Approximately 100 years ago (last year), some members of AAA, including myself, gave some talks at the Università IULM, Milan. Writing this out today, considering we are just finishing Utopias now (a project I introduce at the end of this talk, before we even technically started it), feels pretty damn weird. I now remember my state of mind about the project then, all of my hopes and dreams for it, and can’t help but compare that to how it is now. It’s an uncomfortable feeling. It’s not a disappointment, but it’s something like that. When you create something, you commit to that thing every step of the way. As you do this, you destroy potential other ways it could have been. For me, personally, this is a loss that I feel grief over perpetually while creating. Sometimes, it almost prevents me from creating at all, for the fear of what I am destroying. I also feel immense joy while I create, and I am proud of what we have created together: Utopias: Navigating Without Coordinates - which will be released to the public on December 5th this year. The talk I post here describes things from my perspective, from a previous version of myself, which I want to emphasise as extremely limited. This is not AAA canon, it’s my ancient head canon. So, do not hold any members of AAA, past, present or future, accountable for what I say.
Hello, my name is Jessica [Some Donkus]. And I participate in the collective AAA, and in my presentation I’m gonna go through basically what AAA is, and two projects that we have worked on: Our second project Data Mutations, which is complete, and our third project Utopias, which we are working on now.
I’ll start off with “What is AAA?” - Here’s a short history: It started off originally as a meet up, called ąяţǥąʍ€$, at a venue in Berlin called Spektrum, which is dedicated to art, science and technology - and they host us for free, which is very nice of them [RIP Spektrum, bless Lieke forever] ~ and we’ve been doing this for 3 years, and we do it every two months. It was originally started by Merle and Troy, because when they came to Berlin, they realised there was a pretty healthy indie games scene, but there was no one really making art with game engines. So they decided to start their own group, and I think it’s flourishing. There's usually about 50 people who attend, and it's always new people, with maybe some familiar faces. Then Troy started a Slack, so people who wanna join, who go the ąяţǥąʍ€$ meet up, they can ask, and then they are added. Current there are about 50 members total, but about 8-12 that are super active. And we just talk about games, and games that we are working on, and art, and stuff like that. So then, from there, there was this: people who wanted to work together - and this became AAA collective: Which has no set members, no set amount of members, there’s no requirement for where they live, or what kind of work they do, or how much they want to contribute - it’s kind of an amorphous blob...
And these are more or less the members that participated in our second work: Data Mutations. I can’t really describe AAA collective like completely accurately, I’m just one person, but this is just based on my observations: We are multifarious: we have different backgrounds, different personalities, different values, all of us have different jobs: Some of us are network engineers, some of us are game designers, some of us are scientists, some of us are data scientists. We are not all the same type of person. We are very generous. We collectively share labor, by contributing assets to each other, if somebody is good at objects or programming, they might do the work for someone else completely on their own accord [if they have the time and they’re keen to do it]. It’s not expected, but you know, maybe you want to help someone out a bit. We are non-hierarchical: there’s no one person making decisions, like what we do, or who is in AAA collective, it just kind of self regulates. And we are completely non-commercial: we’ve made 0$ from AAA collective, maybe, we have even made negative money, I’m not sure… : (((
I’m going to describe how Data Mutations, our second collective project, worked, to give you a good idea what our working process is like. You might see familiar techniques, but I think it’s kind of a weird atypical process, so maybe it’s helpful to learn about something that's not super regulated.
So on June 14th 2017, we met in my office at the hospital, after hours, to talk about what kind of games we wanted to make, or if we wanted to work together at all. And the only thing we decided on was that we wanted to create assets, randomly, from a lottery. We wanted to make things we weren't used to making, like, maybe someone who is really good at sculpting ends up making a poem, or something like this. There was a list: text, images, sounds, shaders, and they were assigned randomly to all the people. This is the concept we wanted to go with. The next day, Merle wrote a manifesto based on this concept. The idea is that you make these assets, they become a pool, like a gene pool. You can mutate those assets: say you have an image, you can convert that into text, or if you have text, you can convert that into sound. If you have a sound, you can convert that into an object - cos information on the computer is more or less a bunch of numbers, and if you mash it around enough, it can become something else. We create mutant projects, and we ourselves become mutants.
From June 16th - July 15th, we created these assets, from the lottery, idk exactly, I didn't make it... it was in a spreadsheet??? And this was the result: we have some poems, an object, motivational poster, a sculpture of a play set, 3 different sounds collection, a modular architecture building made of different architectural parts, a really bad shader, we have a microscopic image of some bacteria, and another sculpture called Armball (which you’ll see a lot later), we have a transparent .png which can be used as a crosshair, another very long poem, another sculpture and 3 sounds, 2 very short poems, and everyone's favourite: Eggman. We have 2 animated gifs separated into pngs, we have a really long textural sound and a couple of images, and then this layered sound, so, if you play them all together it makes a kind of music set, but you could separate those layers into individual ones and create another song from them. We also have a rigged character model and a large texture atlas... and we used all these assets together over a weekend to start building something. Immediately we have some repetitive motifs happening, cos were all using the same assets. Between July 16th, and July 23rd, when we worked on these games after the initial jam, you start to see this Armball being used, and also this modular room being used to make different architectures - so, although we're not planning to make something related, it's already occurring cos were using the same stuff.
