Thoughts on releasing In My Mind by Charlie Francis Cassidy

Releasing this game was probably one of the scariest things I have ever done. And this is coming from a person who is anxious about pretty much everything always.

What really pushed me to release it though, was being asked to exhibit it at Contours last year. Which was truly amazing and one of the highlights of my life seeing it there. And on a huge screen, you could fit like 20 cats on it. Even talking about it there at one of their In Conversation evenings. So that helped me overcome a lot of the doubt about actually putting it out there, and I released officially the day it exhibited.

It’s a scary thing releasing a game, and releasing a game that is so personal, you want it to be perfect. You wonder what people will think of it, and then by extension you. It’s really hard to seperate the two. But nothing is perfect, and even a game about your life, the reception of that isn’t necessarily a reflection of yourself.

I was afraid of what people would think of the thoughts that I have on a daily basis. But that is also why I made it. Because there is so much stigma, because a lot of people just don’t understand what it’s like. I should not have to be afraid of this. Maybe one day no one will be.

Even after you tell yourself all this, it’s still just, really hard.

This is where I want to mention, the other big help in me finishing and releasing this game, and that was the support from my partners and friends. Snow and Hanc especially cause almost daily up to the actual release I’d be messaging them like, how can I do this, this is like the scariest thing I have ever done. They’d always remind me how important it was, and how good the game was. They are always there and ready to hear about a problem I’m having with it or some weird new game idea. And I can’t thank them and all my friends enough for their ongoing support.

Now, I wanna get real here, not that I haven’t been already. It is really easy to fall into thinking that the game, or you, didn’t do well enough. Putting it up for awards, watching sales, it is so easy to take any rejection to heart. And I did find myself having moments where I was like, I should have done better, maybe if I’d done this, maybe it just isn’t good enough. Maybe I’m not good enough.

And for a bit I did totally fall into a bit of pit there. But, there is something I’ve seen Morgan Jaffit talk about a fair bit. And that is, defining what success means for you. It’s easy to be disappointed that my game didn’t sell enormously. But I never designed it for that.

Why did I make it?

I wanted to make a game that shows people what it is like living with a mental illness, living with bipolar. And, I did that. I’ve had people tell me how much they can relate to my game. I’ve had people thank me because they now have a better idea of what some of their friends go through.

When I started this game, I said, that if this helps even just one person, it would be worth it. And it has, and then some. So, for me, this game was entirely a success and I am unbelievably proud of it and myself. 

GX Australia - 2017 by Charlie Francis Cassidy

I got to attend GX the other weekend and speak on a few panels about things that are super important to me and wow, was that just such a great experience. GX as a whole is just such a great vibe and place to be. While I never make a point of ever, turning down my queerness or stop holding a partners hand because of how people out in the "real world" might react, I can't deny how much less stress there is being surrounded with people who just think your cute and are as happy as you to just be, yourself. Also, everyone has such great hair.

Now, for the panels I was on!

Mental Health Representations in Games 
I usually talk about mental health and games in some capacity at most conventions I go to, but this one I organised and moderated myself which was an exciting new experience, and I think it went pretty well!

The A is not for Ally 
This panel was the one that meant the most to me having a chance to do. I haven't really publicly talked about being asexual before and I really can't think of any other convention in the world that would accept a panel like this. I had such a good time, and everyone I got to do the panel with were wonderful, as were the audience.

Queerly Represent me and the Under Represented
It was lovely being asked to speak on this panel as a non-binary person and say a few things about polyamory in games. Though I honestly said more about the lack of things in games.


In My Mind now in Alpha!! by Charlie Francis Cassidy

Very excitingly I've managed to get my game into a pretty Alpha-ish stage. It's all functioning and very playable, all it really needs is some art (oh god it needs art) although it's kinda still a bit charming in its simple red blocks and capsule/pill like character.

There are still a few accessibility features that I would like to get in (and will) and of course some good ol' polish! But it's looking very good for this to be a release this year. I am further ahead on this than I thought I'd be.

I've actually been using the work on this game as a way to get through some pretty bad times mental health wise. I am really not in control of my moods atm, but I'm just managing to get by. Working away on this bit by bit is helping. Making games has always been my driving force I guess.

Anyway, check out some screenshots! (there is no triggering content in the screenshots I've attached here, but here is the general warning for the game as a whole, also all triggers can be filtered out so you can choose what you want to engage with)

New Game! by Charlie Francis Cassidy

It's been a long time since I've posted about what I'm working on, and last I did I was still busy with my game about living with bipolar. Now while that is still on the cards, I've had to accept that at this stage I have way too much going on to keep working on it. I've nearly burnt myself out  a couple of times so I've decided to take a step back for the moment.

