Hey! Javy here. Some people were curious about the formation of You Were Made For Loneliness, so I thought I’d write a small…mediumish post about how the project was developed from beginning to release. Cheers.
Conception: You Were Made for What?
I have this bad habit–it’s a habit a lot of fiction writers have–where I’ll be chest deep in a project and suddenly become obsessed with some new story that’s been formulating in my head. After writing stories for 15 years or so, I’ve reached the point where I can usually push that obsession to the sideline and get back to work. This wasn’t the case for what would ultimately become You Were Made for Loneliness. I was working on my first twine game Terror Aboard the Speedwell, and this image kept popping into my head: an android maid sitting next to an windowsill. I don’t know why that particular picture kept flashing in my mind, but I couldn’t shake it. I allowed myself to become distracted. I wanted to do something with this picture and whatever I wanted to do with it I wanted to call it You Were Made for Loneliness. I should have put Speedwell on the back burner, but instead I rushed it and released a nifty but rough Choose Your Own Adventure game that could have been a lot better than it was (which is partially why I’m releasing a new special edition of the game soon!). I spent some days thinking about what story I wanted to tell with YWMFL. It would take place in the future. There would be robots, or at least *a* robot, and it would happen in space. In a post-apocalyptic setting, maybe a more fleshed out version of the same nebulous post-Earth setting I had concocted for Speedwell.
I still didn’t have what story I wanted to tell, though–just components–so I thought on it some more. Ultimately, I decided I wanted to tell a story about love, because love isn’t something you see in games a lot–killing, mutilation, sure, but love?–and I also wanted to tell a story about the value of choice. However, I didn’t want to make a game where the player had a bunch of choices that led down pathways A, B, or C because I had played that game. Many times. Hell, I had just finished making that game. I wanted to create a game that would encourage the player to really think about the importance of making choices and earning the right to make those choices. Memories were the final conceptual element I focused on, specifically the interplay between memories and choices and how those two things largely make up who we are as human beings. The unnamed robot would be service droid mentally assaulted by a never ending cascade of memories that didn’t belong to her. Would those memories make her a human being, and if so, would she be her own person, or just a composite of every person those memories belonged to? At this point, the end of April, I had the basics down: character sketches, a general idea of what I wanted this story to be about, and the mechanics. I started writing.
Community: Building the Team
It was pretty early on when I decided that You Were Made for Loneliness would be better suited as a project undertaken by multiple people. The memories that the maid would experience would be about love, memories that would present themselves as hyperlinks in the game’s main story. I had some stories planned out for these memories: a Southern man falling in love with a robber, two star-crossed kids fighting a futile battle against the gentrification of New York, a rich man following his estranged wife to a foreign country to try and win her back. I soon noticed that these stories contained similar elements throughout. Protagonists were mostly men. They were dealing with desire and regret–themes explored in the stories of Carver, Cheever, Roth, and Updike. I’ve always liked fiction that’s served as a resentful celebration of our brokenness as human beings, so that’s what I tend to write. There’s nothing wrong with that necessarily, except that I wasn’t writing about love in the way that I needed to. I was writing about one kind of painful love in a world filled with many kinds of that particular human experience.If I wanted to tell the kind of story I set out to tell, I would need more people to create pieces based on their own experiences. The first few emails went out to folks I knew, to test the waters. A talented editor I had worked with named Kaitlin Tremblay. Indie developer Tony Perriello. Insightful critic Jon Hamlin.
I told them I wanted to write a story about an android named Naomi reliving the memories of dead lovers while working for a rich, lonely woman. I told them that it was a story about love and figuring out who you are. I told them I couldn’t pay them anything beyond what we could make off a tipjar paypal link since I was already paying for art and music. I asked them to submit memories: stories, poems, even non-fiction that I could use in the game.
They all agreed to submit pieces. Fueled by those responses, I was ecstatic and confident in the story concept, so I sent more emails to people. I tweeted about a mystery twine game that I needed writers for. Soon I had folks I knew (and didn’t know) asking for details. A lot of them. Marc Price. Kitty Horrorshow. Richard Goodness. Lilian Cohen-Moore. Bryant Francis. There was also a large number of folks who didn’t join the project and I couldn’t blame them, really. I was, after all, essentially asking these people to write for little more than (possible) tips. There were also writers who just plain weren’t interested in the concept, or were uncomfortable with writing about love, which was (again) totally understandable.
