Alumni Update: Karina Popp & 10 Mississippi

I arrived in Sweden with 2 gigabytes of the New York skyline.

Photographs, panning over the East River, past the Brooklyn Bridge. Snapshots of bodegas, of speeding trains, of halal food and ginger ale. Each picture was meant to hold me over for nearly two months while I hid away in the Swedish wilderness. I needed them. I was accepted into the Stugan Accelerator to work on 10 Mississippi, a game played in photographs, a game that was set in New York. But partially made in Sweden.

10 Mississippi began at the Game Center. I made it in Bennett Foddy’s prototype studio, my final semester in the MFA program. It was one of my favorite classes because it was a chance to experiment, to go all in on an idea. Every week we made a game prototype based on a theme supplied by Bennett (or, that particular week, Jenny Jiao Hsia). That week, the theme was 10 seconds. So I made 10 Mississippi.

10 seconds is a long time. It’s the length it takes a train to pull into the station. 10 seconds is how long it takes to open an email, to savor a meal, to take a sip of coffee, to read a paragraph in an overwrought essay. When I thought of 10 second games like 10 Second Ninja or BECOME A GREAT ARTIST IN JUST 10 SECONDS, it seemed liked chaos was the prevailing tone. Lots of frantic, split-second decisions crashing into one another. But I wanted to capture the feeling of just how long 10 seconds can be. 10 Mississippi is a study of these moments.

Like stretching the pace of 10 seconds, photographs weren’t a media I had seen much used in games. Thinking of films such as Chris Marker’s La Jetée, that uses photographs in a novel way, I wanted to harness that same aesthetic. Whereas La Jetée uses photographs to tell a story while remaining true to its cinematic form, 10 Mississippi uses photographs to convey feeling and tone via game feel.

I wanted to finish 10 Mississippi, flesh it out from the few scenes I made for Bennett’s class into something longer, more robust. So I applied to Stugan. I wanted the chance to really focus on my game’s design. It seemed a longshot. I thought that 10 Mississippi was obtuse, different.

But I got in.

Stugan is an experience that’s difficult to summarize. You’re whisked away to a Swedish ski resort to make a game. I was incredibly privileged to have had this opportunity, like a little break from the sometimes exhausting pace of the city. Housing is paid for, food is provided, and – a big plus for me, given all of the quarters I had paid to my local laundromat – laundry was free. And your one task is to work.

Twenty-plus game developers from around the world come together to work on their craft, making games that were all varied and inspiring. Unlike meeting up at a conference or chatting on Twitter, you’re immersed with other developers, spending all of your time with people you may barely know, but by the end you’re drinking Swedish schnapps and dancing to the Spice Girls together.

To give only a small picture of the amazing people I met at Stugan, there was Ben and Sugar from South Africa working their playdough platformer Semblance, a game that turns the mechanics of typical platformers on its head. There was Kubra and Yunus, who released their iOS puzzle game kubrain at the end of Stugan. Or the Tahutahu team, a kick-ass all-woman group working on Idearum. Working together in a new, intimate setting left me inspired and made my game all the more special. As 10 Mississippi got to grow as a project at Stugan, the other Stuganeers became as intimate with my project as I was.

I was in Sweden for 414,720 sets of ten seconds and left with tens of gigs of photos to compensate for the time I will never be able to return to. I went from the steamy streets of New York to brisk morning walks under clear skies obstructed not by buildings, but by trees. I spent that time making friends, agonizing over my design, and, of course, taking pictures. I can’t go back to sitting on the pier, my legs in the lake. I can’t return to the nibbling mosquitos I greeted in the forest. But I have the photographs to remember each moment.

10 Mississipi is currently in development. Keep up with updates at 10mississippi.com and @knarniapop. Catch the game at Fantastic Arcade in Austin, Nov 17-19 2017.

Written by Karina Popp, MFA ’16