A Road to Awe - Title Screen

As far as I remember, I’ve always been interested in procedural generation, with or without the help of a computer. As an art student, many years ago, most of my work was centred around interactivity and evolution. Paper as tablecloth, to generate accidental organic paintings. Dices rolls, foam cubes and stamps to create daily growing sculptures. Hand-drawn fractal drawings using human imprecision as a tool. Pocket cut-up poem generators. Treasure hunts in virtual spaces to find printable sculpture parts… At the heart of my work was a hybrid process of randomness, rules, and fun.

I turned to the video games industry as a career choice because back then in the early 00s, most teachers at the Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Beaux Arts de Dijon (pardon my French) had no idea how to use a computer, and refused to see it as as a possible medium for artistic expression. They simply couldn’t understand that after a few years making some decent, mostly non-digital conceptual art, one of their promising students needed to experiment with the medium he grew up with: video games, or “Hollywoodian consumerist products”, as they called them. I will always remember the dying light in their eyes when, after they told me I wouldn’t get my diploma, I replied I intended to enter a video game school. I had betrayed them.

This is where A Road to Awe comes from, as an artistic process made possible years later by web technologies and new tools like RPG in a Box, which I wouldn’t even have dreamed of then. I have to thank Justin Arnold, its developer, for not only creating a very accessible tool for non-programmers, but also for being really helpful, reactive, and open to feature suggestions.

The idea is simple. In 2017, every day, I’ll create and add a new section to an interactive virtual road made of voxels, which will grow through the year, and which players will be able to explore at their pace. I’ll update the game daily through Itch’s early access system, Refinery, so anyone following the project will get new content automatically with the app.

I’ve defined drastic rules and prepared various assets and tools to keep the workload as light as possible. I already have little time for Nékromegà, my current personal project, so why start such a hazardous, possibly time-consuming experiment? Because I feel now is the time. I’ve always been fascinated by the works of Roman Opalka, On Kawara and Kurt Schwitters, to cite a few, and the absurd, Sisyphean beauty of their artistic processes now seem more appealing to me than ever. Maybe I’m growing old. Maybe the world I known is on the verge of collapse. Maybe I need some artistic routine and discipline to pretend it will be alright.

To get a bit more technical, I’ll use a 7×17 map with no height limit, made of 8x8x8 voxel blocks. I’ve already designed a limited set of 14 monochrome models (and one light) that I’ll use as basic building blocks. I’ve also prepared 7 lighting templates, one for each day of the week, heavily inspired by the PICO-8 color palette to convey a somewhat playful atmosphere. And I’ll use Noatikl and Mixtikl to quickly create generative ambient music for each section of the road. I intend to spend no more than 15 minutes a day on a section before uploading it, no matter the result.

Yes, it’s probably a crazy challenge. And yes, it’s kind of a personal game jam, a #1GAM experiment, but with a daily focus on level design. I should mention the game itself will offer a contemplative first-person experience, where you simply walk the road and look around, one day at a time.

Here, the preparations of the trip have been done. I’ve no idea where it will lead, but feel free too come along.

Check the travelogue for monthly updates about the game’s development.