This doesn't mean I've stopped working on games entirely! This year I hope to release 2 smaller games that are pretty important to me. Interestingly the ideas for both have come from game jam's that I unfortunately didn't have the time/capacity to enter at the time, but the themes gave me a good idea.

The first one that I've been working on I got the idea from the last Ludum Dare, which the theme was room or something. It's quite a simple game really, it's set entirely in one room (probably an apartment or something) and the player simply walks about the room talking to the objects and furniture in it. Which is in fact, the player talking to themselves. The idea of this is that this is exactly how I sort through my own thoughts, basically pacing about a room talking out loud to myself. Which may commonly be associated with the person being unstable/dangerous even. Now, I'm not saying I'm always the most stable person but I am certainly not dangerous. I strongly want to de-stigmatise how people view mental health and things like this. Me talking out loud should not be something that indicates how others view my stability.

Now, for a bit I wasn't sure where I would get all the dialog for this, but then it occurred to me I already have a large resource of my thoughts. I've been keeping a blog about my mental health since I was diagnosed with bipolar.

Basically at the start of the game, it will pull down all of my posts and use those as dialog. In fact, I have that working already. It has a list of url's that it pulls down and then sorts through the content to pull out each blog post, which it then splits into paragraphs and then splits those down into sentences. It still needs a few more tweaks so that I can also mark any specific trigger warnings for each post, and keep the punctuation after splitting the sentences. But the fundamentals are all working.

I want to make sure this game is as accessible as possible. A full list of trigger/content warnings will be at the beginning but I also want to go a bit further and have the player be able to select which they are okay with engaging with. This might limit how much content there actually is but I think it's more important to allow as many as people to engage with what they're comfortable with.

I also plan on providing a selection of fonts (including dyslexia friendly ones), options for text size and hopefully colour contrast options. This game is heavily text based so again, I want to make sure as many people can engage with it as possible.

I plan on blogging my process in making this game, and I hope to be able to release it sometime in this first half of the year, but I should also acknowledge things happen and my health comes first so that might not be possible. I am only a couple of weeks out of hospital as it is.

The working title so far is - In My Mind

Everything is Different! by Charlie Francis Cassidy

This might be a slight exaggeration but a lot has changed with this game since my original concept and even last post. Hell, I thought I was ready to start prototyping it but nope, it had a lot of design to go and I'm still finishing that off. But I'm getting ahead of myself here, I should start with what's changed and maybe why this has been a dead space for so long.

In June I moved to Melbourne and got full time work at Mighty Games as a programmer, so for months I didn't dedicate any spare time to working on this game. But all that changed after GCAP and PAX where I realised I needed to start working on some of my own stuff again.

The first thing I realised was that I needed a game design document for it. When I sat down to write it, I really struggled. I thought I knew what this game was but really, I just had a couple of mechanics I wanted to use and a vague but cool idea. I needed  to know more about it before I could even think about MAKING it.

It has gone through quite a few iterations since I started this doc. At first I was very set on it being an endless run of days set in an apartment with mood cycles that just get harder and harder to control till the player hits a point where they just want to quit the game and that's how it ends. For a long time I was designing around that idea, and trying to work out why in the world anyone would feel compelled enough to play it to that point, to a point where quitting was a result of understanding how terrible bipolar can be rather than just how terrible the game is.

Eventually I worked out what this game really needed, it needed a story to go along with it. But, I'm not a writer, how do I write something that will make players interested in this. Wait. Hold on. This game is about living with bipolar. I have bipolar. And then it clicked. This game should be about my life. It always kind of was, but more abstract. No, this game needed to tell my story. I don't know what it's like for anyone else living with bipolar, sure I have a decent idea but those aren't my experiences so I can't tell them. I can tell people my life, what I've gone through with this illness. That is what will get people invested. 

At first I tried to work out how to tell this story in this game mold I already had. But that's too tacked on. I want this game to be about the story now. I'm still keeping a bunch of the mechanics I worked out for it, I'm just focusing on telling a story rather than trying to make my players quit.

So I started to look into ways games tell stories and settled on a few things. I want to tell the story in a few ways. Through the environment, the game will still bring you into living out various days of my life, the ones that are important, and each day that you are in the apartment things will be different and will reflect what has been going on in the time that has passed since the last day you have played. Gone Home helped inspire this, I want the player to explore the environment and get story from it.

