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A Walk in the Woods With a Family Secret

Inspiration for Bernie Schulenburg's emotionally-charged 2D platformer, Where is My Heart?, came from an unexpected place.

The origin of every video game is different. Maybe it’s expanding on a brilliant mechanic, perhaps it's a simply adapting reality. Or, as was the case for Die Gute Fabrik designer Bernie Schulenburg, inspiration comes from a specific, very personal event.

Schulenburg was hiking with his parents three summers ago in a forest near his home, a spot roughly eight hours from Die Gute Fubrik’s home base in Copenhagen, Denmark.

“We got lost because we didn’t have a map,” he told me during a recent Skype conversation. “There are all these paths that criss-cross the forest. It’s not really a deep forest or anything, it’s just that we didn’t have a map and lost our orientation.”

An early sketch of what would eventually become the first stage of Where is My Heart?

The group began to bicker, argue and, according to Schulenburg, it quickly “brought out all the negative personality traits we all had.”

There was a reason tension surrounded the three of them, though.

Just a year prior, the family became aware that Schulenburg’s father had been cheating on his mother. While wandering aimlessly through the forest, even one as simple as this, the unsaid rifts from the betrayal caused tensions between the three to violently bubble to the surface.

This experience laid the foundation for Where is my Heart?, which recently launched as PSP Mini for $6.99 on PlayStation Network. Since it’s a Mini, it’s playable on both PSP and PlayStation 3, and the pixel art looks gorgeous on the latter.

It’s a seemingly simplistic platform that consistently defies expectations, prompting players to completely rethink what it usually means to go from left to right in 2D. It’s a game that demands less from your fingers than it does from your brain...which may melt quickly.

Where is My Heart? is not all that complicated, instead riffing on a few key concepts throughout the 25-level adventure.

“I wanted to actually let it be even [closely] related to this experience [in the forest],” he said. “I wanted to have all these game mechanics express some kind of thing. I found that was too ambitious or too complex to handle, so I thought ‘Okay, we’ll just try to make this game be some kind of mood image or a sketch.”

This is hardly the first game derived from an emotional event, but it’s common for those stories to be kept locked away, letting players try to derive meaning. Schulenburg wanted to be upfront about his intentions, though, so he was forced to constantly recall his trip to the forest. Eventually, he became detached thinking about it, as the story adopted a second nature quality.

“At a point, there is only so much you can talk about it,” he said. “We talked about it at the beginning, then when somebody new came on board, we explained it to them, how it all came to be. Then, at a point, you can just...there’s only so much you can say about it, really.”

Few tales about game development describe the process as easy. As development went on, Schulenburg began to wonder whether making such a personal game was the right decision. He wasn’t just making this game by himself, he was putting other people through the ringer, too. Were they enjoying themselves? Was any of this even worth it? Will it end?

There was a game to be made and finished under contract, however. Schulenburg sucked it up and moved on.

“You do, at a point, turn a little numb and just do it and you see what people think about it,” he said.

The reaction has been awfully positive, though it’s unfortunate many people may end up overlooking the game, having already passed judgement on the Minis program. It’s worth another look, especially knowing the story behind it. In-between each stage are brief quotes, all of which are meant to better inform what Schulenburg’s family was experiencing a few summers back. If you don’t know about the story, Schulenburg hopes it succeeds in painting an emotional picture--a mood image, as he put it.

“You always have to scrap a lot of ideas, and now that it’s out, it feels really relieving, and it’s really awesome that people like it. It’s super nice to hear everything about this,” he said. “It’s really nice.”

As simple as this stage looks, it quickly becomes totally, completely, crazily confusing to manage.

Hopefully not by coincidence, PlayStation Network is amassing quite the lineup of offbeat, emotional video games. Where is My Heart? will not be the last, as 2012 is supposed to bring Papo & Yo, a game inspired by designer Vander Caballero's history with his drug-abusing father.

Schulenburg had not heard about Papo & Yo when we talked, but expressed a desire for more designers to take this route.

“I hope there will be more of these games--personal games--that make it to a broader audience,” he said.

