Really cool experience.
Bug Report - When the Clothes Closet vanished there was no wall behind it and I walked over and fell down into an infinite abyss
Last week I had a chat about Apartment with Bec Fary from Triple R’s The Glasshouse. We spoke about the time the game represents, how it was made, and our relationships to our homes and the objects within.
Listen to the full episode here, or find the transcript and images from development below.
Bec: First up I want to say that I am broadcasting from stolen country here in so-called Brunswick East. This country belongs to Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung traditional owners and I’d like to pay my respect to Wurundjeri elders, past and present. [...]
Hey, my name’s Bec, I’m filling in for Beth AQ today and next week. I’ll be here until two oclock with The Glasshouse. This show which is a space for spoken word artists, poets, soundmakers, audio storytellers, emerging cultural leaders, thinkers, writers, and anyone that celebrates story as a means of self expression, self representation and community building. And this arvo, I’ll be thinking about videogames as a method for storytelling. We’ll be listening back to an interview I recorded with 3D animator and gamemaker, Kalonica.
Kalonica created a game called Apartment, in which she recreated her apartment from memory, and in the game Kalonica invites you to explore and interact with her space. So we’ll be doing a bit of that this afternoon, exploring Kalonica’s space. I’ll be hearing from Kalonica about the game, Apartment, and listening to clips from the game soundtrack, which was sound designed and scored by Maize Wallin. That’s coming up soon, on Triple R.
Kalonica: It has this awful, familiar feeling, even the uncertainty itself is familiar. There has been an opportunity since the start of the pandemic, and since making this game, to return to my apartment and be able to live a bit of the life that I imagined I would live here.
Bec: Today, on The Glasshouse on Triple R, we’re thinking back to March 2020 and some of the early days of this pandemic. Some of those uncertain times when COVID was new, and most of us had to quickly adapt to different ways of living and moving, and now, what was very strange to us then has become all too familiar.
I don’t know about you but for me those early COVID times and then two years of lockdowns meant I was spending a lot of time at home. Whether in lockdowns or not, many of us had these kind of deepened engagements with our neighbourhoods, and in particular, the insides of our homes. Some of us working from home, limited social contact, curfews - at least that was the experience in Victoria.
For 3D artist and game maker, Kalonica, though, she was experiencing lockdowns but she actually had to leave her apartment that she’d only recently moved into. She had to leave her home and most of her belongings behind, and she didn’t have access to that home space any more. So instead, in months following, Kalonica painstakingly recreated her home and most of the belongings inside that home, she recreated them from memory. And that digital recreation was published as the videogame called Apartment.
Apartment is part of the 2021 Freeplay Independent Games Festival and Victoria Together Commission, which is a series of seven new microscale experimental games. They were commissioned and released and if you want to check them out, even if you want to download Apartment and play along while you’re listening, you can do that at the URL freeplayfest.itch.io, and I’m also going to be posting links and information about the game on the Glasshouse page, on the Triple R website. And for the next half an hour or so, on The Glasshouse on Triple R, I’m going to be spending some time playing Apartment. I’ll be listening to clips from the soundtrack to Apartment by Maize Wallin, and also listening to a recording from my home space, calling in to the home space of the game’s creator, Kalonica.
Kalonica: I’m Kalonica, and I’m a 3D artist and animator for videogames, and I also make my own personal games. Apartment is a videogame I made in 2020, about my real life apartment, so during that time I had to leave for an unknown amount of time, and that meant leaving my home and most of my belongings behind. So this game was way to explore what that meant and what that space and those objects represented, and I recreated it all from memory.
So, I moved back in with my family in March 2020. It wasn’t really until Freeplay and Victoria Together invited me to be a part of their commission series that I thought about what I would want to make a game about, I wasn’t already thinking about what I would make. Being in a position where I was struggling to make things, I thought it would be a good opportunity to make a game about *that*, a game that was an opportunity for me to reflect on where I was and what the world was like, and it just made sense that it would be about my apartment.
So, this was maybe 6 months into the pandemic. I got index cards and then very methodically documented every object in my home that I could remember. The important part for me as the creator was to remember, so to write it on this like, quite impersonal boring index card and just have a short description or maybe a memory associated with it. So I made a big stack of those. So once I’d done all that, I then had a clear idea of what the game itself might be. And I had a list of measurements of furniture and things from when I’d moved in, and I’d also made a 3D model of my apartment when I moved in, to like make a little mockup, to sort of experiment with the layout of the furniture and things. So I used literally that as the starting point, and then I sort of just went through the index cards and made each item. I purposely avoided looking at any photographs or anything, it was very much about remembering these objects and where they were, and it felt like I’d moved in so recently that I could remember where I put things ‘cause I’d put them there quite thoughtfully.
