Interview: Stout Games' Jeroen D. Stout on 'Dinner Date'

By Jeff Mattas, Jan 11, 2011 10:30am PST Not long ago, I got to review indie developer Stout Games' 'Dinner Date,' a curious character-study that puts players inside the subconscious of Julian Luxemburg, an everyday bloke waiting for a date to arrive at his flat.

I reached out to Stout Games' founder and auteur, Jeroen D. Stout, to ask him about (among other things) Dinner Date's design and development. He also shared some of the challenges inherent in bringing aspects of the narrative richness of other established media (novels, movies, etc.) to the growing subset of gamers seeking more intellectually and emotionally engaging experiences. If you're that sort of gamer, Stout Games is almost certainly a studio you should put on your radar.

Shack: It's not every day that you encounter a game about being stood up. What inspired you to tackle such a traditionally atypical subject?

JS: JS: I am quite aware being stood up is atypical for games, but I think it is not illogical. After all, it is a subject which is explored to great extents in all other media. It is in a way rather atypical for a medium to wait so long before ensuing the approach of these subjects.

The raw idea of a man being stood up emerged when I was considering a game focusing on sitting at a table. I think what gave me the final push to write on this subject was that I never considered releasing Dinner Date initially. Writing the story for it was my pet writing project for which nobody was going to judge me. Since I had settled on a 'man at a dinner table' theme, I thought it would be tremendous to write the story as if I was writing a play.

It very much became a character portrait, and especially about a problem which becomes more clear throughout the game, which is far more severe than Julian's present issue. What interested me was relating how there are social issues which may be caused by problems we do not want to be aware of - you can hear Julian approach his problem, and the ending is very telling. He is exemplary of the type of person who has difficulty achieving a 'sense of self,' and explores how his situation makes that difficult for him.

I am fascinated by character studies, and approaching a game as [a character study] was a choice I did not think very heavily on when I made it. It has, however, become an essential part of how I approach games now. It is very limiting intellectually to think about games when writing for games because you will hardly find any good quality characters. Trying to approach the quality such as one finds in good literature is far more demanding and forces you to think far more astutely. It is a challenge which has only just begun for games, and certainly for me after just one released game.

Shack: From a design standpoint, how did you decide on things like player-perspective and the user interface? Were you influenced by any other types of media, either specifically, or in a general sense?

JS: JS: I feel most interested in 1st-person perspectives because they are most personal. You can show a lot of things in 3rd-person, but it does not have the incredibly intimate relationship of 1st-person. To know what it is like to watch from the eyes of another person, and to find yourself in their head, is something which I find thrilling. 1st-person narration is done a lot in books, but very little in film - even Being John Malcovich used a device and 'excused' the use of it. But there is an comedic series called Peep Show which is exclusively shot in 1st-person and it always gives me a strange sense of personal presence.

The user interface was inspired by a previous project in which I had to show conversational subjects on-screen, and felt that having a static list did not in any way correspond to the dynamic behaviour of conversation. I think going for moving, bouncing bubbles is something which, to me, feels more like what awareness of 'possible actions' is less like a task list and more like something peripheral to your vision. A little more abstract, as well, so as to hint that you are doing things which are subjective: It is Julian's way of eating, you are just instigating it. It is a choice of form which I like, but it is very much still just an attempt at visualising something new.

You can read the complete interview with Jeroen D. Stout of Stout Games on our sister-site, Indie Games Channel.

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