The first believer of Season – A short story of passion

Hello! I am Amélie, co-founder of Scavengers Studio. As CEO and Executive Producer of the company, I finance video game projects and participate in the creative effort. I hire the key leaders/talents and I supervise them. I can do a lot of different things; funding, attracting investors into the videogame project, legal, design, marketing and advisory, etc. As our mission is to brand/create new IP, I spend most of my time building strategy and work plans with the directors. Also, I think it’s important to improve processes to build a studio culture and human resource strategy that fits the studio’s mission. I do not get involved with the day-to-day of a production like a director/producer does (unless I have to ;)).

Who am I?

I am a curious, enthusiastic, resourceful woman who loves team projects. As a kid, I truly pushed every boundary I could. At 10 years old, I got suspended from elementary school and kicked out of high school at 14. From my teenage years, I searched for eclectic work experiences. The more outside of my comfort zone I was, the more fun I had.

These experiences have brought me to many different places…

1. In the woods, where I learned the true value of a good and hot meal.

2. Into the craziness of the entertainment industry, where I learned what it REALLY means to “work hard”

3. All the way to Northern Quebec, taking part in a program that helped create more Inuit jobs and career opportunities at Glencore Raglan Mine -Tamatumani, where I learned to enjoy (for real) the present moment.

Finally, at the age of 24, I decided to invest myself (and all my savings!) in my first video game project: Darwin Project. Looking back at my journey, becoming an entrepreneur and managing my own business was a natural progression as I was constantly looking to discover new horizons and challenge myself.

Having my own company allowed me to live my greatest personal and professional adventure to date. The youth of the video game industry allows me to create from scratch the entrepreneurial environment that I want because there is room for creativity, going beyond my limits and above all, room for failures and learning. 

Being an outsider of the video game industry, the first 4 years were a kind of a MBA crash course into the business, production and support of video games. Building a studio/business from the ground up is the most difficult thing you can try to do. There is no class, no books that can prepare you for what’s to come. Everything that you do is always a first timer, so it’s inevitable that you make mistakes. I made a decision that I would never do the same now this demonstrates how I learned so much. I keep learning every day. Thanks to the indie community in Montreal. Each studio is really close to one another. We share and learn a lot from the experience of others as well. 

Those years were crucial to Season. As I was starting to play a whole bunch of games, I was also building a unique vision of what video games should be as a powerful medium of art and storytelling.

About my vision

You can have all the inclusion policies and space-free politics in the world inside your company, you need a diverse workforce in a position of leadership to have a real impact.

It took me a lot of courage to invest all my savings in Simon Darveau ideas. 

Now, he is investing in my direction and there’s nothing more that I wish for other women and people from diverse backgrounds. Simon is far from being perfect (neither am I), but when people asked me how women can be more included into positions of leadership, I say take a risk and just hire a woman. That’s it. I don’t want to hear about the fact that she doesn’t have the same background or as much experience as a more suitable candidate. If your mission is really to bring more women into the video game industry, you need to put your foot down and take a look at all the female candidates you have and just hire one of them. 

And naturally, I turned around and took a risk in hiring artists from outside the industry, our art director and our creative director. Being junior in the video game industry, it does involve a bumpy road of production, but thanks to the experience of our core team on Darwin Project, we are able to work all together into building something new. I do believe that there are no greater gains without taking big risks. I am not here for the status quo. I have been pushing boundaries my whole life and this is what I will keep doing.

More about Season

What I like the most about our protagonist is her courage. She demonstrates that it is worth the trouble to “participate”. To demonstrate courage, you have to “go and participate” not to “win” something but to “live an experience”. Being deeply involved in a project, being ready to learn, to evolve. It’s hard and it creates friction and discomfort. But I believe that being out of my comfort zone is the place where I learn the most. 

She goes on a quest. Life does not come to us, we have to go towards it. To participate, to get involved, it takes a dose of courage and commitment. After that, it will probably bring out aspects of our personality that we do not know. That’s the spirit of the game; go elsewhere to see what’s going on and take back the best with us.