August 5th, we decided to show our progress and give each other a critique. We invited some friends over, Merle made this great poster, we met in Troys bedroom, some of us on Skype, and some of us in real life, and we played all the games and gave each other some critiques.
From August 6th to November 1st, we continued to work on our games based on that critique. And these are the results:
This is my game: Gallery Prison. This is Fedya’s game: G-moll. This is Matias’ game: New Age of Swarms. This is Troy's game: All That is Solid Melts Into. This Merle’s game: The Means of Production. This Super’s Game: Wildlife Museum. This is Tristan’s game: Bummer Coaster Ride. This Gabriel’s game: Best Practises.
So from Nov 1st - I mean the games are made now!!! - but from Nov 1st to Nov 15th, we thought shit: we have like... 9 games??? But they feel like individual games, but we made them together, and we want them to feel like they belong together. So our first attempt to bring them together was to make a dedicated website to hosting them, and we tried a bunch of different things, like hosting them on itch or whatever, but it seemed too fragmented. So we zipped them into one file, and told people to download it? And it just… also didn't seem to make sense. The website was OK, but it did not unify them like we hoped. So, Troy and I got together, and we made another Unity project, which encapsulates all the other the other projects by launching them remotely, so it's kinda like... another game, which holds all the other games… and kinda acts like a launcher, so you can select which game you want, and I feel like now it’s more apparent that these things belong together and they are not separate games. This was the best we could do, in post, to join things together that were initially not made together, like not made in the same [Unity] project.
Then April 25th 2018, we were somehow nominated for an award at a games festival in Berlin, even though it’s not a game, it’s art, and don't tell anybody. We were also asked to give the opening night performance. We were given an hour and a half time slot, and we kinda went a little bit overboard, I think - because for that hour and a half we did a performance which was a mixture of a spoof of lets plays, mixed with a little bit of esports flavour, mixed with a talk series, mixed with performance art - and it was completely choreographed for the entire hour and a half. It had AV! We made an entire engine for overlaying the presentations with special effects, having a little picture in picture of our streamer, Troy, who hosted the event, like as this streamer persona. And we played the games for people, but we also talked about the games, and we talked about what we like about making games, and we made a huge to-do out of it…
From me, more or less giving the talk I’m giving now (but this is the deluxe version ; P) - to Jack, who dressed as a capsule collider and talked about games from the perspective of a Unity prefab. We had Matias, who generated a manifesto from other manifestos, and using search and replace magic created a new one to describe our collective. We had Gabriel, who gave a manifesto about games and labor politics. We had Chloê give a talk about what she would like to see more in art, not just games, but art in general. We had Merle give a reading of a poem over a really long period of time, including this repetitive breathing performance. And I think people were interested, confused, maybe... I’m not sure.
What I realised afterwards is that we kind of created another pocket universe, something that's different than normal everyday life. This really weird mixture of lets plays, esports, performance art, talk series - which was an environment that was a different way to experience the games, as opposed to if you downloaded them and played them yourself in your bedroom at night, or if you watch somebody else play them on YouTube. This was like a completely different other reality context to experience seeing a let's play, or what a game can be. And because of this, I feel like we had more control over how the game might be interpreted by the viewer. And I thought this was really interesting. The game is currently here, at this URL: https://aaa.itch.io/datamutations, If you haven't played it already, and you wanna play it.
Feb 13th this year , we decided to start a new project. Data Mutations is over!!!! and hopefully we never have to do it again!!!! We wanna do something new!!!!!!!!! We met to discuss what we liked about Data Mutations, like working on it, and what we did not like, and what we wanted to do as we move forward. We came to some agreement on how we want to work, for now. The new project is called Utopias, and where Data Mutations was focused on sharing this asset gene pool and mutating it, Utopias is focused on linking worlds to other worlds. We decided there should be no engine limit. We learned from Data Mutations that it doesn’t matter what engine you make the game in, we can still link it together with code that remotely executes other code. There’s always a way to link something. We also agreed that Utopias can be experienced from any point of view. It doesn't have to be first person game, it doesn't even have to be 3D, it doesn't even have to have images in it, it could just be text or sound. This type of experience and linking can even go as far as to embed utopias in other utopias. Someone's game could be on a mobile devices in someone else's game. It can get recursive.
We also agreed to share resources in a slightly more formalised way. Before we were just putting it in a big GDrive folder, but we started to host our own GitLab server. People are posting their entire projects, or tools - For example, Chloê made a tool for Unity that automatically grabs synonyms for words, so if you wanted to write a poem that dynamically changed, it would find synonyms for words for you, and mutate the poem as you interacted with it. And you could use that tool in your game if you want. We also agreed to have regular meetings, so with Data Mutations before, we met a few times, and gave progress reports, but we didn't really develop the games together. So, we meet once every week or two weeks, not everyone has to be there, but more or less we agreed to have these interval meetings so we can shape the Utopias towards each other - and hopefully they will converge. The main overall goal is to have these things come together in a natural way, instead of like with Data Mutations, we kind of tried to wrap them together in post with this launcher game. We’re hoping that over time, we can shape these games towards each other in a way that makes more sense conceptually - I hope!
Thank you for listening. If you want you can download our game, and all our assets. Like, It’s not just the game, it’s like all our assets, the entire manifesto. If you wanted, you could even make your own, I guess! Anyway, thank you. https://aaa.itch.io/datamutations
See the video of all the talks here: https://vimeo.com/277525284