portrayed in the game would run on potatoes, a bit like rocks in the Flintstones. Then, a crisis linked to a lack of that resource would be created. That was the premise: potatoes as a metaphor for money and consumerism. The beauty of the residency is that it allowed me to express my whimsical, idealistic side in a poetic way. I was immersed in playfulness and the absurd. When you work for children, you can let yourself go completely. There are fabulous sources of inspiration, like Sol et Gobelet and Pippi Longstocking, productions that continue to have appeal even after all these years. Why couldn’t we aim for that type of creation today? And we worked on graphics that would impress adults as well.
This interest is linked to random encounters. I was a director for the Naufragés des villes series, which dealt with poverty in Montreal. I did a lot of interviews with responders, social innovators fighting this scourge with limited resources. As an example, the Renaissance Stores, where the agency collects and redistributes clothing while giving jobs to marginalized people. That project inspired the game directly. As all social innovators have to ask: What exactly are my resources? What is it that’s being misused or wasted? In the game, that is represented by the potato peelings that Chips learns to re-use. When the game is over, I want people to come away with the idea that by making a small gesture we can change things. Doing nothing equates to thinking that nothing can change. I wanted to pay tribute to those people who work at the grassroots level. At the end of the game, we see five of the social innovators who were the impetus for the project. Each character is inspired by a real person and true story. They’re all people I would have loved to have filmed in a documentary but now they became fictional characters. In this residency, I had to totally reinvent myself, and actually become a social innovator. The game provided me with the opportunity to do that.
I wanted to reinvent myself through the prism of what young people are experiencing. My children inspire me for everything and so do their friends. Sometimes they would talk to each other about video games and I wouldn’t understand a thing. So I went into their unknown universes and learned. It’s a necessity for me when it comes to my children and this coming generation, as they couldn’t care less about TV. (…) My kids were my first audience. They knew my project wasn’t “digital cocaine”, compulsive games likeAngry Birds or Candy Crush, but a game that makes you feel things and think. When the kids were little, I used to look for interesting games and all I could find was stuff that was either violent or inappropriate for their age group. I wanted to add to what’s available out there. And my kids thought that was cool. The first tests conducted on other young people reassured me. They understood what we were talking to them about. They’d say: “Oh, it’s about the environment! Oh, it’s about how to help your neighbours!” They got the “message” and they played the whole game, which was a good sign.
MINORITY AND ME
When we decided to create a game, we wondered which independent company could produce it with us and we found Minority Media. They already had an auteur approach, so our DNA was compatible. Like us, they want to address serious issues but they create metaphors and turns them into a game, in order to arouse a feeling. Minority more or less invented empathy games. Theirs is a game culture, and I came from a documentary background, so I wanted tell a story based on reality. We came from two very different backgrounds. We had to compile a glossary with their gamedesigner Ruben, because we were using terms that didn’t have the same meaning for both of us. I was always talking about reality, meaning real people and stories, but for Ruben, in games, reality means what is plausible. And to get a “message” across via the game, I constantly wanted to explain and show, like the true documentary filmmaker that I am. But with games, learning happens as a result of empathy. You learn because you feel. You’re in the character’s skin. I also wanted close-ups all the time, to bring out emotion. I was acting like a filmmaker, but games use a different language that I ended up learning. In a game, you are the main character, so the main character is almost silent as we’re not going to put words in your mouth. As a player, we want you to experience and feel things, not to be told how to feel. The storyline of the hero had to be shifted by moving conflicts around and having allies talk in place of the hero. It’s another world of creation and Ruben was very generous in sharing his knowledge with me. Basically, I was the project’s idea person, with a team to interpret my world. It was an ongoing dialogue between two very different fields of practice: documentary filmmaking and games. Above all, I wanted kids to feel empathy for the characters. I was constantly thinking of my social innovators, who work with people who are suffering and do everything possible to help them.