Bec: It’s very much like, exploratory in that when you are invited into the game, you’re told through text, like a little bit of the story of the fact that you left the apartment, you weren’t living there anymore. And then, the player is kind of invited through the front of the apartment building, and then led - not even led, just exploring the apartment building until you find a door that opens. And then you can move around the space of the apartment. For me it was like very much a gradual kind of unfolding or realisation of the ways that I could click on each of the objects in the apartment and each one had a little text description, of like, what the item was and then a little of your, maybe a little anecdote or even just as simple as ‘I took this with me’ or you know, there was some little anecdotes about particular items around the time of March 2020. Like the toilet paper that was out of stock in the supermarkets, things like that.
Kalonica: I think the um, you know after I made the apartment itself and the main pieces of furniture, the first couple of things I made were objects that related to the pandemic - a packet of disposable masks, a packet of disposable gloves, a thermometer. There’s also a moment where you can wash your hands in the basin in the bathroom and it describes each step of the ‘how to wash your hands in a safe and thorough way’. I think those are the ones that really stand out, because obviously they just so obviously represent the pandemic and the time we’re living in. And that when I first moved into the apartment, those objects weren’t there, they were introduced because of the context. Therefore, in a way they’re the things that feel a bit foreign compared to everything else which is, like, you know, a lot of these things I’ve had for a long time, and they have sentimental value and yeah, have a memory associated with them. But those objects, the only memory is the pandemic. It’s a whole different set of emotions.
It’s kind of bizarre to have recreated a memory and have a memory of recreating the memory. Although the objects in the game aren’t particularly detailed or anything, it feels as though I’ve gone over every object and inspected it from every angle and made it feel just right. And even when I was making the game, like the couch for instance took a little of time - although I had the measurements it didn’t feel quite right, like it didn’t feel big enough from the measurements, so I would, while I was making the game, walk around the apartment in the game and be like ‘oh no, I think it’s a bit bigger’ or like ‘needs to come out from the wall a bit more’, like trying to recreate the environment as it felt.
Having made the game it then became like, somewhere I could direct all my feelings about it. So previously, when I wasn’t thinking about it, I felt very disconnected from it - both physically and emotionally, and you know, it represented this kind of disconnect in so many aspects of my life at that time. But then, having made the game, it was like I’d reformed those connections just by taking the time to reflect and remember. So when I was able to move back in, it was really nice to already have that foundation I guess, to that experience. I was really surprised how quickly everything felt like my own again, and that it was my home. I think that was this sort of underlying fear, that I’d return and not relate to anything, and feel unwelcome in my own home, just by being a different person.
So I started making the game about 6 months after I left my apartment, and then I think was about 8 months that I was able to come and check on my apartment and make sure everything was okay and, like I mention in the game, that it wasn’t overrun with pests or mould or anything horrible. And then, it had been over a year until I sort of moved back. Which was really surreal, it’s a long time and everything still had that ‘I’ve just moved in’ sort of feeling, like everything’s a bit awkward and bare and you know, some bits of furniture I’d put down and been like ‘oh that’ll do for now, it doesn’t really work’. Since moving back, I’ve put a lot of attention I guess, into trying to make the space feel different from what it is in the game or more so, my relationship to the space before the pandemic. I wanted to, like, I’ve bought a nice big green rug, and so now the space feels different and it feels like a progression and moving forward and it doesn’t have so much of that awkward ‘I’ve just moved in’ feeling.
Bec: On The Glasshouse, on Triple R, my name’s Bec and I’m filing in for Bec AQ today and next week. And I’m spending this arvo listening back to an interview with 3D animator and game developer, Kalonica, about her new game Apartment. In the mix with the interview, I’ve mixed in some clips from the game soundtrack, generously shared by Kalonica and the game’s sound designer Maize Wallin. A name you might recognise from Triple R’s own Byte Into It.
I spoke to Kalonica a little about the sound design collaboration process.
Kalonica: I really enjoyed working with Maize because they were very wiling to talk about it conceptually, so although they obviously were aware of the apartment and that I was recreating it, it felt felt more important to talk about how we were personally feeling, and for it to be an opportunity for them to also reflect and use the music and the audio to explore those feelings or experiences.