I emailed artist Elizabeth Simins and asked if she would be interested in drawing an illustration to be used as a title screen and promo image for the game. We agreed on a price and delivery estimate. I did the same with a composer who had been recommended to me. By the end of April I had 14 people–what I thought would be the final number of members on a team we hadn’t even given a name to yet.
Tsukareta : Work Work Work
Creating the frame story for You Were Made for Loneliness was one of the most rewarding and frustrating experiences I’ve had. I’m particularly proud of how the frame story works as a solid house for the memories submitted by other people on the team. I also think it’s one of the better stories I’ve written. The drama is understated but slowly builds up to a tense showdown. The world-building is done subtlety. Naomi’s lack of free will is shown via choices that are crossed out whenever a cursor scrolls over them, the gist being that Naomi is aware of her surroundings and interactions with people (and even has feelings and thoughts about those interactions) but she herself cannot interact with anyone or anything outside of carrying out an order given to her. It’s a nice little trick I
stole paid homage to borrowed from Depression Quest and re-purposed for our narrative.
That lack of choice finally ends when the tension reaches its peak and Naomi, by becoming self-aware, has earned her right to have a choice, something most games grant their players right from the start. I drafted the story several times while I waited for my writers to submit their pieces. It took a while for it to reach its current state. I suffered writer’s block at several points, mostly because I didn’t understand Naomi. I knew who she was as a concept (a socially-imprisoned, depressed individual struggling to create an identity for herself) but I didn’t know who she was a person, as someone I could write. I wrote entire sections only to delete them in frustration. They were too overwrought, clashing with Naomi’s characterization as someone withdrawn from the world. Sometimes they were just too fucking boring.
I reached the point where I didn’t want to work on the story. I avoided my computer. I played Dark Souls and rewatched The Wire instead, anything to avoid sitting in front of my laptop and staring at Twine. And then Elizabeth sent me the illustration: a beautiful, colored illustration of Naomi as an eyeless mannequin with a serial number stamped on her neck. The image jump-started my desire to get back to writing. The last half of the story didn’t come easy, but it came. Slowly. Key by key. (Lesson here: artists are wonderful and can pull your ass out of the frying pan. Give them their due respect.) Around the end of May I finished the rough draft of the frame story and started to edit it. The majority of submitted pieces began to come in, and they were good. A tale about a woman slowly poisoning her lover. A story about two would-be lovers sending each other disturbing videos over the internet. A heart-breaking confession. A bit about a husband and wife separately recalling their relationship. An incredible hyperlink labyrinth made by Zoya Street that centered around some translated poems of Izumi Shikibu. And, by god, there were even a couple of happy love stories! I implemented the submissions into my story, choosing to hyperlink certain words in the frame story to these memories (example: “nude” would lead to the aforementioned confession).
All was going pretty well, except that my music person had mysteriously disappeared. In the end, I decided that it was probably for the best and chose to spend the music money I had budgeted on someone to edit the frame story. Patrick Lindsey turned out to be that editor. I sent a couple of other emails as well to see if folks were interested in joining the project. Nina White joined the team, agreeing to submit some pieces. Sidney Fussell joined up as well, submitting a cool story based around music genres. After a rather silly voting process done via email, we chose Tsukareta (“The weary” in Japanese) as our team name. I continued to edit YWMFL as the days marched on. I sent Patrick a draft of the frame story while I waited for more submissions to implement. He sent me the draft back a week later and, after some confusion on my end involving Microsoft Word’s aggravating Track Changes feature, we had a version ready to go a day before launch. I prepared the release annoucment for my blog and emailed the team thanking them for their participation and telling them that I would launch the game in a couple of hours. I encouraged them to share the links to the game on their blogs and, if they wanted, to share the pieces they wrote for YWMFL outside of the game itself.
I released the game in the early hours of June 25th and dragged myself to bed. When I woke up around 9:00 AM, some folks had already started to tweet links to the game. I joined in and anxiously awaited player response. I spent the next couple of days with my eyes glued to the stats screen, watching as thousands of people played our game. It’s been about a month since we released the game, and over 7,000 people have played it. Some have left nice comments, a pleasant mixture of constructive criticism and praise. A couple of sites began to post links to the game. A positive review or two. A nice analytical piece. Some folks have even thrown a little money our way. Overall, I’m rather pleased with the game we made. It isn’t for everyone, but I put a lot of work into creating the kind of game I wanted to see exist, and I had a lot of help making it that way. So if you’ve played You Were Made for Loneliness and liked it, consider searching for the works of the writers, artists, and editors who helped me put it together and support those folks. They are incredible people:
Thanks for reading (and hopefully playing)!