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.