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The Great Escape: A Conflicted Life


Video games are funny things. They provide environments that allow individuals to immerse themselves in worlds with distinct boundaries and clear objectives. They ask us to cross the goal line. To destroy the enemy's base. To clear the playing field of falling objects. We approach these tasks with a sense of comfort, gliding towards a clear goal: To win. To conquer that which prohibits peace in a given universe.

We intentionally insert ourselves into problematic worlds with the hope of making things better. Where there is no one else to solve a given world's problem. In one way or another, we are repeatedly forced to “Save the Princess”. Whether we are saving the planet from nuclear decimation in Call of Duty 4, freeing the world of a tyrant's grasp in Street Fighter, or simply climbing ladders to combat an evil ape in Donkey Kong, there is almost always a clear and distinct goal: to make things better.

Fortunately, we as players are often given aid in our quests to restore peace. New armor, stronger weapons, powers ups, and health packs all help us deal with our hardships. Sadly, this isn't the case in most of our real lives. We must deal with problems on a daily basis. Whether they be emotional, physical, or monetary, we often don't have a chance to back down from them. There is no enchanted amulet that allows us to become powerful enough to overcome the greatest foe, nor is there a 'POW' box to clear the field of potential danger. Instead we have different means of overcoming hardship – We simpy deal with it.

But how do we deal with it?

Some choose to directly confront the issues that plague their individual lives, while some decide to distract themselves.

I tend to do both.

Several years ago, my wife befell a strange and undiagnosable illness. It started one day with a pain that we both thought would go away. The next day, her pain had worsened to the point of having to make a trip to the emergency room. We spent hours waiting for test results, but in the end, there were no answers. 4 years, a dozen trips to the emergency room, a handful of doctors, and a few surgeries later, her illness has yet to be cured.

“Shit...” I often think to myself.

For some, the situation may be hard to grasp, but to put it brief terms; having the person you love most in the world be in constant and agonizing pain is not easy. Especially when there is nothing you can do to help resolve the issue. Even if you aren't the one experiencing the physical pain, other hardships arise.

It was about six months ago that I turned to video games in an attempt at making a productive effort at coping with the stress, worry, and overall anxiety that came along with my wife's illness. Like all of the readers of this site, I play video games. But unlike most, I tend to not play them all that often. I spend more time trying to create them. I've spent hours attempting to create tiny worlds in which problems can be easily solved by jumping and shooting. Worlds where problems are confined to a 480 x 640 pixel playing field. Where hardship can be eliminated with a simple click of the mouse, or a press of the space bar. To date, I've only released a single game that I've completed. This game was the result of wanting to process the previously mentioned hardships that I had been experiencing.

In November of 2009, a group of friends and peers were challenging themselves to writing a song a day for a month (this particular challenge was given to chiptune musicians). Being a big fan of chip music, I followed their progress avidly, and began to wonder why people in different creative fields couldn't undergo the same challenge. Perhaps they could make a painting a day, write a short story in a day, or hell... why not make a video game in a day? Being an amateur game developer, a chose to do the latter: to create a video game in a day.

I spent a couple of days at my day job thinking about what type of game I could make while sitting at my cluttered desk. I looked above my monitor and pondered the posters hanging above it. I saw Link holding the Master Sword above his head. “Maybe a tiny adventure game,” I thought to myself.

I pondered several game types that ranged from the basic platformer to a miniature RPG that would be played in a matter of seconds. After a few moments I looked back at my desk where a picture of my wife sat.

I realized that the game didn't need to be epic – it just needed to include a part of myself. On a more mundane note, I realized that the development time would be short, and that I wouldn't be able to achieve portraying a grand plot or intense character development. Instead I chose to convey a distinct message. I decided that creating a game with both basic game play principles and simple character development would be most fitting – as long as it portrayed the situation I was experiencing.

