Cool People Doing Cool Things: Francois Gerner
This week I interview Francois Gerner. He makes video games set in a Lovecraftian universe. It’s awesome sauce What more can I write!!
Hey Francois, what cool thing do you do?
I am the Creative Producer and proud co-Founder of an independent video game studio called Strange Matter. Before going independent, I used to work at various management positions for big publishers like Ubisoft, 2K Games and Gameloft.
What are you working on now?
Together with my three colleagues at Strange Matter, we are working on an independent video game project called Rise of the Elders. For those who haven’t heard about it yet: it’s basically a tactical RPG set in the world of Howard Philipps Lovecraft.
How have your personal experiences affected your projects?
I play a lot of video games and board games in my free time. Some of these games certainly turned into a major influence for my work. For Rise of the Elders for instance, we aim at capturing both the epic challenge of a game like Eldritch Horror, as well as the tactical depth of a game like XCOM.
What made you start and keep at your craft?
Working in the video game industry was a child’s dream. I went straight for it as soon as I graduated, and it’s been 10 years ever since. There is a lot of different things to experience and discover in this industry: unique studio atmospheres, various management methods, new development platforms (now VR is coming!), so many different job positions… You never get bored. And despite having changed my job six times already I feel like I only saw maybe 5% of it all – the remaining 95% will definitely keep me around for a while!
What led you to your craft?
Well, I wasn’t exactly talented at anything… I tried drawing and coding but I was so bad at it that I ended up doing a business school. Once I was done I went back to my original idea of working in video games: that’s how I landed in marketing at Ubisoft. After that, I progressively started shifting towards production in order to have more control over the development.
Anything spooky ever happen to you?
When I was a teenager, my parents used to have an isolated house in the mountains. One week-end, me and some friends took the bus to go there. The TV was really old and dysfunctional: the screen would shut down for no reason and you’d have to hit the TV box (no flat screen back then!) to turn it back on. That Saturday night, the TV was really capricious: I hit it, and hit it, and hit it again – until it turned on for a split second just to say “It doesn’t matter” without even showing a picture. Then it remained forever silent. It was really creepy and we couldn’t sleep in that same room afterward.
How long did it take you to get up and running once you really set your mind on your goal?
I started thinking about Rise of the Elders maybe four years ago. Then it took a lot of maturation to get this concept to a stage where I would feel confident enough to quit my job and actually start working on it full time (December 2015).
What one thing do you dislike about doing what you do?
Not much really… I am just frustrated to have only 24h a day: time is flying by and this kind of project requires a LOT of work!
What’s fantastic about doing what you do?
Two things. First, my freedom: as an independent developer I am working for myself (and my friends) right now, which means I can organize my days the way I want to. Second, being part of the Lovecraft community: I always was a huge fan of Lovecraft, but working on Rise of the Elders made me take one step further into his world! Everyday, I keep discovering new stories, new facts, new artists… It’s very emulating.
If you had a cat…what hat would you put on said cat? (This is my Ms. Walters special. I ask everyone.)
Mine is a rascal, a little daemon… Black fur with green eyes… I guess a pointy witch hat would suit him well!
That’s a fine looking hat!
Where do you see the craft going in the future?
If Rise of the Elders turns into a reasonable success, then we could keep working on more creative projects. That’s definitely a very positive outlook for me!
What advice would you give to your younger self?
Do not waste time pretending.
Do you have a specific space where you create and how did you make it your own?
My wife and I live in a tiny apartment so I could only claim like 1.5 square meters to myself. But it’s comfy: I have a desk, my computer and all my Lovecraftian books and games laying around it… It’s all I need.
What’s your creative process?
Well, having a good idea is kind of simple. Everybody has lots of good ideas. But turning that idea into a tangible video game project takes a lot of time and a lot of thinking. To me, a good idea is basically no more than raw material: it’s worth nothing if you don’t work hard to turn it into something. You need to take that idea and look at it under every angle, you need to challenge every aspect, imagine all the possibilities and virtually work everything out in your head. That’s the real creativity to me.
As for inspiration, that usually comes in the evening, so I go to bed early and simply start thinking until a chain of thoughts leads to something interesting. I always have a notepad in reach.
Day time is usually dedicated to problem-solving on the project (communicating internally, externally, organizing things…) but if I really need to wrap my head around something I take a stroll down to the lake. That always works!
What’s your artistic outlook on life?
Everyone should do what they love to do. Mankind would be in a much better place by now. Unfortunately, nowadays it’s really hard to follow your own path: people are terrorized by unemployment, they glorify office work and money… We may not be as religious as before, but we are still worshipping false idols.
Which famous person (living or dead) would you like to work with and why?
I would love to work with anyone who invented a whole world all by themselves: GRR Martin, JRR Tolkien, Georges Lucas, Terry Pratchett, HP Lovecraft and many more!
What is your view on the commercial aspects of your craft?
I don’t expect to get rich by making video games, but I certainly would like us (me and the other Strange Matter team members) to be successful enough to be able to keep doing what we want, the way we want it.
Can one ever work for the “love” of the craft or do you always need to create what’s desired to put food on the table?
I should be able to answer that question more accurately after Rise of the Elders gets released… As a matter of fact, I believe our games doesn’t fit the market expectations when it comes down to Lovecraftian video games. It’s a typical case of doing what you love versus doing what is desired.
Most players want to play survival horrors like the ones recently announced by Cyanid and Frogwares, but we want to give our game a totally different angle. Our vision is to focus on a much more epic scale: in Rise of the Elders you can travel all over the world, you can make contacts in Shanghai, in London, you can study relics to learn new spells, and most importantly, you control not one but several Investigators at once (and yes, there will be a lot of dying and lot of going mad).
What would be your dream project?
There are so many!!! Here are just a few things I would love to work on: a WW1 real-time strategy game, an american football game with aliens, video game adaptations of table-top RPGs like Berlin XVIII…
How can people discover more about you and your work?
You can check on the progress of Rise of the Elders by visiting our Facebook page: www.facebook.com/eldersrise
You can get in touch with our studio on our website: http://www.strangematter.co
And last but not least you can get in touch with me by adding my profile on Linkedin: https://fr.linkedin.com/in/francois-gerner-511b602