Fake Geek Girl got to sit down, hang up her cape and have a chat with Dan Bergin, the creator of BLAST, FUSED, and a video games producer for SixMinute. His show, BLAST, is running this Friday and Saturday in the Project Arts Centre in Temple Bar.
Hi Dan! First off, love the concept behind BLAST. Can you tell me a little about what inspired you to come up with this idea for a show?
I’ve always loved theatre, and have been heavily involved in theatre in the last few years. I’ve also, for as long as I can remember, absolutely loved videogames. While I was studying in college video games were just starting to really become mainstream. I started to notice tiny references to video games showing up in TV, Films, and live theatre in ways that they hadn’t really before. Sure there’d been references to basement dwelling nerds and the Nintendo power-glove (“It’s so bad…”) but now they were more like references to popular culture, you know? Mentioning characters like Mario or games like Tetris, or even Halo, was becoming like quoting the Simpsons. You just expect people to know what you’re talking about. You know?
So I started digging deeper, and finding all sorts of weird combinations of live performance and video games, especially stuff from the GamePlay festival run by The Brick Theatre in New York. I even ended up doing a Ph.D on the subject of video games and theatre in Trinity College Dublin! So it got to the point where I just thought – “I could do this kind of thing… hell, I could maybe even do it better.” So I started working on a show called FUSED which was my first attempt to combine point-and-click adventure games and theatre.
Do you think the show is something that people who haven’t played point-and-click games, or any games for that matter can still enjoy?
Absolutely. Sometimes when we do play tests its new players who end up having the most fun! I think this is because they really don’t know what to expect, and maybe haven’t experienced how great these kind of games can be so are really happily surprised. That said, we try to work on the games over and over, so even seasoned ‘point and click’ veterans will enjoy them. Also, since people are playing as part of an audience it can really make it less about the individual playing, and more about the puzzle everyone is trying to solve. People stop worrying about getting it wrong and just worry about beating the timer! When we first did FUSED in the Dublin Fringe in 2013, every night we had everyone screaming at the stage by the end.
I know you have FUSED coming up this December, can you tell us what the differences are between BLAST and FUSED? Or is BLAST mini-taster, so to speak of FUSED?
So FUSED is a much more polished piece, which will be getting some ‘updates’ in December to try and improve it further. It’s the first show of this kind that I’ve done so some of the puzzles maybe aren’t as smooth as I’d like them to be, and I don’t think we’ve explored everything the form has to offer. You only control one character for example, and there’s a lot of dialogue based puzzles which can make the game a bit talky.
BLAST is kinda the next step; experimenting with multiple player controlled characters and more environment based-puzzles for players to explore. The version that’s happening as part of Prototype is really a kind of ‘beta’; a short proof-of-concept piece that I’ll be working on over the next year to really expand out into something as polished as FUSED, or even better. That said, the basic control structure is the same. The audience still direct on-stage characters by taking turns speaking into a microphone, and there is still an element of urgency as the players have limited time to solve the puzzles and “save the day”.
You’ve gotten some fantastic feedback from the Irish Theatre Magazine from last year’s Dublin Fringe. Have you made many changes to the show since then?
Yeah, last year’s Dublin Fringe was great for FUSED. It’s not like any other show I’ve worked on before as we’re constantly changing and improving it based on how the audience play each day. Then we bring in ‘test players’ for rehearsals and see how they get on with the new version. We’re doing a few things now to improve FUSED before December. It’s quite tricky because there are two totally different plots, each with multiple different endings depending on how the audience play. Some of the things we’ll be doing include re-designing the set to make things much smoother, revising some of the more confusing puzzles, and tweaking the third act to really make it more satisfying.
How difficult is it to write a piece that has multiple endings that depends on the audience’s choices? I can’t imagine that it was a walk in the park.
I just feel sorry for the actors. They basically have to learn the equivalent of 5 totally different plays, and pull them out on-demand without knowing beforehand what they’ll be!
Knowing and playing games really helps a lot. Once you know the structures and basic principles then things get a little easier. I use a piece of software called Twine to help write the script and that’s really good at keeping track of the branching story lines and puzzles.
I also use loads of paper. There’s so much scratching out and starting again that I’ve started using basic-plain wallpaper (backing paper) to map out things because it’s cheaper than regular paper and comes in this massive rolls. So I can really get these big sprawling choice trees laid out in front of me.
What games are you excited about right now?
Right now? The Stanley Parable (Mac and PC). It’s been on my ‘to play’ list for years and I’m finally getting round to playing it. It’s amazing. A real master class in player choice and exploration.
I’m also really loving board games at the moment. Myself and some friends have started getting together every two weeks and playing board games and really quickly got past things like Risk and started looking at some more recent board games. There are some real gems out there. I’m especially enjoying one called ‘Betrayal at House on the Hill’ where everyone works together to fight off monsters in a haunted house.
Do you think that the point-and-click games are having a bit of a renaissance at the moment? I know I’ve been obsessed with Telltale’s “The Walking Dead” for the last while for example.
Yes, absolutely. TellTale’s great work is a huge part of that, but I think there’s a few things other contributing to the “return of adventure games.” Digital distribution has had its part to play. The ability for companies to release their adventure games in ‘episodes’ and ‘seasons’ (like Telltale’s The Walking Dead) has made the normally staggeringly expensive process of making an adventure game a little bit less risky. The ability to play games on your phone means that the market is much wider; people can dip in-and-out of story-driven games like reading a book on the train, so there’s new opportunity there.
But also gaming as a medium is starting to mature. Lots of players are looking for experiences beyond the usual run-shoot-explode formula, to something that maybe has a bit more depth. Furthermore, we’re now approaching an age where games are old enough to have real ‘classics’ that are being brought back to new platforms (Grim Fandango, Monkey island). Older players are also developing nostalgia for old style adventure-games and can afford to pay for them, which makes companies like Wadjet Eye (who specialise in such games) financially viable, or drives demand of new games from familiar franchises (like the new Broken Sword game for example).
Have you got any upcoming projects, besides FUSED, that we can expect to see from you anytime soon?
Well, my full-time job is actually as a video games producer in an Irish mobile games company called SixMinute. We’ve just started work on our newest game, I can’t say much about it just yet, but it’s pretty exciting.
In terms of the theatre-games, I’ll be spending some time building BLAST up into much bigger adventure game. Bringing it from ‘Beta’ to a ‘release version’ so to speak. With lots more bells and whistles and fun stuff to do. In fact, FUSED and BLAST are actually part of a planned trilogy.
What’s the ultimate goal with these shows? Can we expect to see you popping up Off Broadway some day?
My god I would love to tour these shows. I’d really love to bring them to The Brick Theatre for their GamePlay festival for example. Meet some of the people who inspired me and show them what I’ve done. So any wealthy US theatre of games fans out there, get in touch!
Aside from touring the existing format shows, I’d also love to look at having different shows affect one another. How cool would it be for an audience in London to be playing simultaneously with another audience in New York? Or for game play choices made in a show in Dublin to have a knock-on effect on a show in Berlin?
Just to finish off, what kind of game would you love to create? Would you stick to point-and-click, or would you branch off into something completely different?
Oh this is so very difficult to answer. I think I’d love to try my hand at a few different types of games. Of course I’d leap at the chance to make a good point-and-click adventure. But I think I would also like to have a shot at making a big RPG like Final Fantasy or Fallout. Maybe something set in space, with a strong horror vibe.
Want more information about the PROTOTYPE festival? Click here!
Words: Fake Geek Girl