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Porpentine's Wonderful World of Slime

Intensely personal, erotic, bizarre, and unabashedly honest are just a few words that describe the work of Porpentine, one of gaming's most absorbing designers.

As game development becomes more accessible, it's becoming more personal. Not everyone wants to retell the hero's journey for the millionth time. There are other stories out there, stories people can intimately relate to. Designers like Porpentine are at the forefront of this movement.

Some of Porpentine's games are likely to make you uncomfortable. You cannot play a Porpentine game without getting to know a part of who she is, and your reaction will depend on your own life experiences. In most cases, though, it will be a lack thereof. Viewed through the lens of her games, Porpentine has not had an easy life, but her games provide players an empathetic, sharply humorous glimpse into her world.

And, yes, before we get any further, Porpentine is her real name.

"I love that Porpentine starts with a squishy sound and ends sharp," she said, "with an almost fragile 'tine'--it has all these dimensions and contradictions you can feel with your mouth. And it's good for making puns."

If only takes a moment on Porpentine's website to gain an immediate sense of her style--brash, loud, and full of slime. These principles are front-and-center throughout many of her games. But that's just the opening paragraph, and it buries the subtle lede that defines the complicated underbelly of her work. It's the megaphone that prompts you to pay attention to Porpentine. But it's misleading, as it can suggest a shallowness that's not present in the games themselves.

Porpentine came to my attention during the Game Developers Conference last year. When Cart Life won the Independent Games Festival's Seumas McNally Grand Prize, its designer ripped down his booth and let Porpentine show off her Twine-based Howling Dogs. I never got around to playing Howling Dogs, a game she's tried to move on from, hoping to escape being defined as a creator of text games.

Many of her new games, such as Armada, have graphics, though writing remains a key component.

When I spoke to Porpentine on Twitter, this anxiety seemed present. She really, really wanted to talk about her new games, one of which was, actually, the reason I wanted to talk to her: Ultra Business Tycoon III.

You have to play Ultra Business Tycoon III. I implore you. I beg you. It's remarkable. Ultra Business Tycoon III initially presents as a text adventure set within a world of trash, violence, and rampant death. It quickly becomes clear it's not only that but also an astonishingly accurate homage to games of the era (right down to an NFO file) and a darkly humorous window into a moment in Porpentine's youth. These moments come out of nowhere, and often strike a stark tonal contrast to everything else.

But once Ultra Business Tycoon III's dynamics are clear, it's hard to put down, a simultaneously heartbreaking and exhilarating experience that also has one of last year's best "a-ha" moments.

Ultra Business Tycoon III is decidedly retro, and Porpentine's put enormous thought into this idea.

"[Designers usually] reproduce them in a way that is not capturing why we care about them so much," she said. "They are separating it from our experiences as a child. A lot of my thinking on this subject has to do with Kat Lake writings on this subject. She wrote something called Phantom Games--it’s a little essay. Basically, the idea is that you can’t just reproduce the power of nostalgia just through a system. It’s what was going on in our lives when we were playing these games. When I was playing these games, I was growing up in an abusive household, and you’re not going to find that magic just by slavishly reproduces the graphical essence of it or the mechanics. That’s why it’s got these shareware-y things, but it’s also blended. I couldn’t have done it if I hadn’t blended it with real-life."

You're going to spend lots of time looking at things that will kill you in Ultra Business Tycoon III.

One reason a Porpentine game can feel uncomfortable is precisely how nakedly honest she can be about her own life experiences. It's challenging to put yourself out there, and, in some ways, ask to be judged. Not everyone will be kind, and not everyone will understand. But Porpentine does this over and over in her work. There is purpose to it, though it seems awfully exhausting.

"I started out going to the gym and doing lots of emotional push-ups," she said. "There’s lots and lots of steroids involved, it’s totally illegal."

(I'll remember that the next time a sappy movie gets to me, or I listen to the LOST soundtrack.)

"I guess my question would be: why don’t more people put more things from their lives into things?" she said. "Are you not just putting things from other people’s lives into games, then? [...] It can be a form of catharsis once you actually get it out there. What was emotionally draining was having it actually happen to me. What was emotionally draining was having to be silent about it, like any kind of thing that’s hurt me. Once it turns into art, it becomes free in a way. It’s a way to show other people. When we share our experiences, I think it’s a very healing thing."

"I just really want people to be able to access it in every possible way. I’ll probably make things that cost money in the future, but it’s really important to me to have a lot of stuff be free and be a gift."

The act of sharing is critically important to Porpentine, as well. She wants everyone to have a chance to play most of her games, which is why they're given away for free on her website. It's no surprise to learn this philosophy is influenced by how she first started experiencing media.

"I grew up pirating everything," she said. "I grew up too poor to consume most media. The only way I was able to get it is if it was free or I pirated it."

Piracy is how I discovered music. I listened to music before piracy, but there was nothing like Spotify in early high school. But I did have Napster, which introduced me to Weezer, Pearl Jam, Radiohead, The Flaming Lips, and other musicians that formed the foundation of my ascension into having real taste.

