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The Fanatic and His RPG - Mark Yohalem on The Age of Decadence
Editorial - posted by Infinitron on Wed 25 November 2015, 21:22:02Tags: Age of Decadence; Iron Tower Studios; Mark Yohalem; Vault Dweller
The esteemed Mark Yohalem, writer and designer of Primordia, has been a part of our community for many years - longer than his join date would tell you. As such, he's had the opportunity to observe the development of The Age of Decadence right where it all happened, from its conception on our forums in the mid-2000s all the way until its release last month. It's clear that the quixotic odyssey of Vault Dweller and his magnum opus has made a large impression on Mark, because today he published a thoughtful and scholarly editorial about it on Gamasutra. Its title is "The Fanatic and his RPG". Here's the beginning:
“There is no great genius without some touch of madness.” - Seneca the Younger
In early 2004, a middle-aged man with the Fallout-derived moniker “Vault Dweller” wrote a brief forum post that began, “Long story short, I’ve decided to make a game...” By late 2015, he had posted some 30,000 more messages, taken on a new alias (“Vincent D. Weller”), given perhaps the most caustic interview in the history of gaming journalism, and quit his job as a marketing executive. He had also, at long last, finished The Age of Decadence, a masterpiece of outsider art and a game as iconoclastic and challenging as the man who created it. In an era where RPGs overwhelmingly are either neo-classic throwbacks that ape the beloved forms of old and modern blockbusters that emphasize streamlined accessibility and cinematic flourishes, Decadence is something else entirely: a freak that evolved from the old forms but along new paths. It is a game that compels the attention of anyone interested in RPGs, multi-path design, reactive story-telling, or the madness of the lone creator.
Four years into the development of The Age of Decadence, Weller was interviewed by Rock, Paper, Shotgun. Even pre-Kickstarter, this was the kind of opportunity that could transform an independent game from a bust into a commercial hit. At the time, Weller was still Vice President of Marketing at a large corporation, yet the interview is the antithesis of the marketing-speak that typifies game developers, even indie developers. Weller grows increasingly frustrated and incredulous at Kieron Gillen’s inability to understand him. Gillen, for his part, comes across as more bemused than combative. At last, Weller declares, “It’s nice that your site tries to attract morons and makes them feel at home, but shouldn’t you be educating them too? It wouldn’t take much to double their IQs, so if you want, I can give you a hand there.” Gillen asks why Weller’s answers are so angry and whether he might be alienating potential customers, but Weller just snaps back, “I don’t really care who’d think what and how my comments would affect sales. I’m making this game on a bold assumption that there are some people out there who are interested in complex games that aren’t made for retards.”
Over the years that followed, Weller has mellowed. When customers ask for hints or post negative reviews, he may not be cordial, but he is precise and factual. There is still a sense of frustration, simmering and ready to boil over. It is easy to read this as misanthropy, and Weller has given critics and skeptics plenty of ammunition in that regard. But to me, it is something almost exactly the opposite of misanthropy: like Cassandra shrieking dire prophecies or Plato’s philosopher losing his patience in the cave, Weller seems angry less at the people who can’t understand his work and more on their behalf. He has something to teach them, something important, but powers greater than his—pandering games and pandering game journalists—have dulled their minds.
Roger Cardinal, who dubbed the genre of “Outsider Art,” explains that such works open our eyes to entirely new perspectives and possibilities. The outsider is so defiant or ignorant of accepted limits that she will pursue goals that have been deemed unattainable by reasonable, rational folks. She will walk paths that have become overgrown or were never blazed at all. Whether she reaches her destination or not, she serves to remind us that the paths and goals are there.
In this regard, and in many others, The Age of Decadence is a triumph.