Response to Mark Essen Talk

In his talk, Mark Essen went into depth about his career as a game maker, showing us all the games that he has made leading up to his most commercially successful game, Nidhogg. He spoke a lot about his motivation behind his games, revealing aspects about himself, his work, and most of all, why certain pieces were successful. I always find this process very interesting. I take the most inspiration from seeing other people’s process and understanding what are the type of things that motivate them, even if it’s in a completely different medium from the one that I work in. His games are very engaging, even for someone like me who doesn’t play games a lot – I has actually been exposed to Nidhogg before and enjoyed it so much that I bought it. What I enjoyed the most about his lecture was that his games were both very conceptually and visually strong. There is a very strong sense of the artist in his pieces which I really enjoyed delving into.

The first thing that I immediately noticed as he was presenting his games, was the aesthetic of them. He has a wonderful sense of space and color that he uses to draw connections between his personal experiences with games as well as games he has played in general. It is clear that Mark has a passion for games, particularly for challenging certain conventions in games. A lot the works that he has made critique a certain style of game of tradition in gameplay. He does this both through the mechanics of the game and also through the visual component of the game.

I really enjoyed hearing him talk about his process in deciding what he was going to make the game about. His choice of topic seemed very nihilistic at times, making it so that the purpose of overall goal of the game challenged you. Yet the experience of playing the games seemed far from that. Everyone in the room seemed very engaged in even just watching playthroughs of his games because of the angle that he chose to address most of his topics. Each game had some sort of humorous twist that kept us engaged and wanting to see more from what was going to happen. It probably helped to know that the purpose of the game was to comment on certain other games – but overall I really wanted to play his games because, even though some of them seemed rather stressful and complicated to play/win at, those weren’t really the aspects that made the game engaging and that wasn’t really his goal when he was creating the game. In this way, a lot of his games were polemical, even though the points he was making had nothing to do with the subject matter of the games themselves. It was really interesting to see how he developed his games around specific points of view that he had about certain games he has played, and how naturally the mechanics developed around these concepts. Sometimes the ideas were very simple, but this didn’t compromise the success of his games.

What I enjoyed the most about his talk was seeing and hearing what he had to say about the development of Nidhogg. I think that as artists, it’s very important to see how others, who have much more experience, get to making these final products that have gained a lot of success. I really grounds a lot of the work that we do and helps me think f new ways of tweaking my own process in order to make pieces that are more successful. With Nidhogg, he has been able to branch out from being an indie game maker to exploring the commercial space more. It has allowed him to grow and work with other people. Nidhogg 2 seems like a completely new exploration of the things that were most engaging in Nidhogg 1. He seemed very relieved to not have had to put work into the graphics of the game, although I hope he does not abandon the style that he has developed over time. But I think that with new graphics, the game takes a completely different turn and it’s very exciting to see multiple iterations of the same thing.

Overall, I think that it was really neat to have the opportunity to see someone’s process and the amount of work that goes into creating works that speak to wide audiences, and then exploring why this happens and what are new ways to approach it. Personally, I often forget that making really great pieces takes a lot of times and multiple iterations, so it is really comforting to see what kind of challenges other run into and how they deal with them.