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STORMS & TEACUPS

THE PROJECT TEMPEST BLOG

  • CJ Halbard

2022 in Love, Madness, and Horror

What we did in Project Tempest, and what's next in 2023

This is a lightly edited transcript of the audio & video version. You can listen here, and watch on youtube below.

In this post:

Part 1 - What Project Tempest Is About

Part 2 - What We Did in 2022

Part 3 - What Felt Important This Year

Part 4 - What's Next for Project Tempest in 2023



Hi, This is CJ. I'd like to talk a little bit about what we did with Project Tempest this year, what felt important and what's coming next. This is what I hope will become an annual check-in. It'll be available on the Project Tempest site at project-tempest.net, in written form, spoken form, maybe even visual. We'll see.


Part 1 - What Project Tempest Is About

At its heart, Project Tempest is about using stories to navigate a world going mad. And when I say madness, I mean that in a very deliberate old-fashioned sense. Madness as territory that we as human beings move through sometimes. Not so much mental health as such, although that's very much part of this territory. But the Project Tempest lens on this is less medicalized, more subjective. Madness is a place that, for instance, medieval Europeans, ancient Greeks,H.P. Lovecraft, Shirley Jackson all knew well. This breaks down into three main aspects that make up Project Tempest.


The first is a haunted town at the edge of the world named Tempest Bay. This is our story world, our paracosm, to coin a word that I learned about this year. Tempest Bay is the setting for tales of darkness and light. Lovecraftian horror, folk rituals, weird twisted families. This is the bit that's most identifiable as fiction. I love building it out. It's incredibly rewarding.


The second part is the Project Tempest Podcast, which is conversations with creators. This is a group of incredibly generous,really interesting people from all around the world talking openly about what it means to make things. The professional challenges and opportunities, the personal struggles and inspirations, all of that.


So we've got our horror driven story world, and we've got our set of conversations. The third part of Project Tempest is The Tempest Files.


This is something that’s put down roots this year, and is only going to grow. It’s a trail of secrets in history, which eventually ties into some bigger philosophical beliefs about the nature of reality, deep time, human creativity, madness itself. This is the big, wide open stuff. The really big canvas on which the rest of Project Tempest exists.


So that in a nutshell is the kind of space we're trying to look at and explore and unlock through Project Tempest, using stories to navigate a world going mad.


Part 2 - What We Did in 2022


So first off, the show itself, the Project Tempest Podcast, it really grew. I think it found its audience. We had, again, an incredibly generous set of people come on. We had Nick Jones, Bonnie Harris-Lowe, Simon Pulman, Ed McCrae, Jeff Gomez,Tara Lomax, all these people, some of whom know each other, some of whom will never meet, from very different walks of life and parts of the creative industries. They were generous with their time and very honest and upfront. I always learn so much from these conversations.


From the mail we get, the messages we get, it feels like other people do as well.


You have people who are early on in their creative journeys, starting out in creative industries like the video game industry, talking about what that means. You have people who have done just about everything, who are coming to new understandings and expressions of what the future might hold for people who want to make things. You have really interesting legal and technical and deal making ideas coming through. It's all this stuff.


So the show really grew this year. And there's a lot more coming. I'm incredibly proud of the audience that we're connecting with. So thank you very much for listening.


We relaunched the website at project-tempest.net. This was a project that Kearin in particular put a huge amount of effort into. And now when you go there, to me it captures everything we are trying to do. It looks amazing. It's this interesting, beautiful, ominous world with all of these strands and trails of content. It reads well. It looks amazing. I'm proud of the effort that went into making that site live. It’s now very much the basis for everything we want to do over the next few years. It's got a lot of stuff in it. It contains all the bits of the podcast, the stories, the Tempest Files, galleries, inspirations, commentary, blog pieces, everything. I highly recommend you check it out if you're interested in Project Tempest at all.


So that was a really worthwhile project that came to fruition near the end of the year

and has really set us up for the future.


