I Made Saints : A creator's commentary
The re-release of our first game, I Make Saints, is coming soon, available on Steam on April 5th 2021 (Wishlist now! It actually helps a lot, even if you're not planning to buy right away). I made that game by myself in 2017, and worked on its Steam Edition by myself again, intermittently in late 2020 and early 2021. For this new edition, I had to dive back into this project, into its mood and themes. I've previously discussed the experience of initially making the game and I still stand by most of what I wrote at the time.
I Make Saints is a harrowing experience to play, and to insure it felt that way, I had to disturb myself, to really feel what the game was about. I've read comments under Youtube let's plays of the game suggesting I was trying hard to be edgy with the game and its content, and I can absolutely see why one would come to this conclusion.
For one, the world is now filled to the brim with a very toxic kind of bored cynicism, so any sincere enterprise will be met with doubt. And secondly, I suppose it's easier to think I was just being edgy instead of confronting the themes in the game, which are very unpleasant.
I Made Art
But the truth is, I Make Saints is a very sincere effort to explore some dark themes I find challenging, and grim crimes I find disgustingly unforgiveable. Its subject matter is based on a true story, a series of crimes committed in the 60's, where the killer wrote poetry that he read as a statement in court, and kept writing in prison (his works were never published, kept privately by his lawyer). Which leads me to what I've explicitly expressed earlier, but the theme of the game is actually about how my belief that art can heal is not an absolute truth : art can fail people and leave them alone and helpless.
Art is a way to reach out and communicate with your fellow human being. I have been touched so many times by pieces of art (be it paintings, movies, word, games...) and the biggest revelation was that I felt connected to the person who made them. Art is its own language, beyond words, made of complicated and often unnamable feelings. To feel a connection to a piece of art is a powerful, precious thing, transcending my own social anxieties and this fundamental feeling I've always carried that I don't fully get people.
So to see this belief fundamentally fractured, to see a person who tried to use art to channel and heal some internal pain, but couldn't contain this pain, couldn't break the cycle and ended up hurting others in despicable ways, was a brutal thing. Thus I made a game about it. And it was difficult. It was dark. It was not fun. It was the only way I knew how to write. And I had to go back to do more of it.
It'll become obvious to the astute players, but the new environment added to I Make Saints : Steam Edition is definitely softer than the other original ones. I couldn't go as deep this time. I went at it from a different angle, adding a layer of complexity to the subject, exploring the potential origins of unresolved, passed-down trauma. I do not know if I managed to recapture the tone of my original work, but I hope I did, so that I can let this project live on its own.
I Made Jank
I realize I am not talking much about the game part of the game. I didn't touch anything from a mechanics standpoint. The game should still have the same jank, the same unclear/obtuse challenges. I believe it is short and simple enough to excuse its quirks, and I do hope you all will be in agreement. I have a personal very high tolerance for jank in the games I play, so it translates into the games I make.
Even though I am implying that this is the definitive edition, it is still missing some ideas I did not implement (but such is the fate of every creative project, not everything makes the cut!). For example, I planned for the players to be able to return to the apartment environment once they reached the city level. Once back inside, the place would essentially be the same, except there would be a slug in the bed, breathing sickly and noisily. That idea, although fully implemented in the Unity project, now rests on the cutting room floor. Was it a nod to my eventual games about slugs (please & Please Follow)? Was it a representation of the transgression of the intimate, a slimy phallic unwelcomed creature lying in a bed? A random freaky element added just to foster discussion? I could not justify it for myself (I am inclined to lean on the latter, and that is not a satisfying explanation) and decided the slime would not make it into the final build.
I Made It
Ultimately, I am sort of glad this release will put this game squarely in my past now. I wasn't planning on making a big publicity effort on I Make Saints, because I am pretty sure there's an unidentified threshold of popularity to be reached where the game would get negative attention, due to its heavy and dark subject matter. Putting it on Steam is a dangerous gamble in that regard, and I am still very anxious and curious to see how it will perform.
I can only hope that players will think I handled the subject matter in a sincere and mature way. Like, the game plays like crap, but it left you feeling icky and disgusted. That would make me very happy.