I recently reviewed Irritum, a 3D puzzle platform game created solely by Nick Padget, and afterwards I had the opportunity to interview the game developer. For those unaware, Irritum is a game where the player fills the role of a character that commits suicide, and wakes up to a place known only as Limbo. While in Limbo, you are confronted with confusing emotions, a dark stormy atmosphere, and two very conflicting angel-like beings–Sollus and Cassus. You have no memory of what happened. You’ll have to reach inside yourself and your gaming skills in order to traverse this world of obstacles, planes, and an all out defiance of gravity.
Editor’s Note: Warning! One of the questions below includes an answer that has SPOILERS. You will be warned about this in the question itself, so please scroll down if you don’t not want the game’s ending to be ruined.
GS: How long did it take you to make Irritum?
Nick: “I started development the second week of May, and release was September 6, so it was about four months in total. I’m not done just yet with the game though, I am still making small changes and improvements since launch.”
GS: I already actually researched the answer to this, but so GameSkinny’s readers are aware. Where does the game’s title come from?
Nick: “It is the latin translation of “void” or “nothingness”. I chose it because the game takes place in limbo, and I thought another word I could use synonymously would be the void, or emptiness. I just changed it to latin so it would sound unique as a name used to identify the place where the game takes place.”
GS: Producing a game completely by yourself, besides taking multiple talents, must also take a lot of work. What are some of the challenges and advantages of doing this?
Nick: “Probably the biggest challenge was having a limited point of view of the game. I couldn’t bounce ideas off of many people, and finding unbiased opinions during development was very challenging.
One of the greatest advantage is having artistic freedom. I created the game with the story I wanted to express, without having to cater to a supervisor or giving up a vision because someone else doesn’t like it. Of course it may not have a widespread appeal, but it is the vision I wanted to maintain. Another advantage was the flexibility of hours. I was able to work as long as I wanted or as short as I wanted. Sometimes I took a break and spent time with my girlfriend, and other times I worked all day long.”
GS: At the age of 22, you are a young developer. When did you first realize you wanted to get into the gaming industry?
Nick: “Probably around the age of 15 or so. At that age I often tried making small games with GameMaker, but never finished them. Even though I never completed one, I still greatly enjoyed making them. I think that was when I consciously realized this is what I would love to spend my life doing.”
GS: And how did you go about making this happen?
Nick: “After high school, I took it upon myself to learn how to code. I was making games again, this time in Unity, but still not finishing them. I decided to start going to a local university to properly learn how to code. In addition to coding, I began expanding my artistic skills in my free time. I have always been artistically gifted, but I was just honing my skills, specifically with 3d modeling. After some things fell in to place, I had an open summer and I decided to take the opportunity and make a game I would finally release.”
GS: What do you hope/dream to achieve in the gaming industry?
Nick: “I hope I can make at least one game that will be remembered for generations. I understand many games will be forgotten over time, and most likely many of mine will also, but I want to make at least one game that is regarded highly and remembered for many years to come.”
GS: You’ve said: “Just like games of the past, each leap comes hand-in-hand with a feeling of tension, dread, and, when you make it, satisfaction.” Are there any specific games that might have influenced you or Irritum you are referring to?
Nick: “Specifically, Super Meat Boy. The difficulty of that game is insane in some places, but every time you complete a difficult obstacle you become overwhelmed with satisfaction. You finally mastered the part where you died 50 times before, but now there is a new obstacle that you will die 50 more times trying to get past.
I think SMB has also influenced the difficulty of Irritum. Irritum may be at times too difficult, and I think it carries over from my love for difficult games like SMB.”
GS: Ok, now for some tough questions. Why did you choose to use suicide, depression, and mental illness as the main plot mechanic for Irritum?
Nick: “I have personally dealt with suicidal thoughts and depression in my lifetime, and I wanted to express my feelings during those times. I wanted to pull inspiration for a game from my personal experiences, because I thought it would bolster the narrative. I tried to translate many of my feelings and emotions to the games content, from the mechanics to the narrative, to give the players the feelings I had when I was depressed.
To help put the player in the frame of mind I wanted to try and relay, I made the story about suicide itself, and the search for redemption. As the player progresses through the game, they experience things that shine a light on why the character attempted suicide, and what kind of thoughts they were experiencing.”
