Ask anyone about Arte in the UK, and you’ll probably be met with a puzzled look. While the name has been synonymous with excellence in art and culture on TV for 25 years in France and Germany, the company is fairly unknown on this side of the Channel.
Since 2013 Arte has been investing in video games as co-producer, starting with multiplatform title Type:Rider, which was downloaded over 1.7m times, and most recently with indie mobile hit Bury Me My Love, which tackles the topic of civil war in Syria.
Arte, partly funded by the European Union, is now making the leap into publishing, hoping to finally get its name outside of its original territories.
“Arte is firstly a Franco-German TV channel and it became a European cultural digital network,” Adrien Larouzée, project manager on video games at Arte France, tells MCV. “And for a decade now we’ve been exploring new ways of storytelling with web documentaries, web series, interactive fiction, VR, augmented reality and so on. Video gaming is one way we can support that new style of storytelling and support the multicultural background of Europe, and young creators. All that creativity in Europe, we want to support it the same way we support documentaries, films, shorts or anything.”
With its video games productions, Arte wants to target both “mainstream players and indie game lovers” with a portfolio of “quality works, carrying an aesthetic and narrative ambition,” Gilles Freissinier, digital director at Arte France, explained in an announcement for the firm’s latest games, Vandals and Homo Machina. For the first time, Arte is wearing the publisher’s hat for these titles.
“We are historically co-producers and this is the first time we are publishing games,” Larouzee continues. “The first game we co-produced was Cosmografik’s Type:Rider, a platformer telling the history of typography. It convinced us that video games were a way to tell great stories. And then we moved on to several games like Californium or S.E.N.S VR. And the last one was the multi-awarded Bury Me My Love, and we are really proud of this one.”
The goal with taking the leap into publishing is also to “contribute to the diversity of the industry” and “show Europe’s ambition on the global stage,” Freissinier said in the firm’s announcement. Talking about Vandals and Homo Machina, he added these two titles “work towards the channel’s ambition to widen its audience, taking into account the evolution of practices, at the crossroads between games, literature, visual arts and animation.”
Arte’s first published game is mobile and PC title Vandals, developed by Cosmografik and which released on April 12th, the day before we meet Larouzée at EGX Rezzed.
“It’s a turn-based infiltration game with a street art twist,” he explains. “So you play as a vandal and you are trying to solve puzzles. There are 60 of them in five major cities of street art history – Paris, New York, Berlin, Tokyo and Sao Paulo. And it tells you the story – or at least one story – of street art.”
He continues: “Every city is set in a different period of time. For example Paris is in 1968 [a period of student and worker rebellion which led to historic general strikes and occupations across the country] and Berlin is set during the War. These are landmarks of street art history. As a turn-based game, you will need to infiltrate, sneak past the police, the guards, the cameras, the lasers, the dogs and so on, to make your way to a wall where you can express yourself. The game then switches to a new mode where you can paint whatever you want. Once you’ve made your masterpiece you can actually see your drawing on the level design. Then you need to escape.”
Players will literally be able to draw what they want and share it online on every social network. For its first published game, Arte decided to avoid free-to-play and go with the premium model, which was already the case for all its previous co-productions.
“At this point this is almost a philosophical standpoint,” Larouzée smiles when asked about the reason why Arte is fending off free-to-play. “We really wanted to support those creators, those studios and we think that premium is the best business model to handle that. But as we are also public funded, we really had to make the game available for the widest audience possible. And so this is why we often go to mobile because this is the first console you have in your pocket. This is also why on the website you can find a demo. The first chapter, which is Paris, you can play for free.”
DATE NIGHT WITH DR. KAHN
Arte’s next project, Homo Machina (out on May 17th), has already benefited from a good word-of-mouth due to its gorgeous art.
“Homo Machina will be released in May,” Larouzée says. “It’s a mobile game and it’s a tribute to Fritz Kahn, a German doctor from the very beginning of the 20th century who dedicated his life to his masterpieces.”
Dr. Kahn is widely known as a pioneer in infographics and popularisation of science, combining the two to explain biology with his famous medical illustrations.
“He thought that the best way to explain how the body works was to make a comparison between organs and factories because the early 20th century was the new industrial era,” Larouzée further explains. “And there are those really famous drawings from him and his team. You can see for example how the brain works and you can see tiny workers operating machines. When you see that, as a game designer, you really want to make a game out of it. You want to play with those tiny workers.”
Developer Darjeeling also wanted to make sure the game was accessible to a wide audience, including kids who might learn a thing or two in the process. But the art direction and the story behind the gameplay is also there to appeal to adults.
“Homo Machina is a narrative puzzle, I like to say,” Larouzée continues. “You spend a day in that amazing factory that is your body and you will have to operate those different organs and figure out how to make the body work. And this is a really special day because this is date night. So the director, he’s anxious, he’s a bit clumsy and somehow maybe a coward too. You will have to motivate him and make that factory work.”
Homo Machina is a lovely idea with superb art, which could well become the poster child for Arte’s video games ambitions.
“We are always looking for great projects. If a game looks beautiful, promising, then it’s definitely something we’d like to have a look at,” Larouzée says, going on to explain what the publisher looks for in games: “We work on games the same way we work on every interactive digital project, or films, or documentaries. Which means that studios, at the very beginning of their projects, bring us prototypes or maybe just a pitch. What we are looking for is obviously a beautiful art direction, maybe great storytelling – maybe it’s not always obvious storytelling but it is always a way to explain or tell something. Right now, we’re working with tiny studios and if it fits our editorial direction we are looking forward to helping those projects.”