Unlike a lot of traditional game videogames where the audio works to like, bring the player in and try and like, convince them that it’s a real place, we wanted the audio to sort of sit on top of the game and make it feel like ‘this is game’ and it’s not necessarily like ‘exploring a memory’ it’s exploring the representation of a real place. So, like the visuals, the sound design is a bit abstracted.
It was an opportunity for Maize to explore those feelings as well and we talked about how there’s voice and strings and guitar, and how those have their own sort of like, honest, human texture. So it was less digital sounds and more instruments that could bring that kind of honesty and vulnerability as well. So it’s kind of very intimate and vulnerable and I feel it’s a bit of an honor to have in the game and that Maize shared that with me and the players that play the game. And yeah, I think it helps create this sort of sense of creating space to almost sort of, be alone and reflect, but it also has this kind of airiness and weariness that we describe as the feeling of coming home after a really long day.
Bec: The sound of the feeling of coming home after a long day. That music was by Maize Wallin, composed for the soundtrack to the new videogame, Apartment.
Today, on The Glasshouse, I’m listening back to an interview that I recorded with gamemaker Kalonica. Going to dive back into the world of the game now, a digital version of Kalonica’s apartment that she recreated from memory. In the game, players are invited to explore the space, you can roam in whatever way you choose, and each item in the apartment is clickable and gradually with each click, with each new object, there’s this surreal dissolving as the objects and the space that houses these objects kind of melts away.
Kalonica: Although I’ve designed the game, I’m not the boss of you, like you can interact with the space however you like, just as you could if you were to visit my real home. And I think it sort of comes with similar kinds of like- I would hope that if you came to visit my real home you would respect the space and use it as intended, but you don’t have to. And so yeah, whether a player finishes a game or not.. it’s whatever means the most to them.
So much of it is about the space and obviously it being an interactive game you can move through the space, in a way that the game, through the mechanics, sort of uses the space as a language in the game as well. So as you play the game the objects disappear, and the furniture disappears and then the walls disappear until you’re in a void.
Bec: It took me kind of a few, maybe roams, around the apartment before I realised that clicking on things like the space was kind of melting away from me. It was kind of being deconstructed through my interactions with it. It’s striking me that you, through the way you recreated the apartment, you built *up* the memory, you recreated a digital three dimensional experience of the space, and then through playing the game, that recreation gets deconstructed.
Kalonica: Yeah, I guess part of the feeling I wanted to have for the player is like, although it’s very much a representation of my real life, and it means a lot to me, I wanted it to still have this sense of like, a museum almost, where the apartment itself and the objects within it are frozen in time, and like you might a museum, you inspect each item individually. So I knew that I wanted the player to walk around and pick up each object. It felt like the first game where I *knew* what it was before I necessarily *understood* what it was. Whereas other things I’ve made it’s very much like, come into being as I’ve made it and sort of iterated on it, whereas this there came a point where I could just see what it was, and it all sort of just clicked into place. And I, for a long time, I myself didn’t super understand why it made sense that after the player has inspected an object that it would then disappear, and I was like ‘am I destroying it?’ like, is this about destroying that space and my connection to it? And I was like ‘that doesn’t make sense’, and you know the visual of the thing disappearing is quite soft, and the sounds that Maize made for that moment are so, it’s almost like a cigarette sound, like, sort of dissolving.
The act of making the game, was an act of remembering and reflecting and recreation, and then to play the game is for those objects to then be absorbed into the player’s memory. So that by the end of the game, they’re in a similar position to where I was - where their only connection to it is the memory that they had of it.
Bec: Yeah, and it’s almost like, the experiential, the visual, all of the kind of, ways that we recognise and experience this place, they become less important maybe, or it’s like we can remember something and we can recreate it but the ways that that kind of forms our experience are not as literal as the lines and shapes that make up that place..
Kalonica: I think that’s like, part of what I was trying to capture and part of, like as I said, purposely not aiming to necessarily recreate it accurately or realistically. It’s part of the bias of my memory of it that tells the story. It’s like I, you know, when I came back to my apartment it was clear there were some things I forgot or like, things weren’t in the position I thought they were, but I think that itself, that kind of inaccuracy of memory is telling the story as well.
Bec: Yeah, and the fact that it was real, it was a true representation of the place as remembered by you in the time of the memory.
Kalonica: Yeah. I think as well like, another thing I was aiming for with the visual style and Maize’s audio design, is to emphasis that it is a game, that it is digital, like it is a bit glitchy and low res and it’s clear that these objects are a digital placeholder or proxy for a real thing. And I was sort of, hoping that that would mean for the player, that it could also be a proxy of something of their own, that they relate to an object they’re familiar with in a similar way.
