07 January 2022

Gathering digital wheat to uncover chalk drawings and stone circles - clues to a wider mystery - provides the enchanting, lo-fi challenge of new browser game Peter Talisman: Lord of the Harvest.

And helping to bring to life the deceptively simple challenge has been Joseph Pleass, one-time graphic design student at the University of East London and now part-time lecturer in graphic design.

The charms of Peter Talisman, with its swaying wheatfields and ethereal soundtrack, has already been noticed, with an appreciative review in Rock Paper Shotgun which called the game "Glasto meets non-violent tech Wicker Man - and it’s as rad as hell".

The world, according to its creators, is "a distant, nostalgic dream of something that never was".

Peter Talisman: Lord of the Harvest

Screengrab from Peter Talisman game

Joseph said he helped with the design and programming but everyone chipped in, a bunch of friends working on the concept for six weeks, essentially to create a website for the release of the new Peter Talisman album by Slugabed and Samuel Organ.

Joseph and his friend Ben West decided to turn the site into a browser game, showcasing the music, with the support of five other colleagues.

Joseph explained the idea. He said, "The world of Peter Talisman had already been dreamt up by Samuel [Organ] and Slugabed, so we were working to that really. They had imagined this alternate universe where parts of our world were seeping into theirs by way of the harvest.

"Ben started coding this field of wheat. Then we just looked at what games work in web browsers, and the obvious choice was to do an incremental/clicker game. We also needed a game that would take as long as the album to finish – but we didn't want to create 45 minutes of assets so a repeatable incremental game made sense."

Joseph's own work displays an eclectic mix of designs and influences. What is his unifying philosophy?

He said, "For a while I've been trying to make websites that borrow ideas from video games. Whether that's easter eggs, or progression, or narrative. The aim is to try and hold the audience for longer than 10 seconds which is about the average duration of a website visit.

"Websites are interesting platforms in that they are easily and freely accessible and can produce a huge number of functions. But in terms of interactive media the most interesting stuff is probably happening within video games, so it makes sense for to pull from there."

Joseph graduated in 2012 and pursued a Master's in design at the Sandberg Instituut in Amsterdam, graduating in 2019.

Looking back at his time in East London, he said, "The key lesson I learnt from UEL was that I wanted to be a designer and that it wasn't out of reach.

"I wasn't passionate about design when I arrived at UEL, to be honest. I was on this conveyor belt from secondary school/college because I was told that if you go to university there's a job waiting for you at the end.

"Then in my second year, my tutor told me I was good and pushed me further - and that made me care about design. He taught me to be passionate about what I was studying, and from there it was very easy to stay up till 2/3am finessing typography or screen-printing.

"I remember being taken for a visit to a small studio and I realised that design wasn't this impenetrable fortress. Before then I'd imagined every single graphic designer worked for an agency. Once I'd seen that I realised that I could just do it myself, this task of becoming a self-sufficient entity in London wasn't reliant on some authority hiring me.

"I kept imagining this journey where I'd graduate and get a job in a place with other designers, and they'd teach me how to be professional. But it's not like that: you just push yourself and hope for the best."

Besides teaching at UEL, Joseph and Ben are busy investigating video games further. "We're trying to work on something to do with 'first-contact' interactions with alien life," he said.

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