GS: Since this is an email interview, I’m going to jump the gun and make an intuitive guess. If for the above question your answer involved a personal connection, and your hope was to bring light to the issue of suicide, how do you think Irritum will be a positive influence in doing this?
Nick: “My hope is Irritum will start a conversation about suicide, and help people understand the way depressed people feel. In the social world, very few people understand depression, especially at my age. I want to try and convey the feelings of depression and the thoughts of victims of depression to people who don’t understand it.
Many people can’t simply be told what depression feels like. They can’t fathom the logic behind it, and it is impossible for them to wrap their head around. My goal with Irritum is to try and break that barrier, which will hopefully lead to more people understanding how depression affects people.”
SPOILER ALERT! GS: Did you consider any negative impact a game about suicide might have? And if so, why did you still decide to take this path?
Nick: “I thought of one main way the game could have a negative impact. Players who already have depression issues and suicidal tendencies may be more susceptible to such disabilities if they play the game. Playing a game about suicide may not be healthy for them, and may give them misconceptions about committing suicide.
I kind of expected that people would see the game as tasteless, and desensitizing, but in my opinion the game really isn’t. As Kelly Klastava pointed out in your article, the game can appear to desensitize people to the act of suicide because people will think they can return to life. But, I don’t agree with that.
I don’t want to spoil the game for you or your readers, but I feel like I must say this to clear some misconceptions. If you do not want the game spoiled, please skip to the end of this section At no point, in any of the endings in Irritum, does the player return to life. No matter what happens, the player dies in every ending. The game is suppose to make you expect that you could return to life if you do as the game orders you, but it is actually the opposite. My hope was that players would finally get to the end, feel as if they could have succeeded, but realize they have failed, and they are destined to fail. The game is not meant to make people think they can come back to life, but show them the exact opposite. It is meant to show them it is impossible to take back an action like suicide, and when you choose to take your life, it’s the real deal. I want players to realize that throughout the game they were trying to reverse the decision to commit suicide, only to discover it is impossible. They struggle to survive, but it is irrelevant because they already made the decision to die.
This is why I chose to still take this path. I don’t believe the game supports the decision for people to commit suicide. I think it carries the message that attempting suicide is a regrettable decision and a mistake, and having the player fight to survive but only to ultimately fail supports this message.”
GS: How did you come to create two angel-like beings that follow the character, and do they represent anything deeper?
Nick: “The idea for the angels originally spawned from the need for company in the game. I decided to create beings that seemed to be alike to angels, but appear a bit more mysterious. I decided to give them the roles of guiding the player as well as help enforce the emotions I want the player to feel.
The two angel beings represent a kind of bi-polar disorder. Both of the beings aid you, but neither is specifically trustworthy. They are mainly meant to help reflect the thoughts of someone considering suicide. You are consistently bombarded with questions or challenges as to your purpose, worth, and goals. As someone who once had to deal with these feelings, I tried to give the player a feeling as if they were being taunted. Almost like they were being discouraged to continue.”
GS: What is your favorite part about Irritum?
Nick: “My favorite part is the decision to collect memories or not. As gamers, most of us are tailored to collect the hidden items and 100% every level (In my experience, players who do not actively seek hidden collectibles will not avoid collecting them if they know where they are). I think offering players the decision (at least from their point of view) to either collect the memories and lose, or ignore them and win, is an interesting one. It really pushes many gamers to an internal struggle to decide whether they want to have the “good” ending or whether they want to collect the collectibles.”
GS: Any future games in the work?
Nick: “Not currently. School and Irritum are keeping me pretty busy. I have several more ideas for games, I think now totaling 5, that I want to do next but I won’t start on a new one at least for another several months. Once I get the concepts ironed out, I will put them out there and see what the gaming community is most interested in, and then start working on it.”
GS: Anything else you’d like to add?
Nick: “I loved your review. Very insightful and well-thought out. I am glad to see someone putting an immense amount of effort into their review.”
You can keep up with news about Nick and Irritum on his website http://www.irritumgame.com, Twitter, or Facebook page.
Don’t forget. If you are feeling depressed, lonely, isolated, or having thoughts of suicide please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, or dial 1-800-273-8255.