The medium of independent games has breathed new life into the world of console gaming and beyond. Recent instant classics such as Bastion, Castle Crashers, Super Meat Boy and Limbo have all been created by the types of developers who don’t have the financial support of a massive video game publisher. ScrewAttack has partnered with Swagabyte Games to produce a PC puzzle-platformer with an enticing theme – Disorder.
Disorder follows the life of a troubled teenager, who must navigate and piece together the positive and negative aspects of his past. By doing so, players will hopefully discover the psychological issues that plague the main character and fix them in the process. We spoke with three of the game’s developers -Matt McConnell, Saam Pahlavan, and Alex Previty. They gave us an inside look into their interesting take on the puzzle-platforming genre.
Keep a close eye out for Disorder once it officially hits Steam for PC’s on January 13, 2015!
Grizzly Bomb: What led to the development of such a game that focuses on the psychological elements associated with a troubled teen?
Matt: Saam was the one who first mentioned exploring schizophrenia as a topic in games. He conceived the idea shortly after studying about the illness in a psychology class. We all went to college together, so in a class early in our careers we pitched a story-centric puzzle game based on various symptoms of schizophrenia. Two years later, with other projects and games under our belt, we revisited the idea. Realizing schizophrenia was both challenging and limiting as a mechanic, we expanded into a game revolving around general psychosis that reveals itself in different ways.
How will players maneuver throughout the broken parts of the main character’s mindscape?
Matt: After being thrown into an abstract floating world, you’re immediately blocked by the environment. You quickly learn that the only way forward is to switch between dark and light versions of the same landscape. At first it’s simple: ground that only appears in the light world? Switch to the light world. Walk across. Easy. A series of platforms that halt in the light world and move in the dark? Hop on in the light. Switch to the dark and ride onward. A cakewalk. But every time you get comfortable with one of these elements, you’re bombarded by a new one. They start working in tandem, challenging your brain and your reflexes. By the last world, you’ll look back on those simple, happy floating platforms with longing.
Are there any games in particular that inspired some of the mechanics and art design for Disorder?
Saam: There are definitely a couple of games that inspired the mechanics of Disorder. At the initial time of its conception games like LIMBO, Braid, and Super Meat Boy were bringing indie games to the mainstream. In terms of level design I try to take lessons from all three of the games mentioned. We really try to respect the player and make them feel like they’re learning/growing from playing instead of just being told exactly what to do. In terms of the main world-switching mechanic: we’ve seen similar gameplay in games before, but it wasn’t necessarily something we looked at. We make a small nod in the form of an easter egg to a flash game called Time Fcuk by Edmund McMillen and it’s sort of us saying “Yes, we know our base mechanic has been done before, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make a game that’s a different experience with a similar mechanic”.
Alex: On the audio/music side of the spectrum, I was very influenced by what I happened to be playing at the time (in this case, Killer 7 and Demon’s Souls). For Killer 7‘s audio, I really like how a lot of the in-game sounds are tonal/musical in nature. This either harmonizes or clashes with the score, both in ways that help perpetuate the game’s mood. This works to create a cohesive aural experience for the player. On the music side of things, I really like what was done with the Demon’s Souls soundtrack. A lot of the cues are very sparse, but they set the mood of the game and paint a certain emotion onto the desolate landscape of the in-game world.
Have any of you (the developers) experienced any of the same struggles present in your game?
Matt: When the game was focused on schizophrenia, we had a hard time putting ourselves into the character’s place, to feel what he felt. So when we changed focus to all manner of schizotypy, we were able to put more of ourselves into the story. Many people suffer from chronic or momentary depression, social anxiety, feelings of exclusion; myself included. This game isn’t about the main character being “crazy”— it’s about being human, and some of the philosophical problems inherent to our existence.
Saam: I think the game is more about the human condition than one specific illness, as artsy fartsy as that sounds. I can definitely relate to certain parts of the main character’s story (family issues, loneliness, depression), but I wouldn’t say this is about just one of us or a 1:1 story. It’s a combination of bits and pieces of all of our experiences. When you spend several years working on a personal project like this there’s parts of you that end up falling into the game.
Do you hope this game’s themes profoundly impact any real life gamers out there who struggle with the main character’s issues?
Matt: We do. It’s important to discuss things that are uncomfortable for us. Games, as a medium, haven’t always given us the opportunity to do so. Yet a space in which to explore thought and emotion is opening up. We had a first-time player, earlier in development, come up to us after the demo. He couldn’t find his voice for a moment, but when he did, it was both strong and hesitant. He said, “I’ve dealt with depression and anxiety my entire life, but I’ve never had anything capture what I’ve felt quite like this.” I can’t even describe how inspiring it is to hear that. We want people to feel a connection, to know that they aren’t alone. And for the folks who are lucky enough not to suffer from these disorders: we hope you come to understand the other side a bit better.
Saam: Totally. It’s more important to me that our game resonates with people because I personally use games as a way of communication and creating relationships. Yeah, I’d like the game to be successful, cool, whatever, but at the end of the day even if one person feels like our game really moved or resonated with them then that’s incredible.
Disorder drops on Steam for PC on January 13.
Image: ScrewAttack, Swagabyte Games