Eventually, I had a clear idea of what the game would be like. I wrote nothing down, nor did I draw a single image. I fell asleep that Friday night feeling excited for what the next day had in store. For a moment I was able to put aside the fact that the woman lying next to me was in severe pain, and that there was nothing I could do to help her.

The next morning I awoke. I sipped at a cup of coffee as I sat down at my computer and opened the necessary programs and began to my work. As time passed, my thoughts vacillated between the task at hand, and the woman who sat in the other room.

Hours later I had met my deadline, by reaching my most basic goal. I had made a game in a day. Upon finishing, I asked a friend who was participating in the previously mentioned 'song a day' challenge to write a song for it. The next evening he responded to my email with a file attached. I implemented the song into the program, created a .zip file and released it to the public with bugs and all.

Since the game's release, a few close friends have responded with reports of deep sadness, as they were aware of the situation that my wife and I experience on a daily basis. Critiques from around the internet ranged from “this game is buggy as shit” to “this game made me feel sad.” I felt accomplished in the fact that I had fulfilled my goal of creating an emotive game, and was surprised to read that people I didn't know had experienced the intended reaction to the it: To feel hopeless. To struggle with the uncontrollable situations that are put in front of you, but to keep making an attempt to remedy the situation regardless of what might become of your efforts.

In the end, I realize that this game is far from perfect, and that I didn't reach every goal that I had intended to reach. The game was full of problems. In hindsight, I appreciate these points as they are what life is about: A constant barrage of issues that we must try to resolve. Problems to which we don't often get the desired result.

As game players, we are often provided with aid. But in the real world, such devices are not often handed over so easily. Health packs don't replace insurance plans, nor do pixelated mushrooms aid in self growth. We are on a journey without confines. A game where no rules have been programmed. A world where the 'out-of-control' must be dealt with, even if it means taking a step back from time to time just to escape our harsh realities in order to play a video game.

End notes:

-I really don't want to spam the Dtoid community with self promoting nonsense, and hope that this article doesn't come off as doing so. Seriously. I realize this game is shit, but just wanted to share the story behind it.
-This game was made using Game Maker 7.
-The song “Day of Love” was made by Disasterpeace. The music is better than the game, and was recently featured in an episode of Penny Arcade TV.
-Want to check out more chiptune songs written during the '30 songs in 30 days' Challenge? Check them out!
-I sometimes ponder further developing this game. Any Flash developers out there?
-If you are interested in playing the game (and have a PC) you can download the game, here.
-This game was also inspired by Joy Division's Love Will Tear Us Apart (one of the best songs ever written).

How to play How Many Stars:

Rule 0: There are an endless amount of stars in the sky.

Rule 1: Every star crossing your path is an opportunity. The harder you try to experience positive interactions, the more likely you are to find a Lucky Star. The more Lucky Stars you gather, the more wishes you acquire. The more wishes you gather, the more likely you are to help the love of your life.

Rule 2: As time goes on, your decisions are more important. Don't get distracted. Keep moving forward and hope that everything will be OK.

Rule 3: There is no end to this game. No resolution to the problem at hand. No matter what you do, your actions can be viewed as ultimately unimportant. Perhaps one day, a God will spare you from the endless process of item gathering, but until that day, keep aiming for the sky. Maybe your wish will come true.
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About pixelpunxone of us since 1:14 AM on 11.19.2008

I have a website with links to game and music stuff that I do / have done:

Crystal Labs

Currently Playing:
Tetris (GB)
Fallout: New Vegas (PC)
Fallout: New Vegas (PC)
Fallout: New Vegas (PC)

Currently Listening to:
Makeup and Vanity Set
Cheap Dinosaurs
Pet Shop Boys

Why Destructoid?
Dick jokes.

A couple articles that the Destructoid editors have so graciously decided to put on the front page:

Other Worlds Than These: As Above, So Below

I, the Author: Adam and Eve Have Developed the Tools Necessary to Tear Down the House of God

I Suck at Games: From Russia with Fun

Commandments of Less Suckage