Just because Where is My Heart? came from a personal place doesn’t mean all of Schulenburg’s future games will, too. He’s working on a comic “loosely based” on Where is My Heart? and has plans for a companion game set in the Alps about gardening. It’s technically rooted in a childhood memory of his mother and aunt maintaining an orchard, but that was only a launching point for the idea.

This all assumes he finds funding for what’s next, of course.

“If the game doesn’t sell that great, then I can’t actually continue developing games, and I have to just get a job as an engineer somewhere,” he said, with a hint of a sigh. “So I’m not really thinking about that yet.”

Schulenburg still visits that forest, by the way. He comes back once a year.

“I try to make a point of not going with both my parents anymore,” he joked.

Make sure you keep an eye on Die Gute Fabrik, by the way. It's also making the ridiculously fun Johann Sebastian Joust.

Patrick Klepek on Google+
35 Comments
Posted by patrickklepek

The origin of every video game is different. Maybe it’s expanding on a brilliant mechanic, perhaps it's a simply adapting reality. Or, as was the case for Die Gute Fabrik designer Bernie Schulenburg, inspiration comes from a specific, very personal event.

Schulenburg was hiking with his parents three summers ago in a forest near his home, a spot roughly eight hours from Die Gute Fubrik’s home base in Copenhagen, Denmark.

“We got lost because we didn’t have a map,” he told me during a recent Skype conversation. “There are all these paths that criss-cross the forest. It’s not really a deep forest or anything, it’s just that we didn’t have a map and lost our orientation.”

An early sketch of what would eventually become the first stage of Where is My Heart?

The group began to bicker, argue and, according to Schulenburg, it quickly “brought out all the negative personality traits we all had.”

There was a reason tension surrounded the three of them, though.

Just a year prior, the family became aware that Schulenburg’s father had been cheating on his mother. While wandering aimlessly through the forest, even one as simple as this, the unsaid rifts from the betrayal caused tensions between the three to violently bubble to the surface.

This experience laid the foundation for Where is my Heart?, which recently launched as PSP Mini for $6.99 on PlayStation Network. Since it’s a Mini, it’s playable on both PSP and PlayStation 3, and the pixel art looks gorgeous on the latter.

It’s a seemingly simplistic platform that consistently defies expectations, prompting players to completely rethink what it usually means to go from left to right in 2D. It’s a game that demands less from your fingers than it does from your brain...which may melt quickly.

Where is My Heart? is not all that complicated, instead riffing on a few key concepts throughout the 25-level adventure.

“I wanted to actually let it be even [closely] related to this experience [in the forest],” he said. “I wanted to have all these game mechanics express some kind of thing. I found that was too ambitious or too complex to handle, so I thought ‘Okay, we’ll just try to make this game be some kind of mood image or a sketch.”

This is hardly the first game derived from an emotional event, but it’s common for those stories to be kept locked away, letting players try to derive meaning. Schulenburg wanted to be upfront about his intentions, though, so he was forced to constantly recall his trip to the forest. Eventually, he became detached thinking about it, as the story adopted a second nature quality.

“At a point, there is only so much you can talk about it,” he said. “We talked about it at the beginning, then when somebody new came on board, we explained it to them, how it all came to be. Then, at a point, you can just...there’s only so much you can say about it, really.”

Few tales about game development describe the process as easy. As development went on, Schulenburg began to wonder whether making such a personal game was the right decision. He wasn’t just making this game by himself, he was putting other people through the ringer, too. Were they enjoying themselves? Was any of this even worth it? Will it end?

There was a game to be made and finished under contract, however. Schulenburg sucked it up and moved on.

“You do, at a point, turn a little numb and just do it and you see what people think about it,” he said.

The reaction has been awfully positive, though it’s unfortunate many people may end up overlooking the game, having already passed judgement on the Minis program. It’s worth another look, especially knowing the story behind it. In-between each stage are brief quotes, all of which are meant to better inform what Schulenburg’s family was experiencing a few summers back. If you don’t know about the story, Schulenburg hopes it succeeds in painting an emotional picture--a mood image, as he put it.

“You always have to scrap a lot of ideas, and now that it’s out, it feels really relieving, and it’s really awesome that people like it. It’s super nice to hear everything about this,” he said. “It’s really nice.”

As simple as this stage looks, it quickly becomes totally, completely, crazily confusing to manage.

