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Perfect Tides Station to Station
Three Bees

Gaming

Meredith Gran talks Perfect Tides: Station to Station, game craft, and approaching nostalgia with care

With her game’s Kickstarter sprinting into its last week, Meredith Gran joins AIPT to discuss the process of crafting the Perfect Tides sequel.

Meredith Gran’s Perfect Tides: Station to Station‘s Kickstarter is in its last week and has passed 75% funding. The first Perfect Tides is one of 2022’s best video games, an insightful walk alongside a year in the life of creative, hurting, figuring-herself-out teenager Mara Whitefish as she navigates the titular island resort town that she calls home.

Station to Station developer Meredith Gran is one of the 21st century’s great comic makers. As an illustrator, she’s continually inventive and innovative. As a writer, she’s probing, thoughtful, and frequently hilarious. And, as she demonstrated with Octopus Pie: The Other Side, the 2021 follow-up to her 2007-2017 webcomic Octopus Pie (now available online in gorgeous color from Valerie Halla!), when Gran makes a sequel, she makes them with a commitment to digging into the project at new angles and applying what she’s learned about her craft and the work since the original’s completion.

With Station to Station charging towards the finish line, AIPT interviewed Meredith Gran over e-mail. Our conversation ranged from what she’s learned about game-making in the wake of Perfect Tides‘ launch to just why a cardboard standee for an infamous Antonio Banderas/Lucy Liu action movie pops up in one of Station to Station‘s new environments.

AIPT: The last time we spoke, we talked about your longtime fondness for adventure games and your interest in interactivity in storytelling. So on those notes, what do you find the most exciting about video games as a storytelling medium? Why?

Meredith Gran: When we last spoke, I had only begun to see how the game would affect people. I knew I’d be telling them a story that concerned my own memories, with the hope of making a connection, as had always been my hope in comics. I did not expect the memory to be so collective — that the player and I would be immersed in this period of our lives, remembering together. The livestreams that followed Perfect Tides’ release were filled with heartfelt confessions and hilariously familiar anecdotes. I received so many letters from people whose memories had been painfully dredged up, only to be relieved. I have never felt so profoundly connected to my audience, and I now know how powerful the interactive component can be.

AIPT: To build on that, what are your goals as a game developer and storyteller for Perfect Tides: Station to Station? What do you want to carry forward from the original game? What do you want to change?

Meredith Gran: By and large, I think the story of Perfect Tides was a success. I’ve had years to practice shaping stories for an audience, and I’ve been happy to find how easily my instincts translated to games. I feel comfortable following those instincts wherever they take me for the next game, with little change.

When it comes to game development, I’m still very green. Some basic design choices didn’t factor into the decision to make my first game, and I’m not too hard on myself about that: I never would’ve made a game if I didn’t think I could just get started. But I was working from what I understood to be the makeup of my favorite classic games — almost tracing the shape of them to form my own — without knowing what was fundamentally appealing and practical (or not) about them. I now have a chance to decide from the ground up what works for my stories and for the player.

Meredith Gran's Mara Whitefish in Perfect Tides: Station to Station

Three Bees

AIPT: Your work, both on Perfect Tides and Octopus Pie, is deeply concerned with time as both history and something immediately experienced. How do you want to work with time and its assorted manifestations in Station to Station? You’re preserving the year-long timeframe from Perfect Tides, so what specifically about that setup is effective for you? And what are you hoping to shift in it for Station to Station?

Much of the content of the game resides in Mara’s thoughts, and as the player we’re constantly checking and rechecking them against the passage of days and months. Time allows for a resetting of the stage and for a new story to begin. As a teenager Mara is always looking for a fresh start, a chance to be wiser, to present herself differently, or to rise to new obligations. This is one of the reasons she is so haunted by the past, a point that will be further magnified as she ages. I think time’s immediacy plays strongly into these stories because the “now” is where Mara, an otherwise lost and lonely figure, finds her victories. If I presented every moment in service of its inevitable and sad outcome, we would have very little to cheer for.

AIPT: Station to Station‘s announcement trailer takes the audience through the life and times of Mara Whitefish in the two years between Perfect Tides and its sequel through her evolving body language and fashion sense. How do you factor those into your character design? And on a more general level, how has your video game work affected your character design process?

Meredith Gran: Thank you for noticing the changes! There’s a subtle difference in pixels between a depressed slouch and a confident swagger. Low-res art both forces and muddles my choices in design. The limited detail demands I be concise, while the unpredictability of how my drawings will translate allows for surprise.

AIPT: Going from there, several of the most striking moments in the first Perfect Tides turn on Mara’s past intruding on her present. Will Station to Station do the same? How will the events of the two-year time jump factor into the present-day story? How will the events of Perfect Tides?

Meredith Gran: An early consideration when writing this sequel was whether Mara should still be the protagonist. I had a lot of ideas that I couldn’t imagine transferring to another character — I’ve grown very attached to her! — so the answer seemed clear. But the more I thought about Mara’s story and what we now know to be her past, the more crucial this aspect became. It needs to be Mara because Mara has a past — not a backstory — that the player has seen, from which new revelations can be drawn. Loss and longing and regret play so strongly into Mara’s thoughts and the way she grows. In a game whose mechanics are centered around learning and forming new perspectives, the player can’t progress in a time vacuum.

Perfect Tides: Station to Station

Three Bees

AIPT: On a personal level, I was delighted by the sudden appearance of a Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever standee in the video you shared discussing what you’re planning for Station to Station and why. It’s a marvelously specific detail, and it has me curious: How are you approaching researching the world of 2003? What’s remained constant about your research process since we last spoke? What’s changed? What has been your favorite part of that process? And where did the Ecks vs. Sever standee come in?

Meredith Gran: Nostalgia is a jewel that’s mined indiscriminately, to exhaustion — and that’s never my goal. There must be a kernel of real memory attached to every object. I’ve found that memories of pop culture can be collected for writing in a few different ways: remembering them yourself (best), researching them extensively (okay), letting someone else curate them (not great), or digging up the cold hard numbers, like typing “2003 box office” into Google (worst).

My favorite way is to compare memories and perceptions of culture with my husband, Mike Holmes, who has an extensive knowledge of film, and a brilliantly sharp memory of cultural trends and their place in time. We were both lonesome kids; much of our childhood was experienced through the lens of culture, and as adults we bond over this. One of our pet topics is big expensive blockbusters that never found their audience. This is where Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever lives. A movie that nobody saw but everyone knows about. An event bigger than the product. Thus, bits of marketing materials strewn about a messy house, like so much cultural clutter, preserved to our pain and delight, for reasons we don’t fully know.

AIPT: To wrap things up, what are you most excited to work on with Station to Station? What part of it makes you go “Wow, YES.”

Meredith Gran: I’m really looking forward to this game having a true musical score. Composer Daniel Kobylarz came onto Perfect Tides when it was nearly done, so we had a very short time to work out the soundtrack. And he did incredible things with that time, but we had to prioritize in-game loops over cinematic moments, of which we only managed to score the “good” ending theme.

With Daniel composing from the start, I think Station to Station has a chance to really be about its music in a way the first game could not. And this dovetails with music being of great, urgent importance to 18-year-old Mara’s life. I think aesthetically this game will be a full package of sound and vision, textured with the new and improved mechanics. We’re cooking up a feast!

The Kickstarter for Meredith Gran’s Perfect Tides: Station to Station runs through September 7th, 2022. Its target is $80,000.

DISCLAIMER: The author supported Perfect Tides: Station to Station on Kickstarter.

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