Eighteen Retrospective:

- building an instant of calm -

Dec 18 2021

I bought a mac about a year ago, and have been using it as my primary computer for that whole time. I recently picked up a game by a solo developer that I was really excited to play. But, due to the difficulty of developing for multiple platforms, the game was basically unplayable on my mac. This made me wonder if any of my games still worked at all on mac. So I went back and downloaded some of them. Fortunately, they do run on mac, but unfortunately you have to jump through way too many technical hoops to get them running. I might need to try and fix this in the future, but that's not really what I'm wanting to write about here. As I launched the first game i decided to try, Eighteen, I was anticipating feeling really ashamed of this thing I released 5 years ago that was only played by a few hundred people, but the exact opposite happened. I kinda loved it.

The development of this game coincided with a very tumultuous time in my life where my mental health was poor. In high school I became an extremely anxious person. I could be set of by the slightest thing and sometimes nothing at all. I would get so anxious that I felt like I couldn't breathe. I dealt with this terribly and frequently lashed out at people close to me. Sometimes, it helped to think of something safe, and the safest thing I could come up with was my childhood. So, I frequently pondered on how events contribute to my personality, remember how happy I had been growing up, and wonder how I could get back there. On my eighteenth birthday, I came up with the idea for this game.

I built the core of the game rather fast. It was ugly - the terrain was smooth even though the assets were low-poly, the models were generally pretty bad, but what would end up being the core of the game was done fairly fast. I actually did package this version up and release it to fairly positive reactions, but I wanted to make it better. The second time around, I focused most of my thought on building narrative, trying to incorporate more gameplay, and solving some seriously obnoxious technical problems with Unity. I experimented with making puzzle elements, various dream sequences, I made a prelude, and invented a religion that the previous inhabitants of the island followed. But, for reasons I don't remember, I decided to scrap all of these things. It may have been scope creep or negative reactions from friends, but ultimately I didn't finish any of these things, and I'm glad I didn't.

Around the time I decided to release the game, my brain went to work tearing it apart. I wasn't happy with how the narrative being so invisible. I thought I had done a bad job of making things clear. The game wasn't engaging at all. Even if people managed to figure out the metaphors, they would probably still be confused because of the way the narrative was structured. Mainly though, the game was short. Like, really short. In the neighborhood of 10 minutes short. I released it. I didn't want to spend any more time on it, and I had put so much work into it that I felt I had to put it out, or the last couple of years were a complete waste. Thoughts like this mostly disappeared from my conscious thought over the next year or so as I moved on to other things, and they transferred into my subconscious to be slowly digested. Every once and a while, I would think about the game. Those thoughts slightly changed every time they appeared, and after a while became unrecognizable. Eventually, if I was talking about my games and the next logical word to say was the title of this game, I would tense up and mentally cringe as the word left of my mouth. In my mind the game was now a monument to my pretension that took two years to finish. It wasn't technically impressive enough to show to employers, and it wasn't played enough to be worth talking about. So I mostly erased the game from my mind.

More time went by and my mental health deteriorated to the point of a total breakdown which I'm currently making a game about, so I won't get into here, but essentially there was a long recovery period that leads up to now. A time where my mental health is finally good for the first time since before I even started making this game. A time where I decide to play it. Once I figure out how to get the game running, I hear the music start to play. The game fills the screen. I felt it immediately. Calm. As I made my way through the island, remembering all of the details of the game, I started to think back to when I started this game. I had played Fez pretty soon before and was inspired by it in a major way. The aesthetic and atmosphere of that game create a place that is actually really pleasant to be in, and I had completely forgotten that I tried to do the same thing with this game. What I didn't realize as I was making it was that I was building myself a safe place. I think this is the best part of the game. It's designed to be completely effortless, and, contrary to what I thought, that's a great thing. I think I might go back from time to time.