We released a cool new story called Everything is All Right in the End. A spoiler: everything is not all right in the end! This is the tale of a woman's lifelong relationship with a sentient bookstore. And it covers, in pretty short order, a large chunk of the 20th century. It's strange and ominous, and I think in places quite joyful and quite heartbreaking. I'll get pretty soon to why this was a challenging year for actually producing creative things. But I really enjoyed making this story. And again, it's up on the website. It's one of the strands of narrative that we're going to be picking up more next year.



We pulled together The Tempest Files.


The Tempest Files, as I mentioned before, on the surface, it's the record of a female investigator who is trapped inside the town of Tempest Bay while there are storms and other things going on. And every night she returns to this old, gloomy, mysterious secondhand bookstore that's locked up. She breaks in every night and she's exploring the archives and trying to untangle the mysteries and secrets and the things buried behind the walls and the floorboards of this town.


And what this is on the site, The Tempest Files, is a series of little moments of people from the last 180 years in this place. Characters, faces, voices from one particularly twisted family tree. It's really their encounters with the territory of madness from very different angles. You've got someone who was a mad bohemian artist in the 1880s. You've got someone who ran this secondhand bookstore all the way from the 1930s through the 1950s. You've got all these little moments of encounter and these are very rich. They are quite visual. There's not a lot of words.


The Tempest Files is a trail that we will be following a lot in years to come.


Behind the scenes, there’s also ongoing interest in turning aspects of Project Tempest into other entertainment forms. This is something that I can't really talk about a lot. But we are looking at things like potentially TV and movies. These always move at a very strange, slow pace. A lot of stops and starts. But just in general, where we are not just building this world on its own terms, there is very much a desire to create things in other media. We've been working on this for quite a while. If things go well, I would love to have some announcements to make in 2023.


But that is a long, strange, distended process. And so right now, just know in general, the idea of love meets Lovecraft on the shores of the great southern ocean is very much something we're trying to get out there.

Part 3 - What Felt Important in 2022

So alongside the things we put out as part of Project Tempest, there have been some enormous changes this year, both personally and I think in the world at large.


I got quite sick just after the middle of the year with COVID. I’d had COVID previously, but it had really not affected me. And this time I really got the whammy.


And the timing of this was interesting because soon after I got sick, we were going to Tokyo. I haven't been outside of New Zealand in over three years. And we were very, very much looking forward to breaking that spell by going to Japan. But not that long before we're supposed to be getting on the plane, the real deal COVID hits, and we're sitting around the house feeling like grim death. That was a very interesting time. So we went from being quite sick to then recovering and going to Tokyo and spending an entire month as our first break from New Zealand in over three years, a month in what is still probably my favorite large city on the planet.

This was quite an experience for me simply because it was like waking up from the pandemic. We walked and we enjoyed life and we explored and we met people and we did all the things that you are supposed to do, ideally that you can do in a big interesting city. After New Zealand being in lockdown for significant parts of the pandemic and being stuck here, and I think obviously getting into a rut, this whole period of getting quite sick and then going overseas and ‘waking up’ again was really quite a change moment for me.


One of the biggest challenges over the past couple of years has simply been finding the energy to put into the things that I love doing. And even though it was not pleasant catching COVID at a particularly stressful moment, I'm extraordinarily glad overall for the process that means that I actually feel now like that part of the pandemic story is over for me and I'm ready to get out there and do stuff again. So that's been amazing.


The second big thing that felt important to me this year was AI, artificial intelligence.


I've followed developments in AI for several years. They're very interesting to me as a creator. But during 2023, the image generators like Mid-Journey, Dall-E, and Stable Diffusion started coming out, making huge impact and evolving very quickly.


This has enabled us as part of Project Tempest to generate a lot more imagery, which helps enormously. There is a minefield and a very difficult trail of questions around this. We work with concept artists, human concept artists. We have a very particular vision for what Tempest Bay looks and feels like. There are ethical and moral and unresolved issues that people are only just getting into on exactly how those AI generators are trained as models, what this means for working with human artists, what this means for everyone.


So there is a lot to unpack there, but one effect of this has been for us that there's been a huge productivity increase in the style and amount of imagery that we can connect with Project Tempest. And we're going about it in ways that I hope are the right ways. But this has been quite a shift.

