Upon entering Please’s cozy virtual gallery, Touch the Artwork, there’s something familiar about the paintings in front of me, even though I can’t remember the name of the art, the artist, or any fact. on what I’m looking at. But I know I’ve seen the blocks, the lines, the use of primary colors before me before. Maybe in an art book at school, or in passing on a trip to the museum.
These are, I am told, the paintings of Piet Mondrian, or their interpretations. They were compiled and turned into a puzzle game by Thomas Waterzooi, a solo developer with an engineering background, artist parents, and credits at Larian Studios and IO Interactive. Waterzooi was fired from IO when he parted ways with Square Enix, after which he struck out on his own to make games that were very, very different from the narrative adventures of Divinity or the comedic puzzle boxes of Hitman. Specifically, he wanted to create “pacifist” games that explored “the big picture” and “the human condition.” Something, he says, “cultural”.
Something, perhaps, like a game where you solve visual puzzles by touching famous paintings.
In a process that Waterzooi describes as “the exact opposite of what a game designer would do”, the creation of Please Touch the Artwork is a bit of a delightful accident. At one point, in the midst of tinkering with different game ideas, Waterzooi was also reading a book called “What Are You Looking At” by Will Gompertz. It is about the origins of modern art, and abstract and Suprematist movements particularly fascinated by reading.
One night, when Waterzooi couldn’t sleep, he decided to create a “Mondrian generator” just for fun – a simple program that would generate a painting based on the rules that Piet Mondrian applied to his own work, which he called ” De Stijl” (“The Style”). So: three primary colors, three primary tints (black, white and gray) and two primary directions (horizontal and vertical). It’s a familiar gaze, steeped in the cultural knowledge of even those who are not art experts.
Please touch the official screenshots of the artwork
Waterzooi managed to manufacture its Mondrian generator and over time began to evolve it by adding interactive elements. By touching a square on the board, for example, the colors of all squares touching it would change. Thus was born the main mechanic of the first of three games in Please Touch the Artwork. He evolved it over the years by taking his first game to different festivals and shows, eventually adding two more games inside the game inspired by the paintings of Mondrian, Broadway Boogie Woogie and New York.
And he added a story to all three, with the New York story inspired by his own experience in a long-distance relationship while working for IO. De Stijl’s account gives his audience a little lesson in art history and a supposed rivalry between Mondrian and his friend and fellow artist Theo van Doesburg, with arguments between the two about how the paintings that the player is perplexed must be made up.
While there is certainly a layer of art history to Please Touch the Artwork, it would be wrong to think of this through the unfortunate lens that many children (myself included) grew up with, which is that art, art history and museums are boring and dry. by necessity. Please Touch the Artwork is a fiery game, with puzzles that reminded me of The Witness but without the intense frustration and lack of guidance. It’s soothing and open, but also jazzy and, above all, very enthusiastic about the art he shows me.
That’s part of the goal, Waterzooi tells me. He firmly believes that art should be accessible to everyone: widely available, understandable and accessible. Even with the art history element present in Please Touch the Artwork, Waterzooi says he was careful not to research so much that it came across as pretentious or overly complex.
“I wanted to dive just deep enough to approach art like an average person, without deep art knowledge,” he says. “The joy is approaching these paintings with just enough context and theory to not spoil them. Like a movie trailer. Play my game, then go to the museum if you like it.
“…I wanted to express that art is much more accessible than the industry makes it seem. You can take art, transform it, mix it and make it your own. Don’t keep it in high places. Take him down. Bring it to everyone.
He hopes that Please Touch the Artwork will encourage his audience to become more interested in artistic culture. He suggests, for example, that children play it with their parents, or that people who do not have easy access to galleries or museums can enjoy it. Or perhaps those who have this access, but haven’t taken advantage of nearby museums, might feel inspired to do so.
Waterzooi also wants to express to his audience that art is messy and subject to interpretation, including the interpretations he offers in Please Touch the Artwork.
“You should be able to accept that some art is bullshit,” he says. “It’s true! Some people think that art is always a positive word in itself, but in reality it’s not true. There is good art and there is bad art…saying ‘it’s of art”, in the public opinion it is, but that should not imply that it is necessarily good. It is just a work produced by an artist who wanted to express his opinion or his inner ideas or is struggling with something. Whether it’s good or not is purely subjective.
With Please Touch the Artwork out in the world, Waterzooi is far from done with art-based video games. He wants to add an infinite zen mode that will generate procedural painting puzzles for players to solve for as long as they want. And he’s working on an actual art installation based on the game, featuring both versions of the De Stijl puzzles that can be played by touching an actual canvas, as well as other interactive elements he cut from the game himself. same.
And it doesn’t stop there. Waterzooi wants to make more games like this, with more painters. He already has a few in mind that he plans to explore: Paul Klee, Wassily Kandinsky and Kazimir Malevitch come to mind. If these names are unfamiliar to you, don’t worry. Waterzooi wants to help solve this problem.
“I can only hope that other people will want to join me, maybe everyone will collectively tackle a different board,” says Waterzooi. “Maybe smaller games, but just more games still with the common theme of being relaxing, without skill there can’t be time pressure… It’s that coming thing, ‘health ‘ which is sometimes called… That’s my design philosophy.”
Rebekah Valentine is a reporter for IGN. You can find her on Twitter @duckvalentine.