I also believe that it is “this participation” that connects me to the protagonist in Season. I go there, I face it, I explore, I learn, I expose myself and I am alive.

Those two different games make a unique piece of who I am; Darwin Project touched my brain, Season touched my heart. Season is an invitation to open up, it gets me vulnerable. It puts me in a position where I want to meet others. It turns you into something better. 

I shed tears without sound but with a slight smile. It’s the feeling I hope I will have when I die. 

I would tell people who want to get involved in the wonderful world of video games that it takes a good deal of courage and character. Yes. But above all, it takes passion. If that’s what you want, I’m sure you’ve got it. Thank you and I’m really excited to present you Season soon to make you feel that way too. 

– Amélie. x

Interview with Kevin

Kevin has been writing Season for over two years now. In other words, he can’t wait to present it to you (and the whole team too!).

Until we can show you a little more about the project itself, we wanted to talk to you a little more about the profession of a video game writer; meeting with our creative director Kevin Sullivan.


  1. Did you dream of becoming a writer when you were young?

It’s what I wanted to do from the moment I realized that a human being made up Star Wars.


  1. What is your favorite game?

Writing wise it’d be Kentucky Route Zero. It feels like it was beamed here from the future like they jumped a few spaces ahead. It’s encouraging it was well received considering it basically jettisons all the reliable tricks of storytelling and is more akin to the work of someone like Samuel Beckett or Gabriel García Márquez. It’s already influenced a lot of games but still feels ahead of its time.


  1. Do you think it’s easy to write a video game?

All writing is hard in different ways. Writing a game is hard in that you’re not only dealing with the multifaceted nature of the form but with the realities of production too. It depends on the nature of the game too; some games live and die on their text and some are less reliant on it.


  1. What are the good and bad sides of writing?

The good side is when you’re surprised by what’s happening in the story as it unrolls or by connections made by other people that you weren’t consciously aware of when writing. The bad side is that, for me, pretty quickly my feelings about my own writing become very neutral. There’s more enjoyment in listening back to a piece of music you’ve written than in reading your own text, I find.


  1. Do you have any habits when it comes to writing?

My routine for when I’m writing on paper is to read in the morning and write when I take my second coffee from around 2p.m. until the evening.


  1. Do you know how much time you have spent writing Season? 

Hoo boy, no idea. But hours were more spent in the conceptualization phase of trying to imagine a particular world and particular tone. That took awhile.


  1. Do you improvise as the story goes, or did you know the ending before you started writing Season?

It’s usually good to leave breathing room in the story for characters to make choices on their own or to let you make more intuitive associations. But with the resources involved in making a game, outlining quite a bit is smart, just to be safe.


  1. Is the story of the game drawn from real events and from personal anecdotes?

It’s a mixture of things I read about, saw, or that happened to me or people I know. I find when I’m writing a detail, some little bit of text, I tend to draw on my own life to try to make it feel specific and real.


  1. What made you want to write this game?

It had a long gestation period, so there wasn’t a single moment of inspiration. I feel like explaining why you wrote something is always a retrospective explanation and not what you were thinking at the time. So, looking back I think on my side it came out of becoming more extroverted in a way, from traveling and reading more history, being both more worried and more attached to other places and time periods.


We hope you appreciated this little insight into Kevin’s journey, and learn some things about what it is like to be both a creative director, and a writer in games! 