Giving away games for nothing, however, is obviously at odds with the idea of being able to support yourself for a living though game development.

"I just really want people to be able to access it in every possible way," she said. "I’ll probably make things that cost money in the future, but it’s really important to me to have a lot of stuff be free and be a gift. Part of how I’ve been supporting myself is that I have a Patreon account."

Patreon is an interesting, relatively new service stemming from the term "patron."

"a person who gives financial or other support to a person, organization, cause, or activity."

In Armada, explore a psychedelic world with a slime trail.

Through Patreon, you can support creators, even if you're not totally sure what you're paying for. Porpentine's patrons collectively pay her $650 per game. She's averaging one release per month, but it's not like being a Kickstarter backer. Porpentine is not required to provide "updates" on what's happening, though if she stopped producing games, people could theoretically pull their support. But that's not the case right now, and it's working out for her.

"It’s really good to have that confidence as an artist, and have this material support," she said. "You can’t support marginalized artists only through singular acts of recognition or through praise. You have to give them jobs, you have to reform their day-to-day systematic existence, you have to make it worthwhile and healthy to be them. Money is a concrete thing that is very helpful to marginalized artists. Rent and food and clothing--these are all concrete needs. I’m just really glad to have that support, and it allows me to make free games."

One cannot play a Porpetine game without being left with a distinct impression. The more you play, the more you begin to feel like you know her. That's not to say all of Porpentine's games are pseudo-biographical experiences, but few designers are as willing to put themselves into their work at the risk of being misunderstood. Wrapped around these games is an grungy, dirty aesthetic, a borderline obsession with grime, slime, and trash. Porpentine does not deny this. In fact, it's a defining characteristic.

"I think trash represents this kind of lowest of the lower, this sinking point," she said. "If you’re trash, there’s nowhere else to go, and you’re co-mingling with all these things around you. It’s a refuge. It represents finding value in something that so many other people find ugly and celebrating it, which is something that applies a lot to my life and my work."

Patrick Klepek on Google+
139 Comments
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Posted by BBQBram

Something's amiss with the thumbnail.

Posted by jarowdowsky

God, I bloody loved Ultra Business Tycoon - that was a lot of fun

Posted by AMyggen
Posted by AMyggen

@hanskaosu: i've seen worse.

Anyways, great article!

Posted by Surface2Air

Porpentine is my heroin(e).

Thanks for giving her some much needed attention Patrick - I love your recent inclusion of alternative voices in the community of developers, it's been a real treat.

It's obvious there is going to be an unpleasant group that comes out for this one but I just wanted to be one voice in the positive - Porp is a true role model. Keep being fucking rad.

Posted by GeneralBison

PORPY

Posted by BigD145

"You have died during character creation."

Huh. Okay then...

Edited by wrathofconn

A point of clarification about Patreon: if she were to stop making games, people wouldn't technically even need to pull their support because nobody gets charged until the content is released (that's why it's "per game" and not "per month" or anything like that). Phrasing was just a bit odd. Cool profile though!

Posted by SpaceButler

I have a problem...

(click)

I have a problem with Twine games that make you..

(click)

I have a problem with twine games that make you click on ostensibly important words just to read the text. I can see that in some situations it can add dramatic tension, but I've seen it overused in far too many Twine games. If there are no meaningful decisions, make the chunk of text a sizable chunk.

Although, I do like this phrase from the game: "You have no idea if you skillfully made it just in time or whether the skyscraper is scripted to explode when you get outside."

Posted by patrickklepek

Be cool in these comments, people.

Staff
Edited by Efesell

Oh this'll be a classy comment thread no doubt.

Edited by Bicycle_Repairman

Interesting article which invites you to find out more for yourself. But I would have liked a deeper look into the creator or the specifics of the games. The article feels a bit flat, not to much depth. But successful article none the less because now i want to find out some more for myself.

@hanskaosu Yes that was a bit unexpected and slightly disturbing. Hints in the article where perhaps a bit to subtle for me to pick up after a quick glance. ...But hey its the internet. Live and let live. Works in the Netherlands, works on the internet.

Edited by Humanity

Patrick has an acute talent for finding, unique individuals.

Posted by TheHT

Ah, yes. I've been wondering what that one text game I played and couldn't get out of my head during the last Bombin in the AM was. Ultra Business Tycoon is fantastic.

Posted by geirr

Never heard of this person but their tumblr is fairly interesting and Ultra Business Tycoon III is really cool. Downloading Armada right now!

Posted by Nmckee503

As someone who want's to make some incredibly personal stuff (my chosen medium happens to be short films/documentaries), super happy to find this article. Good to know there are like-minded people out there who want to create this stuff, and also people who want to experience it. Makes it a lot easier to go do that rewrite cause you can't just use the 'but nobody cares about this shit' excuse.

Posted by Pezen

I like how life has a way of throwing odd things together at the same time. Suddenly Giant Bomb covers some Twine action just as I am learning the ropes and is working on a short story with Twine. Whatever! I'll check out some of her work, sounds interesting!

Edited by buft

Is that Liam from Super Best Friends? I swear its almost 100% his clone with a different hair cut

Posted by Frobitz

Love Porp's bizarre style, it's good to see her getting coverage on Giantbomb.

