THE last time I saw Sean Vanaman was one year ago in London, on the occasion of his nomination for a British Academy Video Game Award. The night before the ceremony I joined Sean and his colleague Jake Rodkin, who shared in the nomination, for drinks at the bar of the five-star Soho Hotel. We all enjoyed engaging with this luxury brand, and did not part ways until very late. Sean and Jake flagged down the first black cab to pass the hotel. I watched them drive away and only then did it occur to me that I might never see them again. Sean turned and looked back at me through the rear window, his palm pressed against the glass, as if to say, “When I get back to San Francisco, Jake and I are going to leave our jobs and form our own independent video game company, and joining us will be the English illustrator Olly Moss, the accomplished game designer Nels Anderson, the programmer Will Armstrong, the environment and lighting artist Jane Ng and the multitalented composer/developer Chris Remo, and I want you, Duncan Fyfe, I want you to be its Ombudsman.”
My heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes.
The company, we know now, is Campo Santo. Announced by Mr. Vanaman on September 18, 2013, the San Francisco-based studio will develop video games for the personal computer, Macintosh and Linux platforms, and its first title will have the financial and creative support of the Portland, Ore. software outfit Panic. In its short history, Campo Santo has said and done very little publicly - a debut game is on the way, but as of yet unannounced - but I’ve observed a great deal of public enthusiasm for the studio, attributable no doubt to the pedigrees of its founding members.
One of Campo Santo’s first big public decisions has been to appoint a public Ombudsman - me - and I want my first official declaration as Ombudsman to be that this decision was very correct and good. But you might ask why Campo Santo needs an Ombudsman. And also you might ask what even is an Ombudsman?
I’ll explain. Explanation is one of the Ombudsman’s powers.
An Ombudsman is an independent authority appointed by an organization to hold that organization accountable to the public interest. You might be familiar with Robert Lipsyte, ESPN’s Ombudsman, or Margaret Sullivan, the current Public Editor of the New York Times. What I’ll be doing for Campo Santo is providing critical, public-minded analysis of everything Campo Santo does.
Being an Ombudsman is kind of a thankless task - it’s my job to point out what the people who employ me do wrong. Although I’m appointed by Campo Santo, I’m not an employee of the studio. I’m an outsider, as I have always been in life. My responsibility is not for Campo Santo’s bottom line, but for you. The Ombudsman is an advocate for the public. That means I’m going to use my access and position to tell you, the Campo Santo audience, what you need to know about this company, whether that’s cheat codes and tricks for the latest Campo Santo game, or instances of Campo Santo corporate impropriety and criminal malfeasance.
We Ombudsmen are a proud people. The responsibility of an Ombudsman is to an absolute and unbiased honesty. There’s no duty I take more seriously than that. But, full disclosure: I’ve met the members of Campo Santo several times, I think they’re all really cool and I just don’t think I could ever bring myself to say a bad word about them.
In tandem with Campo Santo’s decision to appoint an Ombudsman is the decision to launch Campo Santo Quarterly Review, whose digital pages you hold in your very eyes. Among other things, Campo Santo Quarterly Review is an unrestricted platform for the Ombudsman’s writing on Campo Santo and all the other issues of the day. I also think the decision to do that was very right and good.
In this debut issue of Quarterly Review, I’ve focused my Ombudsman powers like a laser on the two main questions that I think the public was quick to wonder when Campo Santo was announced in September. What game are these guys working on? And what is the name ‘Campo Santo’ supposed to mean, anyway? Both questions are answered in this very issue - and on top of all that, since Campo Santo is a San Francisco company, we’ve thrown in a cute local interest story about one of San Francisco’s most famous dogs!
In future issues you can expect much more of this kind of thing. You might find a career-spanning interview with Olly Moss. You might find me playing a game of truth or dare with Nels Anderson. Or you might find an ancient map leading you to treasure beyond imagination. At the very least, you’ll find this to be more than the typical corporate newsletter. I mean… we think so.
I invite you to write me at [email protected] with any questions or concerns about Campo Santo and I’ll do my level best to see that the issues you raise are appropriately investigated and responded to. Please also consider getting in touch if you’d like to sponsor me for the Annual Ombudsman Fun Run in New York City on May 10. I know I’m only new in the Ombudsman role but so far very few people have supported me and I’m disappointed and angry.
Duncan Fyfe London, England February 2014