– Season team

Between real and imaginary travel

“Season” draws inspiration from a lot of sources. I’d like to talk about a twin axis of influence; some experiences traveling in Taiwan, and the cinema of that same country. The question I want to pose, and also avoid answering, is this: to what extent can we learn about other places and people through their art? If we read War and Peace, do we have a modicum of feeling for early 19th century Russia? Think of the qualifiers we’d have to add to this; well, Tolstoy was writing about Counts and Princes, not so much the peasants and serfs that made up the majority of the population. Tolstoy was writing about the generation of his parents and grandparents; he wasn’t alive at the time the novel takes place. The magic of narrative art may be in empathizing and becoming entangled in fictional lives set 215 years ago. It feels as though that time and distance have collapsed. Without going so far as to imagine these grant us any certainty or authority, I feel sure a parcel we can take with us is an affinity for the time and place, that when we imagine a scene set in a particular time, we project into it, into particular lives and details that make it real to us. Imagine you see a newspaper headline that says tensions are flaring up between your country and another. If that other country is a place you’ve been, you might picture the faces of people you met and knew. What if you’ve read their books or seen their films? For myself, the appearance of Iran in American news media feels different having seen movies by Abbas Kiarostami and Mohsen Makhmalbaf.¹

Another place that I knew from films is Taiwan. I first saw Yi-Yi by Edward Yang and became interested in Taiwanese New Wave² cinema. The style and content of these films are very beautiful and original. They’ve been on my mind while working on “Season” because of the way they locate an individual life, and the life of a family, within their environment and the larger historical context³. The style oftentimes eschewed traditional coverage and covered entire scenes in a master wide shot. This gives you a feeling of spending time in the place itself with the characters. Intimate but historical, emotional but distant.

A moment in A Brighter Summer Day – two highschool students talk in a field while a military exercise is conducted in the distance. This combination of nostalgia and tenderness, with an ominous feeling tied to a historical moment, is something we’re trying to create in “Season.” 

When I had the opportunity to travel to Asia four years ago, I wanted to go to Taiwan, a place I’d only seen in these films.

Here: A photo taken by someone just before they gave us a ride. The only POV shot of “I’m about to pick up these hitchhikers” that I have.

Hitchhiking in Taiwan is tied with Albania for being the easiest of anywhere I’ve done it. When hitchhiking, you may gently try to get the person giving you a ride to drop you off somewhere slightly out of their way, usually when you’re trying to avoid getting stuck in a bad spot. You’re already in their debt for the ride, so it can be a delicate ask. On the contrary, in Taiwan we realized that if the driver knew our final destination, they might drive us straight there regardless of how far out of the way it was. This made us feel guilty so we started to shield this information. We had multiple drivers who insisted on taking us to certain landmarks or to eat at a certain place.

Finding a couchsurfing host in a big city is always difficult. You may need to send up to 20 or 30 personalized requests before succeeding. Taipei was no different. The host we finally found was a young dentist/aspiring filmmaker. He said he accepted my request because I had the aforementioned Edward Yang as one of my favorite directors in my couchsurfing profile. We talked about movies and culture and he taught me a lot. We even went to see a Q&A with the excellent director Tsai Ming-liang. He took questions while sitting in front of a piano and would occasionally start playing and singing.

From the art of another culture, we can get a partially understood glimpse into something profound. And in traveling, we accumulate impressions and bits of information that we’re getting directly from the place. The feeling of incompleteness is part of what’s so enticing about going away from what we know. What I’ve learned from the two different ways of experiencing Taiwan is that interest, or an affinity, can be sparked by art and can open the door a little. There still remains the moment of passing through it. These kinds of encounters are at the heart of “Season.”

– Kevin

¹ Politicians are aware of this, in fact. A great artist may be like a prophet, not without honor – save in their own country. But after you die, they’ll start building statues of you.

² A “New Wave” of filmmaking often coincides with political and social reform, such as the brief Czech New Wave that was linked to the Prague Spring. It’s no coincidence that the Taiwanese New Wave emerged at the same time as the democratic reforms of the 1980s and 90s.

³ The first batch of films were groundbreaking in how they depicted modern life in Taiwan. After these autobiographical films like “Growing Up” and “A Summer At Grandpa’s”, they made films about their recent history which were even more acclaimed and controversial. “A City of Sadness” touched on taboo subjects like the February 28 incident, when thousands of protesters were killed by the government.

