“my fourth game, about mania, melancholia, and the creative process”

Synopsis: You know exactly what you need to do — you can see it shimmering right there in front of you. You can see it while dreaming, too, and the difference has become subtle. Dreams wake into dreams, and people blend in and out: real characters and dream characters, all woven into the same script. Finally, they fade completely, and you’re alone in the expanse with the construction. With time, you feel something growing, a pinhole that eventually yawns into a deep ravine of longing. The construction languishes, though the expanse seems indifferent.

One night, in a dream, they appear: things that you clearly could not have conjured on your own. Not snowflakes. Not the self-similar forms of leaves. Not distant planets’ erosion networks as viewed through telescopes. Not those things that are beautifully external but lack the signatures of consciousness. These things that appear are ugly and non-procedural: indecipherable transmissions bubbling up through static, faded messages floating in bottles, and charcoal handprints on cave walls. Evidence has reached you through time of unknown duration and distance of unknown magnitude, but stale evidence is still evidence. –Jason Rohrer describing his game “Between” (more here)

I hardly ever play video games and don’t pay attention to their creation and culture; the most involved I’ve been with any game is the year or so I played Civilization with some stretches of obsessive focus. But after I watched Adam play a few of Rohrer’s games (the games seemed short, 5-10 minutes to play to completion, and easy to learn by playing) I’ve been reading about him. Rohrer is a video game designer who lives in a house in a meadow in upstate New York and designs games that seem more like thought experiments than games, to me. Here is what an article in Esquire says about how he lives:

Rohrer doesn’t use deodorant. He washes his hair only twice a month. He doesn’t put on a new pair of clothes in the morning, because he gave most of his clothes away years ago. He owns four pairs of boxer shorts. If he owned any more, he or his wife would have to spend more time washing them, which would make them both more reliant on electricity to run the washer. He keeps his fridge unplugged for the same reason. No fridge, no meat; no meat, no spoilage in an electrical storm. Open the fridge and all you see are vegan grains.

On his website you can read about his games. Here’s from his description (linked from his site) of his game “Regret”:

Regrets often center on mistakes that were unavoidable at the time. Though you can learn from each mistake that you make, it’s not clear that regretful thinking is valuable. What you learn by reliving a regrettable event may not end up being helpful next time you’re faced with a similar situation in real life. Regrets can bog you down as they accumulate over the years, and their net effect can become mentally paralyzing.

I wanted to make a game about how regret feels, but not necessarily about how to overcome regret. We both agreed that we should avoid the Deepak Chopra self-help angle.

My initial design ideas used 2-D platform mechanics as a foundation. Imagine making a mistake like missing a jump, but not dying from that mistake. Instead, imagine that mistake coming back to haunt you, forcing you to replay that jump again in the future. Imagine a level that becomes longer and longer as the regrettable past portions of the level are injected ahead of you – a future populated by past mistakes that you must replay.