You've probably played games that Joe Fielder has worked on. The former Irrational Games creator helped craft the literary voice of BioShock and BioShock Infinite among others. Those titles were set in far-flung places which, despite being fantastical in nature, were understood to be real in the game you were playing through. His next game happens in a place that might not even exist.
Along with other ex-Irrational developers who've formed a new studio called Day for Night, Fielder's been working on The Black Glove, a game set in a mysterious, 1920s-style theatre called The Equinox. "It's a little like the Black Lodge in Twin Peaks, where you're not exactly sure where or when or even if it exists," the Massachusetts-based writer told me over Skype last week. "We're also influenced by some of the folks that influenced David Lynch like Jean Cocteau and by other movies like La Jetée and Last Year at Marienbad."
In the game, you experiment in altering the pasts of three resident creators performing at the Equinox. There's the Artist (a woman named Marisol) the Filmmaker director (Avery Arnault) and the Musical Act (a band called Many Embers). "Your goal is to improve their works in the present," Fielder says. "And you have to satisfy the whims of the creator, the Critic and the Crowd and they will hint at what should change next. So the story's really tied intrinsically into the gameplay."
Though this feature may seem like it's a meta-commentary on the relationship between game-maker and player, its roots come from a different place. "In a lot of games, you're uncovering story as part of the experience. I really wanted to add more of a direct effect on the game's story and the world. That's probably more where it came from rather than any kind of meta-commentary."
"In games we want to explain everything but, in a surreal experience, you don't want to pin everything down" Fielder continued. "Stuff like Twin Peaks, Mulholland Drive, Charles Burns' Black Hole… I feel like I understand them, but for me to explain them to somebody else would be a little hard. It's kind of like dream logic. I want to make sure people always know what they're doing in the game but the whys and wherefores — other than 'hey, it's fun to play, explore and create — are going to be a little bit more surreal."
And the 1980s video game in The Equinox? "That's one of the mysteries in the game," Fielder explained. "The Maze of the Space Minotaur is kind of an enigma, kind of an ode to our favourite 1980s coin-ops, both real and fictional, like Escape from the Mind Master and The Bishop of Battle."
"The Space Minotaur is super fun to write for. He's kind of like a Jack Kirby or Grant Morrison [version of] Darkseid. He's an uber-nihilistic character but there's a sense of humour there. For a game that's centered on looking at making art whenever things get prententious, we plan on making fun of it. Hopefully, the sense of humour comes out in the Maze of the Space Minotaur lines."
A room bathed in x-rays is the work of the Artist character, Marisol. "That might not be completely safe for everyone involved in that scene," Fielder told me. He and the rest of the Day for Night dev team have been keeping mum on how the game actually plays but it doesn't take much to wonder if dangers like exposure to radioactivity would be one of the things that have a ripple effect throughout the game.
The Black Glove's look comes in part from concept art by Robb Waters, who designed Shodan for System Shock and Garrett for the original Thief games and Songbird for BioShock Infinite. But Fielder says that the game won't just be BioShock redux.
"What you're doing in The Black Glove is very different than what you'd do in a BioShock," he offered" "But, hopefully, people who enjoyed that game will enjoy The Black Glove. There's no shooting, there's no violence. It's more about exploration and creation. I think a lot of games have gotten really dark lately. This game, while having a spooky feel to it, is about sharing creative acts that let you directly have a hand in making these different works come to life."
The Black Glove is due out in 2015 and Day For Night will be launching a Kickstarter campaign soon to help fund the completion of the game.