This is the historical background that the audience is given towards the beginning of A Brighter Summer Day
“Millions of mainland Chinese flew to Taiwan in 1949 with the Nationalist government after its defeat in the civil war by the Chinese Communists.
Their children were brought up in an uneasy atmosphere created by their parents uncertainty about the future.
Many formed street gangs to search for an identity and to strengthen their sense of security.”
The text is establishing the character’s emotional lives and environment within the historical moment, why things feel the way they feel.

⁵ Although the world and ‘history’ of Season is made up – what they called ‘lore.’

Hitchhiking From Paris to Istanbul

Our game “Season” draws inspiration from our experiences traveling. The role of the player is the role of the traveller, the witness, the visitor, unattached but absorbing everything. It is the fantasy of going beyond tourism, of being embedded somewhere. 

I want to share a few stories from a hitchhiking trip that I did with a friend. To hitchhike is to step briefly into the life of a stranger. People who pick up hitchhikers are usually very friendly, since they’re someone who stopped to help. Hitchhiking was common in North America up until the 1970s when it developed, or was given, the reputation of being dangerous. This was at the same time that public trust of strangers went down. In other parts of the world it remained popular. Hitchhiking reveals a lot about a place, both its good and bad sides. Despite being a free activity, it also exposes boundaries of privilege in terms of how different looking people will be received and where. I’ve met all sorts of fellow hitchhikers, people I either gave a ride or came across while traveling. As we’re increasingly atomized, especially with the pandemic, this kind of social institution would be good to recover in the future.  

You enter into a stranger’s life at a random moment. The most dramatic moment I found myself in while hitchhiking was when I got a lift from an old French couple. When they were young, they had been in love but were separated by circumstances beyond their control. Each married and had a family but then, in their old age, were unexpectedly reunited. They said the moment they saw each other they knew they had to be together again. When they picked me up, they were on their way to tell their respective spouses that they wanted to get a divorce. I was sitting in the back of the car as this happened. I’ll never know why they stopped to pick someone up while this was going on. 

The longest hitchhiking trip I did was with a friend in Europe. On March 26th, 2012 we boarded a metro train leaving Paris and rode it to the outskirts of the city. There, we walked to the highway and caught our first ride. It was a young man who would be heading to graduate school in Mississippi soon. He took us just a few miles down the road to a rest stop where we found a stop sign decorated with various destinations and dates. Paris to Moscow, Paris to Warsaw. We didn’t write ours but if we had it would have said Paris to Istanbul. 

Our second ride was a tour bus driver. They aren’t supposed to give rides, but he saw our sign for Deutschland and offered anyway. He had just dropped a band off in Paris and was heading back somewhere so the bus was empty except us three. He told us stories of having to pay off border guards in Russia with Evanescence merchandise.

Entering Germany it became harder to get a ride. That area in particular of Germany would end up being the hardest place in the whole trip. Finally, a guy driving a custom van came by and picked us up. When you see someone driving a crazy van, you have certain expectations as a hitchhiker. The drivers seem to be aware of these expectations, because when a van like that doesn’t stop for you they really put a lot of effort into miming an apology as they pass by. His sound system was incredible.

The sun went down with us still loitering outside a gas station. Hitchhiking at night is not a good idea. Luckily one of the dudes who worked there gave us a ride when his shift ended. He was from Kazakhstan and dropped us off in town.

At this point we figured out how to hitchhike in Germany. Sticking out your thumb is no good, but if you ask people personally for rides at gas stations it’s usually an instant ja. We would approach with our map out, do a little “sprechen sie englisch?” indicate where we were headed on our map, ask if they were going that way too and then ask for a ride. We had an exhilarating run of this working with the first person we asked over and over again, including the couple pictured above.

Our next ride were with two Swiss Kung-Fu masters who were heading to a big tournament. Along the way, a car full of the Italians from the same dojo passed by, leaned out the windows, slapped our car and yelled insults. We fought back, I remember someone throwing a water bottle but I can’t remember if it was us or them.

