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Patrick Smith of Vectorpark on the IT Crowd, toy-boxes and his new game

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This short piece originally appeared on Edge Online, before that site disappeared into the maw of Gamesradar+. If they ever put it back up, I’m happy to take this down.

Out there, in the great world of development, there are publisher cities, mainstream towns, indie villages, and hipster hamlets. In the mountains, the few remaining hermit developers craft wonderfully bizarre and aberrant trinkets, until they’re dragged into the mainstream. And Vectorpark is a shining, ragged example of the latter.

We’ve praised the company’s toyboxes – notably Feed The Head and Windosill – in the past. And even if you don’t know them, you might recognise his work from the playful gamelike DVD menus for the IT Crowd. However, despite much critical praise, Vectorpark is notable for never having made the jump to the mainstream. Given that, you might not be surprised to learn that Vector Park has just two employees listed on its website. They are the company President and the mail room clerk – and they’re the same man, Patrick Smith.

And he hasn’t produced a game since 2011’s Acrobots. Not that he’s stopped completely, as he tells us. “I’m hard at work, as we speak, on an interactive Alphabet. With any luck, I’ll be finished early-to-mid next year.” He’s more been focused on activities that seem more important to him, day-to-day. “Coding, doodling, staring at the ceiling. Occasional naps.” We can dig that.

It’s notable that Smith doesn’t seem to care whether he’s making games, installations or websites. “I took some breaks this year to work on some installation projects: one is a set of animated wallpapers for a restaurant in Brooklyn (Dassara), and the other is a collaboration with the illustrator Malika Favre — an interactive projection for a hotel in Amsterdam.”

He also doesn’t seem to care about whether the work is generally well-received. “My stuff is on a slightly unusual wavelength, and not everyone is going to dig that. And that’s okay! Expecting everyone, or even most people, to love what you do is pretty unrealistic. If a thousand people in the world are receptive to my work, that still seems like quite a lot.”

But it’s key to him that he’s into the project. “Mostly, I’m just encouraged if I have a good idea, or a bad idea that I’m excited about.” For example, he found working on the IT Crowd fascinating, but difficult. “I love the show; it’s hilarious. So it’s pretty much the coolest freelance job I could ask for. It was something of a challenge to satisfy both myself and Graham (Linehan, the show’s creator), but he’s a brilliant guy, and the end result was better for it.”

And, mostly, he’s excited about toy boxes as much as games. “Toy-like, because I’m partial to pointless, playful, and hopefully-beautiful trifles. Game-like, because a game provides a structure — a backbone — and gives the user a means of navigating through the experience. I think of puzzles as kinda like speed-bumps, designed to slow you down and make you participate with the environment.”

“But of course, not everything needs to be a game. Sometimes I’ll have the germ of something, that I know I like, but I don’t really know what it IS yet. So I have to step back and let it breathe a bit. It’s a mysterious process. I have things I started years ago that I still haven’t figured out what to do with.”

“I think it’s just my own personal inclination. I’m not terribly interested in puzzles per se, but I enjoy the way a system can evoke a sense of a larger reality. As a user, being invited to interact with that reality can be, in some cases, a fairly magical experience.” Indeed, the games that Smith himself plays fit with the ones he makes; currently, he says that he’s looking forward to Gorogoa, Kachina, and Hohokum. “Maybe I just like weird names?” he asks.

Staying on the outside certainly seems to give Smith a different perspective. “From my point of view, I’m basically doing the same thing I was doing since before Windosill, before Feed the Head, back when I wasn’t even really aware of an indie game scene.”

“It’s kinda like living in the wilderness for years and one day discovering an entire town has sprung up nearby. It’s great to have some neighbors, maybe you even make some friends, but at the end of the day you’re still growing your own food. Not that I have any idea how to grow food.” We can’t have him starving. Somebody, anybody; feed the head.

Why I understand the fears of British jews.

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The papers are reporting that Britain is more antisemitic than it’s been for a long time. They’re also reporting that both Jewish celebrities and everyday folk are thinking about leaving Britain. As a Jew, I understand their fear. As a bad, atheist, secular Jew, I understand why they want to move to Israel but think it’s a mad decision.

Few of my British friends seem to be taking it seriously, which increases my empathy. They seem to treat it as just some media personalities and subset of Jews being hysterical, that it couldn’t happen in their Britain. It’s true that […]

My FrankenGame of the Year

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I liked a lot of games this year, and played far more games than I usually do. Yet, save for review, I didn’t find myself playing a single game a whole lot (blame buying a flat / moving flat / having a baby) and only finished a handful – perhaps only The Banner Saga, Transistor, and Shadows of Mordor. Others I played a whole lot – Dragon Age: Inquisition, Dark Souls II, South Park: The Stick of Truth – but wouldn’t put in a top list. Some were great – Out There, Infested Planet, Abyss Odyssey, Nidhogg, Xenonauts – but I don’t […]

Why our child won’t have my name.

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So, we’re having a child. In less than a month. And it won’t have my name. There are many rational reasons why this is, but the main one, to get out of the way, is that the presumption a child should take the father’s name is nonsense on stilts. Tradition is never a good argument.

On top of that, there’s good feminist reasons for he/she/it (damn the lack of an acceptable gender neutral) to have my partner’s name – to balance out the long history of mankind where children didn’t have women’s names and women were excluded from society, seen just […]

A Metric TON of my old Command & Conquer interviews

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So, a long time ago, I wrote a retrospective for PC Gamer about Command & Conquer. Like a conscientious hack, I did a tonne of interviews with people who’d worked on the project – far more than I needed to, because it’s always fun to reminisce with your heroes. […]