Hopefully not by coincidence, PlayStation Network is amassing quite the lineup of offbeat, emotional video games. Where is My Heart? will not be the last, as 2012 is supposed to bring Papo & Yo, a game inspired by designer Vander Caballero's history with his drug-abusing father.

Schulenburg had not heard about Papo & Yo when we talked, but expressed a desire for more designers to take this route.

“I hope there will be more of these games--personal games--that make it to a broader audience,” he said.

Just because Where is My Heart? came from a personal place doesn’t mean all of Schulenburg’s future games will, too. He’s working on a comic “loosely based” on Where is My Heart? and has plans for a companion game set in the Alps about gardening. It’s technically rooted in a childhood memory of his mother and aunt maintaining an orchard, but that was only a launching point for the idea.

This all assumes he finds funding for what’s next, of course.

“If the game doesn’t sell that great, then I can’t actually continue developing games, and I have to just get a job as an engineer somewhere,” he said, with a hint of a sigh. “So I’m not really thinking about that yet.”

Schulenburg still visits that forest, by the way. He comes back once a year.

“I try to make a point of not going with both my parents anymore,” he joked.

Make sure you keep an eye on Die Gute Fabrik, by the way. It's also making the ridiculously fun Johann Sebastian Joust.

Posted by The_Reflection

cool

Posted by EightBitShik

I have no idea what this is about but very curious

Posted by Napalm

Great article, Patrick. I am certainly intrigued by this game not so much for the gameplay, but the story, as I, at some point, was in a similar situation.

Posted by Yamibito

Great game, great article.

Posted by Phatmac

Thanks for writing about smaller stories that most sites wouldn't run. Great job as always Patrick, this is what makes Giant Bomb different from the pack.

Posted by AssInAss

That's a great story and that Quick Look's insane (non-euclidean geometry, much? lol), and I have a PS3 so I will check it out to see if the 3 characters have a fight.

Posted by DigTheDoug

Great article! I require more pieces like this and the recent Alex and Jeff ones!

Posted by kennybaese

I totally missed this when it was free for PSPlus... Next time I go and get a PSN card though, I'mma download the shit out of it. Sounds really interesting.

Posted by Ravenlight

I really hope this comes to a different platform eventually. I don't plan on buying a PSP Mini or a PS3.

Edited by Palaeomerus

There seems to be a trend today in certain indy games being marketed as a "very personal" reflection of some dark emotional corner of the designer's life that gives their game special meaning. We saw it with Papa Y Yo, and before that in the absence of any real information we speculated about what Jonathan Blow was really trying to say about himself and his past with Braid.

This trend is not reaching excessive levels yet, BUT it definitely reminds me of a past summer olympics where the coverage was focused on the expectation that ALMOST EVERY SINGLE ATHLETE interviewed would mention some form of personal misery, trouble, or unhappiness in their past life that they had bravely channeled into their reason for competing in the games.

It was an odd tone to set for TV about young people doing track and field. Moan then compete!

The athletes all tried to comply with the theme but some of them were basically reduced to extra-weird and uncomfortable reaching like "Chistina was a rich stacked gorgeous blond teenager with lots of friends, brought up in a four story house with a pony stable, tennis courts, and a boat-pond surrounded by a fruit tree grove in Chile. Her parents didn't always quite understand her so she channeled her feelings of helplessness and alienation, her fear of nuclear war, and her dislike of bees, into javelin throwing, archery, and indoor rock climbing. Today she has overcome those forces to stand as a third string alternate for the Chilean javelin team! " or " Douglas from Switzerland overcame painful memories of the death of his maternal grandmother and the tragic failure of his father's sideline mail order shoe business when he was six and this is what moved him to dedicate his life to perfecting the short form relay. He also struggles day to day with acne, ingrown toenails, early onset male pattern baldness and concerns about an upcoming wisdom tooth surgery his dentist has scheduled for after the games!."

If Indy game marketing becomes overly concerned with airing personal biographical baggage as inspiration for the games then this could easily turn farcical.

Edited by Make_Me_Mad

I like articles like this one. Gives you a little insight into what's going on with the game, which is almost never a bad thing.