We got dropped off in Tübingen, a small old college town. Because it has no industry they say only one bomb fell on it in WW2, and it was by accident. My friend had been hosting people on his couch in Paris and one of them had family in Tübingen. So we messaged him before the trip. He asked his family and they were down to have us. They were incredibly welcoming; gave us a room, lent us bikes, cooked us meals, even though our connection to the family wasn’t even there. It was hard to leave and I think even then we resolved that Tübingen would be the one place we would make sure to return to on the way back. We sent out couchsurfing requests to Lintz, Austria and got back on the road.

Jovan, a Serbian truck driver. We approached him at a rest stop as he was cooking his lunch. He didn’t speak English, but agreed to give us a ride after his meal. While he was eating, we were approached by undercover German drug police. They checked our passports and searched our bags, making us take out our tent and everything. On the road, he had us call his daughter who spoke English.

season_devblog3_image_polive_hitchhiking

A Hungarian police officer and his daughter. There was no room up front so I chilled in the back.

After that, a tour bus with just one Romanian family on board. They said they’d been skiing in Italy. They also said “You think you are free in America but in Romania, if you have money, you can do anything!” They dropped us off outside of Cluj Napoca, which turned out to be a University town. On the bus we couldn’t figure out how to punch our tickets properly until a Portuguese girl helped us out. We ended up hanging out with her and her friends during our time there. The outskirts of Bucharest were populated with numerous packs of stray dogs. I remember being cold coming into the city in the morning, trying to find a bus or anything to move on. We were pretty scared but ended up laughing uncontrollably at the thought of the stray dogs constituting a political force in the city and having to negotiate with them.

In Istanbul we stayed with an actor named Umit. His English wasn’t great but he was one of the funniest people I’ve met. He was on a weekly soap opera, and we got to watch it with him in the room. We asked him what was going on in the show but he didn’t seem interested. “Woman loves man…” waving his hand “very complicated!”

We went from Istanbul to Bursa and then to a small lake town called Iznik. Iznik appeared to be devoid of anyone close to our age. There were only two bars, and since drinking is frowned upon they were hard to find and no one drank visibly. We were a real novelty there. We were sitting on a dock and a group of young girls behind us started shouting out English words at us. “Ice cream! I love you!” That night we met the people from the bar and drank and made a fire on the beach. We sang our national anthems to each other.

The first thing we noticed getting in this guy’s truck was that the seat belts didn’t have anything at the end. They were more of a sash. He showed us how to wear them and said “For Police!” 

When hitchhiking, if you leave an hour later, your entire trip might be different. Once into Macedonia, we hit our worst run ever of not getting a ride. When there are only a few cars going by, you can’t help but put mental pressure on the ones that do pass to please please just pick us up. So when they inevitably don’t, you get mad. We were at our most frustrated when the guy above picked us up. The sight of his car stopping brought intense feelings of relief. He was Albanian, which made sense later because Albania is the greatest place to hitchhike.

The guy who made this sculpture changed his mind halfway through about whether or not he should be wearing glasses so it came out looking like someone you’d find in the cantina bar in Star Wars. Our host himself is an artist and was bummed at how nepotistic the public art scene was there. In Macedonia you can’t sell alcohol after 7 PM or so. He took us to a speakeasy in a mall after the rest of the stores had shut down. He also recommended that we stop by a lake town called Ohrid on our way to Albania so we did.

Ohrid. That night we tried to camp out along the lake but couldn’t find a spot so we found a hostel. The Hostel had a real freewheeling vibe that we locked into immediately. We met a guy who was half Russian half American and had tried to hitchhike to North Korea. He wound up being held in a border prison. He said another guy there was from England and claimed to be an economist. He had 80 euros in his pocket and said he was going to use it to restart the North Korean economy.

Looking back on this trip in 2012, the atmosphere and political situations in many of these countries has changed a lot since then. In some cases they’ve improved but overall it was a more optimistic time. This feeling is also an important part of Season, of passing through the world but also passing through a particular moment in time. While the pandemic makes this kind of travel impossible for the moment, possibly for a long time, I’ve linked to a few useful free travel resources below.

