Seb Pines - Dwelling - TRANSCRIPT

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Seb

For me when I think a lot about haunted houses and things of haunting, it's really hard for me to like separate that from grief and mourning and grief is not a bad thing. It's a hard thing. It's an uncomfortable thing. But it's a thing that takes place in a lot of different circumstances in our life. Grief is not reserved solely for when someone passes and we miss them grief happens when there's parts of our lives that we can't connect to anymore or there's friends that we don't talk to anymore or not or even being able to like return to like childhood homes or places we've been because they just don't exist anymore. There's like that level of grief

Iko

You're listening to The Lost Bay Podcast, a show about and with indie tabletop role playing game designers and artists. I’m Iko. The Lost Bay Podcast is supported by its patrons, a big shout out to Yochai Gal, Ian Yusem, Emily Weiss. Thank you so much, folks for supporting the show and helping it grow. You can become a patron of The Lost Bay Podcast too, head to patreon.com/thelostbay I've put the link in the show notes. Today my guest is Seb Pines, designer and illustrator of the solo journaling RPG Dwelling. I've played Dwelling and it gave me the chills both in a scary and in a good way. Dwelling is a horror game, you play as a person who has recently inherited an old house from an uncle.The game takes place at night, a restless night. You can't sleep, you're awakened by strange noises and you explore the old haunted house Dwelling is both beautifully laid out and illustrated. It has great game design, and we'll talk about all this. But first here is how Seb’s creative journey took them from video game design to RPG design.

How did you get into role playing games or solo or role playing games? How did that start for you?

Seb

I have a background already in game design. I started almost a decade ago doing things with digital games and did a lot in the like independent video game scene in my city. And I had a really great time with that I was more attracted to things like interactive fiction and like kind of like text parser games because I love writing. That's a thing that I've been doing since I was a kid. Having that interest in video games, physical computing things, I ended up getting into a space of designing installations that were also video games. And that was really fun for me. And I got into role playing games as like a player much later when I got into it in my early 20s. And I just happened upon the right games with the right group of people and I had so much fun.

Iko

What were you playing?

Seb

I played almost exclusively World of Darkness games with friends. So I did I don't have origins in like D&D, or any of the more like Wargaming Dungeon Crawl stuff. My first game was changing the last with a group of role players who are mostly LARPers and so they even treated their more like tabletop games, like just kind of a low key LARP and so that was my first introduction to role playing games was these people that would be like miming all their actions and get so immersed in their characters as they're playing it and I was like wow, this is amazing. I love this.

Iko

After discovering RPG Seb started designing RPG games solo games somehow bringing their experience in designing interactive fiction games to pen and paper RPGs. In Dwelling as you explore the haunted house, you read short fiction paragraphs, prompts, if you will, that describe what you feel and the effect of the haunting on the house. All those paragraphs are written in first person somehow dissolving the separation between the player and the designer.

Yeah, just from the incipit of the of the book, what I read sounded somehow very familiar. And what was very striking is that the game is written using AI and not you or they, I mean, I felt like I was reading my own diary somehow. And so I wanted to ask you how come, you choose to write the book that way.

Seb

Since Dwelling is an exercise for me in the autobiography both as a designer and also trying to figure out how to encourage autobiography from players, I decided to write the story and a lot of the prompts in the tense of it. So you're reading this in a first person's perspective of the narrator talking kind of to themselves as they wander around this house late at night. thing that started coming out of it, as I played around with like, the tense of the game was this idea of like enmeshed autobiography and sharing a story with a person. So you kind of complete my thoughts and my instances as the narrator in the game. And so we ended up living through this night together. And we experienced these things together and recall different things together. And so it becomes this shared night and a haunted house between me and the player. Some players have noted that if you really can get into the headspace of being I and responding is I and thinking in the stream of thought of I am walking through this house, and I'm following these strange noises. And I am having encounters with ghosts. And it becomes this very personal lived experience thing, interestingly, like immersive and like an intimate play experience. Yeah, I was very interested in being I and what that could come out of that.