Posted by ghostNPC

This is why giantbomb is great; articles like these.

Edited by jukeboxzer0

Awesome article. Played where is my heart and liked it. Now I'm interested in Papo & Yo, thanks Patrick!

Posted by ArcadiaExeter

ive been eagerly awaiting papo & yo, and there is a good chance i will pick this up as well. i do hope more games come from a more personal place.

Posted by MadLaughter

Good article. I think that it's unfortunate this game is part of the minis program, but it's cool that people are making games from their hearts.

Posted by nyv

@Palaeomerus: I don't think that is going to hurt anything.

To me, you are comparing apples to peaches. Olympic games are all about the individuals, people and eventually their country. With video games it is different, since you are looking at the final product of the developers. It's very much like understanding the background of J. Kerouac or Piet Mondrian. The personal story of the developer is good to know to understand their final piece. By this comparison you could say, that video games has to be looked at as art to fully grasp their meaning. And since Indie games are very often a product of one man's vision they tend to be personal, emotional and expressive - all definitely qualities of art.

Posted by LegendaryChopChop

More coverage on indie games is always a good thing.

Posted by Vandersveldt

I still have the original PSP from when they first came out. I haven't touched it in years. Does anyone know if the whole 'playstation mini' thing will work on it? Or do I need a newer model? I would LOVE to play this at work on my lunch break!

Posted by mosespippy

@Vandersveldt: If you download the latest PSP firmware update you will be able to sign into PSN on your PSP and buy it from the store.

Posted by Vexxan

Awesome, truly shows that a game can be born from anything, be it an idea, a feeling or an event in ones life.

Posted by mrhollender

This was one of those free Playstation Minis for PS+ members that usually suck. I decided to download it anyway and give it a go, and man is it great. So smart, and really touching.

Posted by tayls

All about this thing. I can't believe that I missed that damn free week.

Posted by foxhound421

this is an awesome little game and i'm glad to see it getting some coverage in the midst of all of the big holiday releases. if you like 2D platformers with a twist, you could do a lot worse than Where is My Heat?

Posted by MisterMouse

I hope this guy can make some more video games... seriously...

Posted by happypup70

@Palaeomerus said:

There seems to be a trend today in certain indy games being marketed as a "very personal" reflection of some dark emotional corner of the designer's life that gives their game special meaning. We saw it with Papa Y Yo, and before that in the absence of any real information we speculated about what Jonathan Blow was really trying to say about himself and his past with Braid.

This trend is not reaching excessive levels yet, BUT it definitely reminds me of a past summer olympics where the coverage was focused on the expectation that ALMOST EVERY SINGLE ATHLETE interviewed would mention some form of personal misery, trouble, or unhappiness in their past life that they had bravely channeled into their reason for competing in the games.

If Indy game marketing becomes overly concerned with airing personal biographical baggage as inspiration for the games then this could easily turn farcical.

I think this trend just shows that video games have grown up. For a while now the Video Game as Art concept has been floating around. Understanding the artist helps to understand the art. People are interested in the developers inspiration on a game. I understand where you are coming from with fear of a farcical turn, but I for one want to know about or speculate on the stories behind the stories I play. After all I end up having a deep emotional connection with some of these games.

Edited by seamus85

great article Patrick

Posted by Klaimore

I'll be sure to take a look at these games. Great article Patrick.

Posted by the_OFFICIAL_jAPanese_teaBAG

This is a great article Patrick!  This game seems interesting, I havent seen my PSP in a long ass time....

Posted by richyeah

I played this at a launch down here in Australia in November. I didn't realise it was a Danish game. It was a fantastic game.

Posted by dropabombonit

Great story Patrick, doing a fantastic job

Posted by jkuc316

This article made me buy this game. This game was even mentioned in the PS.Blogcast

Posted by fapa

Too bad that "Where is my Heart" is a PSP-mini it looks really cool.

Posted by Little_Socrates

I'm going to assume you're covering this because you want me to play it, Patrick. I'll probably do just that. But for now, I'm not gonna read this article, as it'll probably take out any chance of me forming my own thoughts on the game.

Posted by MajesticOverlord

I felt unbelievably sick while watching the gameplay video... I'll have to pass on this game.