Some free travel resources

Hitchwiki is very useful, it has maps that show good spots to hitch and a lot of solid advice about how to do it.
https://hitchwiki.org/en/Main_Page

Couchsurfing is also good and free!
https://www.couchsurfing.com/dashboard

Above: My friend and I on the right, some folks who gave us a ride on the left. 

Next time: Japan, Malaysia, South Korea, Taiwan! 

– Kevin

Season highlights

Hello!

We did a nostalgic dive into our Season behind the scenes photo archive and put together a little visual timeline here

2017. “Season” begins.
Above: Hitchhiking from Nagano to Kurobe, thinking about “Season” which only had the title and a few ideas at that point.
(The bicycle was briefly a motorcycle, yikes! Maybe this deserves its own blog post one day…)
2019

2019: “Season” started as just a few people in the back of the studio. Back in the olden days, when we worked in the same space instead of at home.

Fall 2019. The Season team grows!

We received a CMF production grant that helped get the project off the ground! 

JANUARY 2020. We finished our first playable demo!
FEBRUARY 2020. Hitting PAX East and proud to test out our Season demo. It felt great to have people finally try the game
MARCH 2020. Season was among Ubisoft’s Indie Series Finalists. We won National Bank’s Special Prize (Prix Coup de Coeur)
JUNE 2020. Dev blog launch

We feel super lucky that this project germinated and is now a reality. We’re looking forward to sharing more about the project itself soon! 

Season team

 

 

Welcome to the “Season” dev blog!

Welcome to the “Season” dev blog!

Hello! My name is Kevin Sullivan, I’m the writer and creative director of a video game called “Season” – the next project from Scavengers Studio. Amusing fact: I also made some humble contributions to Darwin Project, the most enjoyable of which was writing and performing the voice of the show director in the trailers.

“Season” has been in development in some form or another for four years now, so while it may feel like it came out of nowhere, it’s been a very gradual process of realization, most of which was not done at any expense apart from pen and paper and paintbrush/stylus. It is quite a different game from Darwin Project, which is a testament to the studio founders’ ability to use what is available in the team, to nurture and develop writers, artists, and designers.

The studio founders, Simon and Amélie, contacted me way back when on the recommendation of our art director. He and I had worked together on some comics and it seemed that my writing and his art fit well together. “Season” began around a single image from him. I was asked to use it as the basis for some ideas. At the time, I was traveling through Indonesia and started taking down fragments of ideas in my notebook. Writing about travel is difficult because in the recounting it becomes about the speaker, in this case myself. But the experience, especially when traveling for a long time, is really the loss of ego. You’re kind of a person without a context when you travel, you have no role in society and are both a novelty and an observer. It’s also possible, however, to form connections with people. This trip was back in 2016, the year when the sentiment we have about the world now, the widespread feeling of precarity, was growing more tangible. As much as I was becoming acquainted with cultural differences, I was also encountering a similitude, particularly in the shared sense that we live in a very Particular Moment of History. We have a tendency to define people by their appearance, to create the category of the ‘other’, but through empathy and experience this can be disposed of. It’s a realization you must have over and over again, it isn’t a lesson you learn just once. Art can do it. Listening closely can do it. These notions of exploration, empathy, and impending catastrophe came together to form our game “Season.” 

As we began articulating this feeling in the project, it became important to us as both game developers and human beings. This went on for four years, as I had the chance to embed with a team of experienced creators and programmers. I’d been studying and working on movies and comics before. I’d seen my friends get eaten up by Hollywood. I’d have done the same if I hadn’t fallen in love and moved to Montreal and found my way to Scavengers. I’d always played games but I hadn’t thought of trying to write for them until around 2007 when I played Bioshock, Portal, and Shadow of the Colossus. Like with movies, part of the allure was in the multi-media aspect, that you have to draw on a wide range of disciplines and try to unify them all. When all the elements of the form come together, they can create something beyond the sum of their parts. At the moment, we’re working to organize the strengths of the medium into an experience that captures the feeling of traveling, the feeling of being somewhere deeply unfamiliar but beautiful. 

We can’t wait to share more with you. 

Kevin

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