Deconstructing the Apartment

by Jack

Click here to play 'The Apartment'

It is done.

Ignoring news of a deadline relaxation for January I pushed through and published “The Apartment” at a few minutes before midnight on January 31st, 2013. I also monetized it, and as of this post I’ve made sales. This is the first project that I’ve felt worthy of both the Dark Acre name & people’s money. I hope you feel the same.

None of this would have been possible without the support & encouragement of friends, family, & fans. A special heartfelt thanks goes out to the following people:

  • Mike Renwick, for putting up with my rants & madness on GChat.
  • Kelly Wright, for sharing the meatspace & putting up with my insanity first-hand.
  • Nao Enomoto, for being the best damn cheerleader my world has ever known.
  • Chris Kaitila, without whom there’d be no #1GAM and no project.

What Went Right

1. #1GAM
When Kaitila announced the jam a couple of month ago, I was skeptical. I’ve stated on more than a few occasions that I only have the time, energy, & brainspace for a single focused game jam once ever few months, & up until January ’13 that had been comfortably addressed by the Ludum Dare 48-hour competition.

I’d also just spent two years wrestling with what the ideal production schedule for myself & Dark Acre was supposed to be. Initially it was 8 weeks. Then it was whenever. Most recently it’s be a year-long earmark for the Cyberdrunk project. But for whatever reason, as January moved forward & more progress was made on the Cyberdrunk thing I figured I should allot some time for other public efforts.

And maybe, just maybe, publish something for money.

2. New Framework via LD48 no.25
When the last Ludum Dare entered I was pleased to discover I’d finally put together a reasonable framework for communicating narratives. In other words, I had built—from scratch—a story-telling engine that took some advantage of the Unity3D platform. So began the Cyberdrunk project.

I realized that I should also spend time iterating on & polishing the framework, so at first I thought I’d do that via Darkades. But adventure games require a fair amount of time to complete; they’re not just poopy little projects that can be spat out in a day. So combine a month-long “jam” with some emerging self-built technology & maybe there’d be something cool at the end of it. And there was.

3. Kontent Kreator
Coupled with no.2 above, having a solid framework meant more time spent making stuff for players to interact with & less time worrying about whether it would all work. I think for this project I spent more hours in 3D Studio Max, Photoshop, & Google Docs than I did in Unity3D. That was an amazing feeling.

4. Calling it “Art”
I think there’ll be more to say on this in the coming months, as I prove out more of these projects. For now, I’ll refer you to the “artist statement” that adorns the main menu:

My work explores isolation and decrepitude both mental and physical.

With influences as diverse as Brutalist architecture and post-modern cyberculture, new models of narration are created from exploring the discomfort of the human psyche and emergent digital mediums.

Ever since I was a child I have been fascinated by storytelling and its effect on the imagination. The fugue state entered when enthralled by media becomes the definition of immersion, and it is this feeling that the work tries to capture.

As the narrative unfolds based on a willingness (or unwillingness!) to explore the environment, the player is left with a sense of relief or emptiness at their condition.

Approaching this work with this kind of attitude informing my creative decisions seemed to make all the difference in the world. I leave it up to you to decide if the resulting experience can be classified as art or not.

What Went Wrong

1. Working Until Drop-Dead
I was adjusting content in the finished commercial build right up until 23:55, five minutes before putting it up for sale. A very risky maneuver, and going forward I’ll be leaving far more time for final polish & testing.

Contains references to suicide and accidental death

2. No Warning
As of this post I’m working on a way to put in a personal warning to players that the content may be disturbing to some. I apologize if the work has caused anyone undue duress, & it is certainly not intended for a very young audience. I blithely assumed that since most of my followers were adults that it wouldn’t reach too-young eyes. Also such is the danger of self-publishing without a standards & ratings board to pass through.

3. Long, Long Nights
My obsession with this project only seemed to grow as the deadline loomed, & by the end of it I was nearly manic in my efforts to bring it to completion. The pacing is something I’ll be looking to improve in the future to avoid going bonkers with stress.

A Few More Words

It’s worth noting that on January 24th I had my final face-to-face depression counseling session. I also seem to have not needed my antidepression medication since the 20th. Can making games you believe in cure depression? I don’t know. But I do know I feel a whole hell of a lot better about everything than I did a month ago.

Let’s see if we can’t carry this feeling forward.