At the Homestead

By now, it is probably somewhat obvious that Tombeaux is not a typical video game.  With me possessing a background in fine art and a career rooted in academia, I’m taking a slightly different approach to my project than many fellow peers in the indie game world. One example of this is how (and where) I’ve spent the last three weeks.  I’ve been the artist in residence at the National Park Service’s Homestead National Monument of America, in Beatrice, Nebraska.

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The Palmer-Epard Cabin, and original homestead cabin (and inspiration for the cabin in Tombeaux)

An artist’s residency is what I like to call a “work-cation” (I know, that phrase doesn’t make sense, unless you’re a workaholic…), in which I’m away from my family, home and university job, and focusing on nothing but making the game for literally 14 hours a day, 7 days a week (but I don’t recommend being away from your family for this long, as it is very difficult (on me, but especially on my wife Emily, who is a saint and superhuman/mom!)). Residencies are quite common for artists to pursue in the contemporary art world, as it provides the solace one might need to dive deep in to the “creative zone”. The idea is that an organization, institution, or foundation will award an artist (who has been selected through an application process) with the time and space to support their creative practice. Some residencies actually even provide outfitted studios, full-time chefs, and living stipends. Some have dozens of artists living and working at the residency at once (think “grown-up art camp”), while others have a single artist visiting with them (I prefer this – the hermit-like, no-frills approach).

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The National Park Service has supported artist residency programs for some time, and it has always been a goal of mine to take part in one of these programs. I was fortunate enough to be selected by the Homestead National Monument of America as one of their 2015 Artist’s in Residence. I’ve spent the last three weeks researching, making, photographing, and talking in an environment that is the perfect fit for making a historically based game like Tombeaux.

The Homestead Monument of America site is dedicated to both preserving and teaching visitors about the Homestead Act of 1862, which granted 160 acres of free land to nearly any man or woman who applied. This act, signed in to law by Abraham Lincoln, was a major reason for the rapid westward expansion in the 19th century. Since part of Tombeaux takes place in the 1800’s and incorporates themes of homesteading history, working here has probably been the closest I’ll get to finding a “field laboratory” for conducting my game research.

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The restored prairie and Heritage Center at Homestead National Monument of America

As one can probably gather by now, my time here has been wonderful.  While I have hunkered down in my living quarters and art studio making the game for the majority of the three weeks, it’s given me the escape that I needed after such a busy and stressful year of working in higher education (in a state that has seen better days, in that regard). I’ve been able to consult archives and exhibits, photograph authentic objects, documents, and structures, and interact with visitors to talk with and receive feedback about my game.

At work in the studio, making Tombeaux (image courtesy of Beatrice Daily Sun)

Today is my last day at the Homestead Monument of America, and while it will be wonderful to return to my family who I’ve missed so much, I know I will look back and remember this place for the time, space, and resources it provided me. Frankly, without the National Park Service’s help, Tombeaux would not be nearly as far along as it is today (in the ballpark of 300 hours less developed, to be exact!).

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