In a world offering plenty of showy marketing and instant gratification, it takes a certain sort of individual to take on the weight of a project that reveals itself drip-by-drip. To make a game that so thoroughly obscures itself that it’s hard to see that it’s a game is a feat that, on the face of it, may easily stymy its initiator. However, New Zealand-based developer Marc Loths (@OldLoths) has gone above and beyond in creating something equal parts mystifying and enrapturing: This, Too, Shall Pass (@afleetingworld).
Presented in the form of a Twitter bot sharing snippets of a world much like our own, TTSP is a fascinating project to watch unfold. With each screenshot of its landscapes, new mysteries dot the vistas, prompting viewers to wonder, “what in the hell is happening here?”. It’s been a pleasure to watch it take shape over the last few months, and I was lucky enough to sit down with Marc to discuss the project, its development, and where it’s going from here.
REBIND: What exactly is This, Too, Shall Pass?
Marc: It’s a game, but also a bot; a piece of performance art and a meditation on the collapse of the ecosystem. It’s about the climate crisis, it’s about the moments when you show a friend something you’re excited about, it’s about appreciating the now and most of all it’s about how everything, good and bad, has to end someday. I want people to make up their own theories about what it means beyond that, and I want it to spark little personal moments in every way it can.
There’s a story that underlines what this is all about that’s stuck with me ever since I heard it. It’s about an old king, trying to find a piece of wisdom to pass on to his son. He sends out a the scholars of the kingdom, to go and find him a piece of advice that is profound and helpful in good times, and in bad. One by one they return with terrible or overly specific advice. Finally, someone, I think it was the jester, turns to the king and gives him the advice he was looking for. Something that holds true, no matter what, and will guide you to always be prepared for the future: “This, too, shall pass.”
REBIND: What inspired you to tackle this?
Marc: Originally this started out as a RTS built around a mechanic of dynamic nature, with grass that grows and such. The game wasn’t very interesting, but I really liked the grass growing mechanic, so I pulled that out and it just kind of evolved from there. As it started to grow, I got increasingly inspired by our current climate situation. Things are bad, but there’s also this determination in the air to do something about it. That’s one of the main things I’m plugging into with This, Too, Shall Pass.
REBIND: How has development been going? What sort of hurdles have you had to jump?
Marc: It’s been really fun, but difficult. It’s currently being made on the side of a full-time web development job, so there’s a lot of times I need to cut or scope down on things. Luckily, so far, that’s always resulted in something more interesting than I had originally planned. The hardest problem so far has definitely been Twitter integration though.
REBIND: What’s the process been for getting Twitter integration into a Unity project?
Marc: The screenshots and uploads are a key mechanic of the actual game. Every picture that’s taken in the game ends up on @afleetingworld with its coordinates. At the same time, every build of the game tells a different story. To handle Twitter integration, I’m using a Unity plugin called Twity (https://github.com/toofusan/Twity) to deal with the actual talking to Twitter’s API, something that’s extremely fiddly to do in Unity as it turns out. When a picture is taken, it’s saved to a temporary render texture, converted into an array of bytes and sent off to Twitter via Twity to create a media object, then that responds with an id and that id is used in another call to link it with a post.
REBIND: How would someone go about achieving something similar?
Marc: Get yourself a strong coffee to start with, I found the documentation of all this stuff extremely dense. You’ll need a Twitter developer account (https://developer.twitter.com). From there you can create an application, which is how you’ll interact with Twitter. That will give you a couple of access tokens, with which you authorize yourself. Luckily, Twity is pretty user-friendly as far as these things go, so getting that working is just a matter of following their instructions. The major thing that tripped me up is that Twitter seemed to revoke my authorization every few days, but logging into the bot using this tool seems to have fixed that for me. I think the main thing beyond the technical side of things is to find a way to give meaning in the way people interact with your game as to why you’re integrating Twitter. Because if it’s just there for no reason, why go through all this?
REBIND: How has reception been for the project?
Marc: Online, there’s been a delightful mix of bewilderment, confusion and excitement which worked out even better than I hoped. The few people who have played the current build so far really loved it. I think there’s this slow reveal to everything surrounding the game that feels fantastically serene in this industry driven by extremely verbose marketing campaigns.
REBIND: So, where does the project go from here?
Marc: Once all five planned builds are done, I’ll be loading them up on USB keys to mail them out to people in countries all over the world. I haven’t really decided on what happens after that. I’d love to do a proper release some day so that more people are able to play it, but at the same time having limited access to the game is a core part of the concept.
It’ll surely be something to keep an eye on as it continues to grow. Within the last few weeks, Marc hit one of the major development milestones with it, and its world has taken a drastic turn as denizens seem to be out and about nowadays, following a beautiful explosion of light. Not to mention the surreal backwards rain, light shows, and ominous monoliths cropping up in the screenshots. I, for one, hope this world stays for just a while longer, so that we can keep taking in its beauty and life.
Marc has also recently started a Patreon to help with further development. You can find that, and pledge your support, here: https://www.patreon.com/oldloths.
Catherine Brinegar is a trans game developer and filmmaker who explores the surreal and abstract in her work. Beyond her creative endeavors she enjoys losing herself inside other worlds, interactive and not. Finding inspiration in everything, Catherine aims to see all the world has to offer, through the continual conversation of art. You can keep up with her on twitter @cathroon.