Iko

Insomnia I mean, is something very familiar in my life. Since I was a kid, I had some somnambulism experiences. And I come from a cultural background where talking about ghosts, it's, I wouldn't say encouraged, but somehow it's normal. It's part of life, there was something very familiar for me reading your book, and you speaking about autobiography on both sides, you know, encouraging the autobiographical experience on both sides, the side of the player and the side of the designer, what's the autobiographical part on your side in this project?

Seb

Yeah, there's just like a lot of small details that I've pulled for my own life that I ended up putting up into the game. I'm glad that it resonates to you as someone who has experienced like, insomnia and stuff because I have lived with that my whole life, I get it really bad. And so I have a lot of experience of just being kind of sleepless and delirious and wandering through a house at night. A lot of the stuff kind of got pulled, especially from my childhood, because I had very strangely very bad childhood insomnia, I when I was very young, and I lived in this fairy old, spooky house that I was certain it was haunted. My, the rest of my family never really wanted to engage with me on that. And so I had a lot of just like weird experiences in this house, and especially late at night. So I'll just be like, by myself wandering through my very old spooky farmhouse, having just kind of weird experiences with the house. Yeah, and then I have like, these different lists have just like kind of emotions and sensory reactions that I would want people to have in these different rooms in the house. And so there's rooms of like, feeling like you're sneaking through someone else's room, and you shouldn't be there, which is the thing I did a lot as a kid. And so like, I brought these feelings and like these sensory emotion associations with these memories into each of those rooms to help flesh out the Spectres that would like haunt that room and haunt that specific memory. The thing is, there is like no, unfortunately, like universal experiences, it's hard to find what a universal experiences and recreate one so I just wanted to be really mindful of like, well, what was the most resonant thing for me and there is a chance that it will be the most resonant thing for another person.

Iko

It's quite a big universe, this house you know, and extremely, I mean, it's only a house but it's it's huge somehow. And yeah, I was wondering, how did you write it? Did you draw it? Did you did you draw like a map of the house or did you What was the writing process?

Seb

So I knew to begin with I was going to need to be able to like keep the house consistent for myself while writing it because there is some very tricky things that I do with confusing geometry in the house to make it feel very dreamlike. I think I'm very inspired by things like The Haunting of Hill House by by Shirley Jackson, her descriptions of like this very strange house that has so many rooms that you sometimes think you are going into the right room and then you're not but it's still like a very solid house. That's very strange. It's surreal. So I ended up drawing out diagrams, floor plans of the house and then like drawing a path through these different changed floorplans as that you take through the game, so it would help me have that clear idea of like the path the narrator takes as they walk through the house at night. The Dwelling Addition, which is the zine that has a few extra rooms for the house. And I also included some designer notes and it has those floor plans, scans of those floor plans that I like cut and pasted together to kind of collage a very strange house.

Iko

The way the layout of the spreads with the stairs is done creates a lot of somehow movement. I don't know, the way you use the stairs in the book helped me a lot understanding the geometry of the house, even if it's changing geometry, you know.

Seb

Funny thing that I was trying to work out. And it's a funny way to try and like phrase it in its like succinctness as like I was trying to make the book the house. Yeah. And so I was like how in laying out the pages and how with the illustrations and setting up the rooms, do I make the book feel like a house. And so part of that was the layouts of the stairs like cutting through the layouts to like really be clear of like the verticality of like you're going up and down flights of stairs, based on how they break through the pages. And a funny thing with the illustrations and how the book is laid out is I treat the pages and the spreads like they are walls and so each room is set up so if you were to like hold the book, if it was like at a right angle, that's how the room would look if you were staring into a corner I wanted players to like visually connect with the house outside of the writing is if you're holding the physical book in front of yourself and looking at it you kind of looks like you're staring into the corner of a very small room. And so like all the spreads are rooms scale of like each each spread is a room with like the doors and the furniture and windows and so you would place things into that enter the room as it would like take up space in real life Dwelling’s both a book and a notepad as you explore the house and read prompts you are expected to write and even to draw on the book each room is illustrated by a very simple drawing almost a sketch and you are encouraged to use it as a starting point to draw your own interpretation of the room.

