TYPE:RIDER Video Game, Documentary and Transmedia
ARTE France and its associated producers continue to explore web documentary, participatory fiction, online magazine and many other transmedia creative formats. Among these, Type:Rider is an outstanding example – both in its subject matter and its auteurist vision of video game design.
Type:Rider is a multiplatform game whose name evokes its basic plan, a mix of mechanical writing (“type” of the typewriter) with the idea of a race (the “rider”).
In all of its media support formats, the game has a common point of departure: a typographic colon embarks on a discovery of its own story through the history of movable type, from its invention by Gutenberg to its pixelation in today’s digital print media.
Three gaming experiences are presented to explore the world of typography. First, there is a video game (accessible via web browser, smartphone or tablet) which spans the history of typography, with each level to a different typographical style, from “Gothic” to “Pixel.”
The game is quite easy to play and operate. The player must guide the colon through a given level from start to finish by collecting the asterisks that block the documents posted concerning typography and its history. These documents include accounts of inventors like Gutenberg and famous type designers like Claude Garamond or Étiennne Didot.
The game’s 8 levels are completed by a playable tutorial entitled “Origins,” covering the history of writing: prehistoric designs, Egyptian hieroglyphs, the Greek alphabet and more. A final “Bonus” level takes the player on a tour of Comic Sans MS, a well-known typeface widely used on the web.
There’s also a social media game available on Facebook that lets players compose a level of their own by writing a word or sentence integrated into a generative gameplay. The player can then send this as a challenge to friends online.
An interactive installation has likewise been designed to go with the project. Interaction is both virtual (video projections) and real (manipulation of large magnetic letters). This part of the project allows people to “own” typography in a tangible way, once again in the form of a game (the point of which is to move the points on an illuminated source moving on a screen by creating a path with the oversize letters.)
A hybrid transmedia “gamedocumentary”
“Our idea was to create a ‘gamedocumentary,’ ” the project’s creative director, Théo Le Du, explains. A game containing documentary features in the gameplay, which can be accessed in the game and in the instruction guides (one for each level). “The fact that it was produced by AGAT Films/Ex Nihilo and by ARTE Web prevented us, in a way, from running to either of two extremes. We couldn’t make either a pure video game or a straight documentary, we had to position ourselves between the two – and that’s how the concept of a ‘gamedocumentary’ came about.”
The project team, which included members of the Specialized Masters in Interactive Digital Experiences program at the Gobelins media school, insisted that the media supports should complement one another, making Type:Rider a transmedia project through adaptation of its gameplay to the different supports. “In the game, we cover the entire history of typography. With the installation, we’re interested in letterforms as such, their shapes and serifs. And finally on Facebook we highlight the composition of words and phrases,” says level designer Charles Ayats.
A first for ARTE: Production of a video game
It’s the first time that ARTE has invested in an actual video game. Up to now, the Franco-German channel had run various experiments in gamification, particularly Hotel, a hybrid project, part animated series and part artistic experiment. True to its editorial policy, ARTE has been interested in the atypical side of games and their links to documentary formats. “ARTE paid special attention to the documentary content, but as soon as we added too much, they were like, ‘Stop, we want a game!’ ” says Théo.
Type:Rider is also a first for AGAT Films/Ex Nihilo, which is primarily known for its auteur-focused film productions. In the past few years, producer Arnaud Colinart has been exploring today’s new media, with several acclaimed web documentaries, including Arte Sporting Club by Andres Jarach and La Zone by Bruno Masi and Guillaume Herbaut. “We’ve tried to go as far out as possible, beyond the simple web documentary. Not just making a documentary part and a game part, but interlinking them both in an intelligent way.”
The difference between an audiovisual production and a video game also depends on a major paradigm shift. Although audiovisual production is still an industry of prototypes, based on the unity and uniqueness of each work produced, video games have moved way ahead into a new logic of iterations and ongoing tests.
“This test-based logic is the most interesting and at the same time the most terrifying aspect of game production: until you’ve really tested the thing, you just don’t know if it works or not,” says the producer.
Archiving and copyright – new hybrids pose unsolved puzzles for the industry
Production of Type:Rider has raised some other unforeseen questions for AGAT Films/Ex Nihilo and its producer. First and foremost, the status of its creators.
Says Charles Ayats, “You have to realize that the notion of copyright is seriously distorted in video games. With the development of independent games, this question is sort of coming up again, but a video game nowadays isn’t considered as being a work of art but a collaborative work instead.”
Arnaud Colinart found this out very clearly when the time came to define the status and type of payment for the team members. “Since AGATE Films/Ex Nihilo was a film production company, the question of copyright was especially important to us. On the team anyone who has a place at the table (in other words, the game designers, developers and graphic artists) has their own author’s contract.”
AGAT Films/Ex Nihilo took a proactive stance on the issue – one that’s now shared by the key players in French creative tackling the same question today. “The CNC was happy that we took this position, which also allowed it to legitimize its involvement in works of this type.”
On top of that, the very nature of the project raised even more specific legal problems, this time involving the hybridization between game and documentary formats.
Over 60 images from archival sources make up the backgrounds and items to “unlock” in the game’s various levels. “The archive firms don’t absolutely have rates tailored to the web, still less for video games. So we had to ‘unlock’ a huge archive budget to obtain the rights to use these images, as well as for licences for the fonts used in the game,” the producer explains. “Trademark issues also came up around these fonts, because their names are registered.”
Like every artistic creation, typefaces are subject to copyright. “One of the interesting aspects of this project is all the legal issues it raises,” Arnaud says.
Production and distribution strategies
When it comes to the budget, the total hovers around 250,000 euros, including 100,000 from the CNC video game development fund. Arnaud Colinart emphasizes the need to find other sources of funding in order to finalize the project. “We’re still looking, right now. Among other things, we’ve made a submission to the Tribeca Film Institute (TFI) new media fund. We wanted to add more levels, particularly for the Art Nouveau and Bodoni typefaces, but they won’t be included in the game due to lack of time. If the game works well, we could envision a Version 2 with new levels and functionality.”
The Bulkypix publishing company has added the game to its list and will provide worldwide distribution, with simultaneous releases on iOS (iPhone and iPad) and Android. The price range “will probably be around 3 euros, to bracket us among the high-end games,” the producer says. A free version, however, with 5 levels, will be available on the ARTE website.
“In order to persuade a game publisher like Bulkypix, the crucial thing was to have an economic model. If the app was free, you couldn’t reach the international audience. We’ll consider it a success if they sell over 50,000 on the App Store,” Arnaud adds, indicating the scale of ambition implicit in the project.
Besides being an encouraging sign of renewed energy in transmedia creative, Type:Rider could prove to be pivotal project for bringing the video gaming world and the audiovisual industry closer together.
The entire project should be out by the fall. The specific aspects of its components (video game, Facebook app and museum installation) make it an experimental challenge that will more than likely prove fascinating to watch.
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