We worked with Ruben for almost eight months to develop the story. Then we had to bring our characters to life. And we knew which feelings we wanted to arouse in the player. The mechanics of the game had been established. The gameplay had to embody learning, for example, the fact that the player had to work in a community in the potato world. It didn’t involve running around and shooting a gun, like in a lot of games. We began by asking ourselves what the message would be, then found the gameplay, and then wrote the story. In traditional games, you would decide on a gameplay (shooting or running for example), then a story, and sometimes, but rarely, on a moral or message. So the gameplay here is to go find the other little guys, act together, and build solidarity. Then I defined the characters and setting. Ruben worked on the locations, the island, the village. After the ideation, screenwriting and mechanism stages, I asked Oscar nominee Patrick Doyon, (Sunday, 2012) to do the concept art. When we got Patrick’s illustrations, the feelings and characters were there. Patrick had understood intuitively that his drawings were to become gameplay, they were going to serve as mechanisms. For example, he immediately suggested that the little character have a pointed hat that could be used as both a potato basket and a megaphone. Patrick saw right away that the character was not just a little guy, but that he had functions. And in the village he presented to us there were doors and passages. He had already understood the principle of the game. Patrick worked two months full-time. His mandate was to give shape to the characters and the world in which they live. Plus adding some props: the potato tree, the peelings, everything that gets handled in the game. He was the one who gave a soul to the monster-factory that can be associated with capitalism, the game’s main metaphor. (…)Patrick always draws in flat 2D but here, the characters had to have buttocks, a back, nape of the neck, etc. The artistic director at Minority, Sophie Paquette, did an extraordinary job to bring it all to 3D life. The game is made for tablets and mobiles, but since not every child in the world has a tablet, the game can also be played on a computer. It lasts 45 minutes. Kids are very intuitive and will play it instantly. Adults that have never played a game might get a bit lost in details at first but it’s real simple. I wanted the game to be easy to play.
The two musicians from the Montreal trio Plaster that I approached, Alex McMahon and Jean-Phi Goncalves, had never worked with games before. There was a learning curve with them too because the music work was done in loops. Since players go at their own pace, the musical loops have to be strung together. There’s no choice. But it was also necessary to compose in relation to the image for the scenes that everyone experiences and last the same amount of time, which is what the music needed to emphasize. Benoît Lafrance did a super job on the sound design. He not only created all the ambient sounds, but also guided the musicians, teaching them how to adapt to the game environment.
Half the text was cut, but I insisted on having a lot of dialogue, which is not common in games. The character that inspired me the most is Tuberosa, the old granny. She was inspired from my great aunts, and friends’ grandmothers. I felt it was important for her not to be afraid to speak her mind and that she talk in a kind of “screwy” way. As with a fiction film, I wanted to be true to the character I felt in my heart. My producer agreed to make a version in spoken Québécois and another in French from France. Players in Quebec love the fact that’s in local slang. When we had it translated into other languages, we had to make sure that the jokes were understood and find cultural equivalents. We are targeting an audience of children between 9 and 12 years of age and their parents. We wanted adults to have fun playing, too. And there are often two levels of understanding in the game. We wanted to avoid an infantile tone. We’ll also be taking this game to the education sector so, for school activities, it will be explained, amongst other things, that the language is informal.
CHILDHOOD – SAD POTATOES
People’s misfortune weighs on me. When I had children, I saw it was the same for them. They felt the same thing in response to homelessness that I did when I was young. I saw they were upset. It brought me back to my own childhood. All that human misery devastates me. I had put it all aside in my mind for many years. I told my son: “I understand your pain. It’s wonderful that you’re concerned. Never let go of that sensitivity. Tell yourself that we can’t solve the problem of poverty completely, but everyone can do their small share.” I’m well aware that we won’t eradicate misery with a game and potatoes, but I believe in small gestures. And I wanted to conjure up that sensitivity we still have as kids. My game is aimed at children, and the child that adults still have inside them. Kids have an open relationship with the world, and then at some point, that gets stifled. As adults, we suppress those feelings of compassion. If this game can somehow, in its own simple way, get us out of the cynicism that prevails, so much the better.
Design and development
Artistic concept and illustration
Jean-Phi Goncalves et Alex McMahon
Sound design and implementation
Benoit Lafrance, La Hacienda Creative
Linda R. Ludwick
OFFICE NATIONAL DU FILM DU CANADA
Head of Production
Head of Technologies
Additional graphic designer
Translation and Quality Assurance
Gabrielle Lisa Collard
Arthur Fugulin-Langevin et Nicolas Rainville
Sébastien Gros pour son soutien créatif
Paul Di Marco
Tous les testeurs du jeu
Orquesta de Instrumentos Reciclados de Cateura
Guy et Neca Marcovaldi
M. Rafael Dabul