Iko

Yeah, moving on from layout to art, you know, there are illustrations on the book, which are very well thought because there are precise enough to give a mood vibe of the house, but they are open or loose or or maybe vague enough to leave room for the imagination of the reader. So I wanted to know, how did you work on that.

Seb

The illustrations and the are was something I also went through like an iterative process of trying to figure out the best way to do this because when I first set out to do it, I ended up doing these like full page full colour quite detailed, like spreads like illustrations of rooms. And then I needed to like stop and take a step back and think about what I wanted out of the game, how I wanted the players to interface with the game. And then I was like, Okay, if there's part of the game where I want people to draw over these illustrations or at least even mentally draw over these illustrations, I need to take it back. So I wanted to give still some of those details enough of a gesture that you know that this is a room that you know, this is a kitchen or bedroom or living room. But there is enough space for you to put your own memories in your own associations for people who are maybe a little bit nervous about drawing and being good at illustration, seeing something that looks a little unfinished, they'll be like, Oh, I can still do this, I can still play this game and draw something in it. Because they won't feel like they're going to be ruining anything or clashing with the style because the style is the illustrations themselves are an invitation for the players to finish the room and whatever style they want.

Iko

Yeah. And listen, is this something you do like having a diary or you know, I mean, or something that you have done? You know, like writing sketching?

Seb

Yeah, I I've tried to keep a diary. I sometimes find I'm pretty bad at like the normal upkeep of it. But like currently right now I have three different notebooks that are just filled with like illustration and notes and ideas and then like pictures that I printed out and put in there because I thought was really cool or my own drawings or just post it notes or I kind of treat things as like a very strange like collage collection of ideas and different things. So I I personally I love that I I'm big on like keeping kind of archives of my thoughts and things that I'm working on. For every project that I have that I work on. I'll have like a dedicated notebook. And I'll always make notes if I decide not to do things Because I find often those those are more important to me than the right decisions to make something and how do you pick the notebook? Oh, I don't have a consistent pick for the notebook. I always like to switch it up between project with Dwelling and doing floor plans. I got like an architectural notebook. That way, it was easier for me to like plan out the floor plans plan out the rooms. My current project one is just all blank pages, but it needs to be a thicker paper because I like to occasionally just like ink ink draw and it and it needs to be able to not bleed through and completely ruin the notebook. And so I like to pick my like designer notebooks based on like what the project is. And what I can imagine working through my process will look like if it's something that I'm like, Oh, this is going to be maybe more like a scrapbook I'll get like a wire bound notebook. So I can like shove as many pages in it as possible. I'm not going to break a spine or anything.

Iko

Yeah, exploring a haunted house and doing solo journaling about it can be quite an intense experience. Dwelling comes with safety tools that can help enjoy the game experience. While feeling safe emotionally. One of the tools is a card representing a key and holding the card physically can help you check how you feel as you explore their haunted house. The other tool is a keyhole card. It is designed in a way that it's not only a safety tool, but actually it can be a piece of the game itself.

Seb

It's a very interesting thing with safety tools, because I feel like having them outside of the game is very good for the purpose of like safety of like pulling yourself out of the game when you need to. But I was interested in how safety tools could work as like pre empting, anything that might make you uncomfortable and integrate the safety into the story of the game. My main concern when I was designing them is how would they work narratively in the story, how would they work alongside the gameplay of the regular game because the point of it was players didn't have to just completely skipped rooms, they could have just a different experience with the room. And that was a bit more narratively cohesive. So the way the safety tools work is there is these big postcard that are of a key hole and the actual key hole and like the physical addition is cut out. So it gives you a little keyhole window. So the idea is you lay it over the page over the room that you don't want to enter. And instead it treats us as if the door is locked. And you're peering through the keyhole because you can maybe hear something in the room, but the doors locked, so you can't get in there. So you just instead of going into the room and having this encounter with this ghost and having this moment of memory recollection that maybe you don't want to do instead you have a moment of just peering through keyhole looking into the room, you kind of get a gesture of what could be happening. And at the end of the day, you're like, Oh, thank goodness, that door is locked, I don't have to go in it. There could have been something very bad in there. And then I'll go on to the next room.