Well worth checking her articles on Rock Paper Shotgun, some fantastically odd indie PC games she unearths.

Edited by Milkman

TRASHMERGING IS INCOMPATIBLE WITH CAPITALISM

Ultra Business Tycoon III sure is something.

Posted by Getz

I don't get it. Is over-written cyber-punk with obtuse references to the author's personal life supposed to impress? This stuff just leaves me feeling cold and confused... to each his own I guess.

Edited by bybeach

I looked through her pics there. Some were erotic, some were disturbing. I do understand in one way, but I do not know if I want to know her that well. And still be looking at a photo or game to boot. Seems very internet and present/current culture.

I will consider that one game for starters and I appreciate the honesty of her money approach. Before I get on my hi-horse about piracy, I used to record diligently with a quality cassette recorder when I was young(er) from my favorite fm stations. Like this individual it broadened my music tastes.

IDK. But I wish her well. Takes all types.

Posted by Smorlock

Great article. I got into Porp along with Anna Anthropy a year or so ago, who are both really great, personal developers. Anna had a great term for these kind of lo-fi, personal experiences that I can't remember (or find, because her site is down), but I think she called them scratch games or something. It's cool stuff that I'd definitely like to see more of. People talk about games like the Last of Us being representative of "games as art", and they are, in their own way, but I think I'm much more convinced by these dirty, personal, punk expressions that are coming out of people like Porpentine.

Posted by Fear_the_Booboo

I love that we're seeing coverage for more "underground" creators in the gaming industry thanks to Patrick. The article was well written and interesting. I feel like Porpentine's games could be the subject of long-form article, though. There's still much to learn about them and the process of creating them.

Oh well, let the games talk for themselves I guess.

Posted by ultrapeanut

Porpy owns. She gives no fucks and makes stuff that absolutely cannot be replicated by other people.

Edited by Milkman

I don't get people posting links showing how "weird" she is, like there's something inherently wrong with being weird.

Posted by Reisz

Armada looks pretty damn cool, might have to check out this Patreon thing.

Posted by Mister_V

@bybeach said:

I looked through her pics there. Some were erotic, some were disturbing. I do understand in one way, but I do not know if I want to know her that well. And still be looking at a photo or game to boot. Seems very internet and present/current culture.

I will consider that one game for starters and I appreciate the honesty of her money approach. Before I get on my hi-horse about piracy, I used to record diligently with a quality cassette recorder when I was young(er) from my favorite fm stations. Like this individual it broadened my music tastes.

IDK. But I wish her well. Takes all types.

Pretty much this. Each to their own but some of that stuff on that tumblr is very disturbing.

Posted by ChrisTaran

Glad she has an audience, I'm just not it.

Posted by erhard

I don't know anyone who desires in a game "windows into the youth" of their creator or "naked honesty" about said creator's abusive upbringing. Games stand and fall on their own merits, not on how totally quirky and personal and emotional their designer is. But I suppose if the latter is what initially interests you, then it doesn't really matter.

I'm also immediately suspicious of any artist who would call themselves marginalized, but I guess that's not really relevant.

Posted by FoolishChaos

I played a bit of Ultra Business Tycoon III because of this article. Its fantastic. Some great writing in there

Posted by kalmia64

Thanks @patrickklepek for the awesome article! I love hearing about people making games in their own style. I really enjoyed Ultra Business Tycoon III- can't wait to try out her other games!

Edited by drconquest

I love Porpentine--she's one of my favourite game designers and favourite artists in general. Really delighted to see her work featured here, thanks for the great article Patrick! Pain Transmuted to Happiness, while small and simple, is a personal fav.

Posted by EternalHaV0C

I guess I'll go on my merry way continuing to be confused...

Posted by Noogy

Great article, @patrickklepek. I always enjoy reading about projects that are so personal to their creators. I also sympathize with wanting to move away from your first project like she did, out of fear of being type-cast as a certain type of designer.

Online
Edited by Mercury45
@getz said:

I don't get it. Is over-written cyber-punk with obtuse references to the author's personal life supposed to impress? This stuff just leaves me feeling cold and confused... to each his own I guess.

I have to admit... I don't get it either. I tried playing the Business Tycoon game and after about 45 minutes I realized I simply wasn't having fun. I was amused by some of the wordplay, but after a while I just felt a kind of nonresponse to it and felt like I was wasting my time.

I dunno, maybe if I had finished it (I got stuck and was unable to get any further) I would have had a big "aha" moment and liked it more. But I don't personally feel it was worth my time to have kept at it simply for that. It just felt kind of... I hate to say it, but it felt pretentious to me.

Which I guess is a very roundabout way of saying "I don't understand this or the appeal of it, but I'm OK with that."

Posted by Animasta

Yeah porpentine

Edited by Mirado

I love the fact that Patrick is writing these articles which help expose people to indie developers, especially if they make games off the beaten path.

...Maybe the comment sections should be disabled for them, though.

Posted by MiguelItUp

Some of the comments were pretty upsetting. This community is better than that.

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