Closely related was that towards the end of the year language AI tools took a huge public leap. There have been whispers and rumors of much better language models emerging for probably about two years now.


ChatGPT, which is I believe based on GPT 3.5, emerged near the end of 2023. Another interesting tool is OpenAI’s Whisper, which is very good audio transcription. We're hopefully using it to transcribe my voice right now. These tools emerged and they are a jump in what computers can do in terms of both working with human speech and starting to generate human language. And certainly, as a professional creator, 2023 is very much going to involve working across this whole range of AI tools, understanding the practical implications and figuring out, okay, what do we do with this?


My suspicion is that there's going to be a combination massively increased productivity - if I can sit and talk and work with AI assistants to increase my output, that's fantastic - but at the same time, we are in for, frankly, a shitstorm of unforseen consequences. We're going to be working on unresolved moral, ethical, technological employment issues that I think are very real.


There have been multiple times when new technologies like virtual reality or blockchain or artificial intelligence have been overhyped early and then haven't panned out as promised. AI has had this happen about five times, but I think that these tools are going to evolve so fast over the next maybe 12 to 18 months that there is going to be a real change in the whole landscape of how we make things. And obviously, if we get to the next edition of this at the end of 2023, I can see whether I was in the right direction on that or if I was completely off.


Part 4 - What's Next for Project Tempest in 2023


We have a lot planned and I'm enormously excited to have set all the foundations in place now. Philosophically, creatively, technically, we have the website, we have all of the basic stuff. I'm really excited to now explode this outwards.


We are looking at doing a lot more audio, audio stories, audio books, potentially more audio blog pieces or opinion pieces as well. It's a much more natural medium both for me to work in and I think for people to consume. It's hard to tell how much people actually read anymore, but certainly there is a shift towards human voices connecting with each other. So there are many audio things in the offering.


The second thing we are looking at is interactive experiences. Some of you who've been following for a while may know this is something we’ve been working on for a while. It is quite similar to some of the TV movie stuff in that it's kind of three steps forward, two steps back, but we have some specific, small but I think quite cool interactive experiences that we're hoping to bring more into the world in 2023.


More episodes of the podcast. We already have some very interesting conversations and guests lined up. There is probably going to be quite a focus I suspect on what is happening with AI and creativity because we're talking with people who are right in the thick of this. This is not theoretical sci-fi discussions. It’s ‘this thing I did on Tuesday was deeply affected because of this tool or this implication.’


I'm really looking forward as always to a new series of conversations with creators, the struggles, the inspirations. On just a raw emotional level, the podcast conversations are probably the single thing I enjoy the most about Project Tempest.


And lastly, in terms of what we're aiming next for in 2023, along with more content, more stories, more interactives, more conversations, you'll see, I think, more of the core beliefs and the worldview that's behind all of this emerging.


The Project Tempest Files on the new site are the start of that, but there is more to come. There are some deep roots to Project Tempest. And I'm quite serious when I talk about the idea of navigating a world going mad. To me, I think is one of the core journeys that almost every human on earth is going to have to take at some point in the coming years. And here we're just off in our little corner doing our little thing with folk horror, HP Lovecraft, New Zealand, small towny stuff.


There is something here, what is it? And that should hopefully become clearer in 2023. So those are the goals for 2023. Audio, interactive experiences, more conversations of all kinds, and the bigger picture emerging.


And that's pretty much me for this update. It's overall been a very strange 2022, but I love all the stuff that we got out. It's more than I thought, looking back on it all. And I highly encourage you to go look at the website especially. The work Kearin did on it was a true labour of love. And I’m deeply grateful for Prea’s work on the podcast and graphics.


It's been a long, weird, but quite amazing year. There's much more to come.


Thank you everyone who's a part of Project Tempest, Kearin and Prea, and everyone also who talks, who listens, who joins in, all of you who throughout this quite mad saga have shown such generosity to what we're doing. So thank you very much and we'll hopefully talk soon.

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