Irritum Developer Journal: The Emotional Toll of Making A Indie Game

Written by Nick Padgett, Developer of Irritum.

Hello readers of GamingBolt! My name is Nick Padgett, and I am the sole developer of Irritum. I am 22 years old, and live in Woodstock, Georgia (Close to Atlanta). Irritum is the first game I have finished, and will be the first one that I will release.

For those of you who are not familiar with Irritum, it is a game that deals with the topics of suicide and depression. The game takes place after the player has attempted suicide, and while they are stuck in a coma in reality, they are trapped in limbo elsewhere. Throughout the game, you must choose whether to try and remember why you committed suicide or not. The gameplay is that of a 3d platformer, but with a twist. You need to activate platforms with mouse-clicks to be able to land on them.

Irritum

Early in development, I decided that I wanted to make an emotional game that dealt with topics such as suicide and depression. I decided this because I wanted to make a game that would stand out from the competition, and address topics not many games have talked about before.

The Wonderful 101 sports a unique visual style that combines elements of Viewtiful Joe, Hideki Kamiya’s earlier game, with a colourful overlay of Rayman Origins.

For that reason, I have decided this Journal entry will also be about emotions, specifically the emotional toll the game had on me while I was making the game. Many people think working on a game is fun and exciting, and while it is, it is also very stressful and depressing. In this journal, I will share how creating the game affected me emotionally and mentally, and how it challenged the design of the game.

To get a better idea of how this all ties together, let be give you some context on my history. I do have a history of depression and some suicidal thoughts. I did not seek or get treatment. I still occasionally get these feelings, and this game may have inhibited or exaggerated these emotions. I used this to my advantage, and I was able to have a lot of insight with the topics of the game, but it also hindered the development of the game.

Irritum

Nervousness. During development, I was plagued by constant nervousness. Why? My biggest fear is the fear that I will be a failure. I don’t want to be known as the developer who makes bad games. Who does? I wanted my game to be as good as possible, while still maintaining the message I want the game to carry. But I always was (and still am) nervous that people just won’t get it, or maybe the game is just uninterpretable, and the game is bad.

Depression. This goes hand in hand with nervousness. I consider myself depressed for a majority of development. I was worried my game would suck, and would be hated by everybody. I was worried I would drop the game and give up. I was worried my girlfriend would leave me.

Normally, people would hire play-testers to find out what is bad about the game. I didn’t have that luxury (for the most part). I opened the alpha and beta for people to play as a web-player, but nearly no one actually played it.

I promoted the game as much as I could (in an alpha stage) where people could play for free and offer their feedback, but it was incredibly limited. When the game actually started getting attention (recently), it was too late for me to put it out there for people to play because it was almost already done.

Why would people pay for something that is out there for free, and is supported by the developer? I had a constant knot in my stomach that thought the game will fail because the art will turn people away, people won’t get it, there are too many bugs, etc. and I could do nothing about it but wait.

This isn’t the kind of “butterflies in the stomach” nervous, but a “raging bear in the stomach” nervousness. The kind of thing that keeps you up at night because you can’t stop thinking about how much could go wrong.

Irritum

Depression. This goes hand in hand with nervousness. I consider myself depressed for a majority of development. I was worried my game would suck, and would be hated by everybody. I was worried I would drop the game and give up. I was worried my girlfriend would leave me. I was worried that if this game failed to even be minimally successful, I would have wasted three and as half months of my life.

Not just “day-time” three and a half months, but literally every hour of every day would be wasted. Knowing that I could be this close to failure scared me more than I can describe. The worst feeling I could imagine would be knowing I suck at doing the one thing I want to do with my life.

Not just “day-time” three and a half months, but literally every hour of every day would be wasted. Knowing that I could be this close to failure scared me more than I can describe. The worst feeling I could imagine would be knowing I suck at doing the one thing I want to do with my life. Now with release only a week away(at the time of this writing) , I feel much better. I hope the game will be an immense commercial success, but I am glad if it seems to get mild traction. As long as it isn’t lost miles under the sea of other indie games, I will happy.

Stress. Daily Routine: Wake up in a rush, worrying that you slept in until after noon. Read emails. Work a bit. Get ready for the day. Work some more. Get food (maybe, depending on the schedule). Work. Sleep. That schedule sounds normal for many game developers, and it was normal for me.

However, every day for me, I woke up knowing I had to get as much as I could every day. I did everything alone, from art, to (most) music, and code. In addition to doing all of this, I only had the time frame of three months to finish the game (Summer break).

Irritum

That means that, for me, every day was a rush to get done as much as I possibly could. I had to work on everything simultaneously to have it all come together in time. Knowing how far behind you are in one area is stressful, because you don’t know if you have the time to take a step back for a day or so. It would be as if your boss told you that you have a deadline to do something, and your job depended on it, and you didn’t know if you would be able to make it. Every day you would work as hard as you could, but you would always be behind schedule because the boss continues to add more work to the project.

Frustration. My computer almost put me into a rage-induced coma numerous times. The biggest obstacle in finishing the game, besides myself, was probably getting the software and my Macbook Pro to stop messing up.

Frustration. My computer almost put me into a rage-induced coma numerous times. The biggest obstacle in finishing the game, besides myself, was probably getting the software and my Macbook Pro to stop messing up. An example is the character model. The final model in the game is actually the alpha model. I was designing and modeling a new character, but Blender suddenly decided to mess everything up.

When rigging the character, Blender seemed to randomly apply different rotations to the character model, making it look like the monster from “The Thing”. It was beyond salvageable. Two entire days I could have polished mechanics, other art, done music, advertised, made levels, tested, all wasted.

This was not the only instance of issues either. I was literally a ticking time bomb due to the high amount of stress and frustration that I was going through, and I normally erupted in fits of rage.

irritum

Attention. The last thing I noticed about myself being different was my point of view and attentiveness. Towards the end of development, or mid-late July, the only thing I could think of was the game. Breaks no longer had any effect on me, besides increasing my frustration in myself for being lazy.

In conclusion, making the game was awful. I suffered from many emotional traumas, but finishing the game is incredibly rewarding. It is definitely worth the emotional costs to create something that other people support and love.

They didn’t help me relax and take a step back. I was too involved in the game to stop thinking about it. I found myself daydreaming about bug-fixes, new mechanics, level ideas and such while watching television or films, sleeping, or even driving. I couldn’t escape the game I was trying to make, and my ability to give my attention to other matters suffered.

In conclusion, making the game was awful. I suffered from many emotional traumas, but finishing the game is incredibly rewarding. It is definitely worth the emotional costs to create something that other people support and love.

The feelings you get after finally finishing the game outweighs the negative feelings you get while working on the game.

A big thank you to Ryan Noble from BeefJack  for setting this developer journal up.

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