Swedish indie developer Simon Karlsson surely has an interest in the depths and complexity of the human psyche. His first commercial adventure game project, A Song for Viggo, is an obvious example of that, as players will explore the aftermath of a tragedy in which a father who killed his own son by accident must now deal with the inevitable feelings of guilt and loss. Moving through the various phases of grief, A Song for Viggo is a unique paper art style that Karlsson is literally creating with his own hands. To get a better understanding of this courageous project that just launched on Kickstarter, we got ahold of the game’s creator and discussed all-things-Viggo.
Ingmar Böke: Hello Simon, thanks a lot for taking time for us. Please introduce yourself to our readers and tell them a bit about your background and the motivation for doing your own games.
Simon Karlsson: Uhm, I'm Simon! Hi, fellow readers!
Well, I've always been interested in creating stuff. When other children my age played with cars, I played with crayons (so boring as a child). So I kinda grew up with my dream of "hey, I'm gonna be an artist." And being told my whole childhood that it wasn't a possible job just gave me more motivation. So, I dropped out of high school and went to a contemporary art school. In that time I kinda accepted that I was gay, and being a dude with that preference in a small conservative Christian hillbilly village, it was sort of a logical thing to just move to Stockholm after art school.
Then I got tired of art and the people therein. So I started trying out fashion photography. It went well, and I still do it to date; however, I'm not too keen either on that industry. I'm not particularly interested in being popular in the right crowds since I (almost too) often speak my mind. So, one day I just figured it out: I realized that I played video games every single day, several hours, my whole life. Always thought I was too dumb to make games, but then I found this awesome variety of game engines for a particular kind of games. Voila – a door opened. And it felt good.
Ingmar: Have there been any special encounters with certain games that made you see the potential of this medium for your own purposes ?
Simon: For my own purposes? I don't know. But when I played Façade I did realize some of the potential a game could have, using uncommon topics (in this case relations). Final Fantasy 7 made me weep and the intense effort of getting Aeris resurrected made me have to go to the optician to get glasses. Planescape:Torment left me in awe, with all that lore on different kinds of planes and how the universe was built. So maybe in the long run I've been colored by different encounters in different games, but who hasn't, right?
Under construction: the paper model of Viggo's father Steve
Ingmar: The aftermath of losing a child is a very strong theme for a game. It becomes an even stronger theme when one of the parents killed their own child by accident. While you – fortunately (!!!) – didn’t suffer that tragedy yourself, I understand the inspiration came from very personal things you’ve encountered. Tell us about the different themes involved and what inspired you to use them in a game.
Simon: I'm glad that I haven't experienced the loss of a child. But there was a time when I was just lost, got really depressed, existential, and developed obsessive compulsive disorder. To this date I still eat antidepressants, but a part of me does this game for my own sake as well. I need to delve deep into the anxiety and do something creative with it instead of just being down, I guess. Other topics like infidelity and suicidal thoughts are also present in some of the chapters of A Song for Viggo. I'm quite interested in the human brain, but also a bit afraid of the irritating train of thoughts it can bring.
So… I guess it's a bit of everything that inspired me to start this project. Maybe the fear of anxiety is a part of my inspiration? I've always been interested in the idea of the perfect life, especially when depressed (therefore interested in fashion, the utopian human who doesn't exist). And I guess many people have this dream about "one day I'll have my family and everything will be set", but the fear of not being able to control the constellations of what a family is, and its dynamic, is more fearful and realistic. Hopefully if we all come to terms with what we can't control in our lives, it gets easier.
Ingmar: You’re doing personal research by talking to people who really lost a child. Obviously, this is a very intense form of research. How has this experience affected you on a personal level?
Simon: The research started out not that long ago. I needed to get the details right. And I still do. No big details... just how people acted in the following days after such a tragedy. One interview I had affected me quite. I didn't know the person behind the tragedy before, but she agreed to tell her story. And it was so, so strange. Just like the parent in my game, she backed over her child. And the child's name was Simon. And she herself had worked with media doing stop motion and miniature works. I was like, damn, the similarities. You probably just think I'm crazy but, somehow, it feels like it's my destiny to do this project. Maybe. I don't know.
Ingmar: I’m really interested in finding out how you’re implementing these themes interactively. Please give us an idea of the interactive elements in A Song for Viggo and tell us how you’re combining story and giving the player control to create a strong narrative and flow.
Simon: It's not really a flow I'm after. Maybe an emotional one in that case, but I think interactivity is more correct than the term gameplay in my case. Take just the classical point-and-click-adventure mechanics, disable the inventory and, well, interact with stuff. It's quite linear even if it has choices to make. But I need the interactivity to make it interactive – does that sound cheesy? A big part of the game is just wandering around in the atmosphere, talking with the family members, interacting with objects, with no necessary goal in mind. Like in the introduction, before the first chapter, the mom, Karen, takes their daughter Sarah to the restroom at the airport. Your mission is just to wait two minutes for them to be finished so you can carry on – just like real life.Continued on the next page...