Bec: Yeah, and that sense of abstraction is making me think about the way that kind of, the figure of the person was represented as very kind of shadowy or almost vacant - I’m not sure if that’s the right word, I’m searching for a word that I can’t quite grasp but it’s kind of like, any moment of kind of glimpsing in the mirror there’s a reflection of the person figure that’s the player who’s interacting with space. The person I was kind of viewing as you, but also me, it was kind of like I was inhabiting yourself navigating the space, but also the way that the kind of figure was abstracted from any kind of recognisable.. this sense of kind of, absence or abstraction, it was really interesting to me the way that the game kind of built towards a climax of absence.
Towards the end of the game, the shadow of the player figure gets really long as if the sun is really low to the ground, but then there’s no ground and there’s no- like I feel like there were these moments where it was almost like I just found myself in an empty, vacant space, and I had to really like, it was kind of disorienting- which is partly due to me not being good at playing games and so I find myself disoriented in games a lot, but then also there were moments where there was nothing nearby to kind of orient myself to, and so I had to kind of like float around in this kind of three dimensional space to find my way back to maybe a room or a part ot the apartment that I hadn’t yet kind of dissolved.
Kalonica: Yeah, I think that’s um, yeah that really aligns with my intentions for it, and as you described, the player’s figure being vacant or a void, sort of, it’s a space like the void at the end, the sort of underlying space, that the player character belongs to that space as well. So it’s almost like literal space for the player to insert themselves into. I knew that I didn’t want that character to be me. It’s not about pretending to be me, that’s not the game. I’m inviting a stranger, the player, into my life and my space and there is this kind of.. I wanted to have that yeah, almost museum-like disconnection of like, you don’t- the player doesn’t belong to the space they are from somewhere else. And that’s sort of, also part of their aesthetic, where they’re form kind of shimmers and wobbles. That’s in contrast to the apartment which is mostly very static and square and solid - as though that’s frozen in time whereas you, the observer, are alive. And it was almost like an attempt to try and reach the player outside of the computer - if that makes sense. Like, they’re not playing a character in the game, I’m asking them to come as themselves.
Bec: So this strikes me as a game that has like a very clear ending, like it’s very much like a you can begin at the beginning and play it through to the end and then it finishes, it has a resolution as like, more of the story gets told kind of after you complete all of the game interactions. And it gets to a point where you can no longer explore the space, and you would have to kind of begin again in order to explore the space again.
Kalonica: I feel like it’s, again, felt as though I was making a game that already existed in a way, like I already knew that it would have this linear progression and have this kind of resolution that you can’t come back from. It kind of mimics what I was thinking about and feeling when I left the apartment, when I had this eerie feeling that I wouldn’t return for a long time. You sort of look over everything like ‘what do I need to take’, ‘what will I leave’ and then you leave. And you don’t have access to any of those things. So I think it sort of puts the player in similar position where they can’t return to any of it, and the only way for them to access it, aside from playing the game again, is to remember it, as I did.
Bec: On Triple R, this is The Glasshouse, my name’s Bec, I’m filling in for Beth AQ, and I was just having a listen to a piece of music by Maize Wallin. Maize’s website is maizewallin.com and that music was from the closing credits to a new videogame called Apartment. Apartment was commissioned by Freeplay Independent Games Festival as part of their 2021 Victoria Together Commission Series. You can learn more about Apartment and download it and play it if you’d like to, as well as the rest of the Freeplay Victoria Together Commission Series, you can find all of that at freeplayfest.itch.io.
Huge, huge thankyou to Kalonica for being so generous and patient and talking about your game with someone like me who always gets very confused and disoriented when playing games. So I appreciate your time and appreciate that you invited me into your digital home for this interview. Kalonica is a 3D animator and gamemaker and you can find more of her work at kalonica.com.
I’m going to post links and information about the game Apartment and about the interview, you can also listen back to the interview if you missed any of it - all of that will be posted on The Glasshouse page on the Triple R website, that’s rrr.org.au
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Really cool experience.
Bug Report - When the Clothes Closet vanished there was no wall behind it and I walked over and fell down into an infinite abyss
Oh no, I'll look into that, thanks for letting me know!
oh yeah I encountered this too. Now I couldn't finished the game...
I always couldn't get to the end because some walls would disappear like this and I can't interact with other things anymore. I would fall endlessly walking straight through. I've only discovered recently from a gameplay video that there is an ending to this. This is one of the unique and coolest experience to revisit and play once in a while even if I can't reach the end though.