Iko

Somehow in the game, there are three characters, the designer who has written the micro fiction prompts as a diary, the player who writes or draws on the book, designer and player together, both are the narrator of the story. And there is the dead uncle, he appears at the beginning of the book, and then again at the end, somehow closing the circle.

Seb

So the interaction and like kind of the character of the uncle and how he comes back is for me when I think a lot about haunted houses and things of haunting. It's it's really hard for me to like separate that from grief and mourning and grief is not a bad thing. It's a hard thing. It's an uncomfortable thing. But it's a thing that takes place in a lot of different circumstances in our life. Grief is not reserved solely for when someone passes and we miss them. Grief happens when there's parts of our lives that we can't connect to anymore or there's friends that we don't talk to anymore or not or even being not able to like return to like childhood homes or places we've been because they just don't exist anymore. There's like that level of grief. So the nature of like autobio and stuff with the uncle is that that's actually grounded in I've had an uncle who I was very close to is very important to me who passed away and that grieving period for me, it was just very rough. And it was very prolonged because when it happened I didn't feel like I could actually properly process it. And so for years afterwards, I just kind of carried around the spectre of grief. I would feel it sometimes in these like very fancy ways, but I never had this proper way of just like really feeling my feelings. Yeah, just like having that connection to him. And like honouring that grief is like very important to me. So that was a big part of like making a haunted house game and talking a lot about ghosts. I have to I have to like talk about grief and how how do we interrogate our grief? And how do we sit with our grief? And I figured it would probably be a good experience for a lot of other people because I assume most other people experienced grief.

Iko

The book and therefore the night ends with a different kind of prompt a question to which only two possible answers are offered as a player, you have to choose one of the answers and read the corresponding paragraph. The mechanic is reminiscent of the classical Choose Your Own Adventure books.

Seb

The game ends with a choice, there's two options of how to like sort of officially end the game. And for me, that was a way to help lead the player into, I guess, a sense of feeling of closure with ending the game because sometimes some solo games like you could truly just keep playing it forever. And there are some games that I've unfortunately played where I've just been like, I have played it until I kind of got tired of the game. And that, for me isn't a very satisfactory way to end a game. But also, since I wanted to tie this to like fiction and have a story, it will have to end in some way or another in a way that kind of like wraps things up. And so for the last few rooms that kind of de-escalates a little bit. I wanted to lead players slowly into the end of the game, trying to give them as much of a soft landing as possible out of the game. There's also a little epilogue that you can read that details what happens when the night is over. And if you're going to have a very intense night in a haunted house, eventually the night has to end. And that's that was my choice of like, how does this night end for you.

Iko

In addition to the game book, Sab has worked and is working on expanding Dwelling the edits and additions in and their writing tools to expand the game.

Seb

I have an Addition zine that's also available in digital and physical. And that was a little bit extra rooms and some designer notes and stuff. So far for me with Dwelling I think I'm pretty good on creating content for it, not content, but like rooms and notes and things for the player. So with Dwelling, I'm interested in trying to create sort of, I guess, sort of like a system reference document. So if other people are interested in this framework, and would like to create games like this, I would like to have that for them and trying to also convert how the safety tools work into more of a open ended framework so other people can use those for those games as well. So that is an exciting thing that I'm trying to work on of like trying to really get the structure of the game in its barest things ready for people who want to make something like it or just kind of take a look at what like the bare bones structure of the game would look like or the safety tools and get that together for any designers who are interested in it or just I guess curious players

Iko

That was Seb Pines, designer of Dwelling, horror soldier running RPG the game is available digitally from Seb's itch.io page or as a book from Good Luck Press. I'll add the links in the show notes. Dwelling is an amazing game I can't recommend enough to read and play it.

You have listened to The Lost Bay Podcast, a show about and with indie tabletop role playing game designers and artists. It's produced by me Iko, and music is by Avery Isles. If you enjoyed the show and want to help me grow in it, please consider supporting it on patreon, at patreon.com/thelostbay I'll put the Patreon link in the show notes. The Lost Bay Podcast episodes are also available on YouTube with English subtitles. Thanks for listening and until next time, stay well.