Another way will be through interaction with friends and other people in the characters life. I can't always see what is going on with me fully when in an episode and other peoples reactions to things can be a big clue as to what has been going on. So things like concern and comments on things you have been doing but also other things where your available responses to them can be very telling of the state you're in. I'll go more into that in another post when I start breaking down specific things I want to do here.

I'm also going to have more than just the apartment as a location. I want to include the experience of being in hospital, which will be tricky but I think I know how to tackle that but I'll talk about that another time.

Now the story, I very handily started a blog around the time I was diagnosed with bipolar to document and talk about all my mental health stuff, in the hopes of helping others accept and talk about this stuff more. So for the story  I am basically going back through all of that and putting together a timeline of events that I'm going to put into the game. That's what I'm doing currently, in Trello of all places.

If you want to see what's in store for the game, feel free to have a read. It's cleverly named charliethebipolargoldfish

That's all for now, I plan on updating this as I go along now because this is all very new and exciting and I love talking about it!

Coming Along by Charlie Francis Cassidy

I've been a bit distracted with studying and my fractured ankle to properly update on what I've been doing with this game, but I am still making progress!

I've finally decided on an art direction and what engine to  use. I've been picturing this game as first-person for awhile so 3d really makes sense. I really like the idea and possible immersion of the player walking around their apartment doing simple things to get by.

I'm imagining the HUD to look a little like this - 

Thoughts will float down on the right side of the screen, the speed  of them will depend on your mood state. When manic the thoughts may even go to fast to actually catch all of them, which is an actual thing that happens to me. While depressed the thoughts might linger around for longer and feel less positive, more defeatist. Thoughts also revolve around whatever objective it is you have, so if you're thinking about food a lot that's a good indication that you should eat. 

The energy meter is the other important part. When depressed you have very little energy and everything seems to take extra effort to do. If you don't have the energy to do something, then you either won't be able to or you won't be able to do it well. For example - say the player needs to go out to get some food but they have very low energy. As long as they have enough to go out they still can but they might come back missing food items, or get there and have to come home immediately without anything and far less energy. This is again, things that happen with me.

While manic however, the energy bar may seem endless. While this sounds great it also impacts what it is the player wants to be doing.  That will change a lot while manic as it's hard to stay focused. So in the space of 5 minutes the thoughts could indicate wanting to eat, play a game, do some cleaning and maybe 5 other things. While manic it's really hard for the player to focus on doing something that they've lost interest in. I haven't entirely worked out how to do that yet, but it's important.

After a good brainstorming session with the lovely Snow (who does some really cool stuff, have a look here) we worked out some other cool things that could help get across different mood states. For starters - playing around with the colour and saturation. While depressed everything could be more dull/subdued but while manic everything would be bright/intense. Something I definitely plan on testing out. Other thoughts are on actual mouse movement/panning - so when depressed movement is much slower because again everything takes extra effort but while manic the mouse could be really sensitive. I also want to really push the lack of focus thing with possibly adding a camera drift, so the player might be looking one way but the camera just starts to drift in a different direction so it takes the player physical effort to stay  focused on what they are doing.

Now I am really set on not making this an easy game to play. Probably because being bipolar isn't exactly easy. I have some worries that maybe how frustrating I want it to be will cause people to give up far earlier than I'd like but at the same time I want the game to  drive you to a point where you just can't do it anymore. Then have some sort of witty thing point out that you don't get to quit life. Well, something like that, it's still kind of not fully decided. I'll see how testing out this stuff goes first.

Now how am I working out the mood states. The plan is behind the scenes there will be a scale of how depressed/manic the player is. I don't ever want to show this directly though, I am hoping I can represent it through other things like the energy meter and playing around with colour and mouse movement. The meter though will serve to calculate how the thought system and energy bar act. But what will determine the mood on the scale? This is going to take a lot of mucking around to get right but my idea on it so far is a combination of random  (random will be a pretty large factor), the environment (a messy house lowers mood, or something), the players health (have they been showering and eating properly) and then a weighting system to allow for long streaks of a certain mood but still allows some rapid cycling. Because mood states can generally last days/weeks but a person can also be rapid cycling and have them last only a couple of days, hours or less depending. I want all of these things to come up through the game.

I still haven't decided exactly how long a game day might be, that will be something to probably test. But I think not too long, that way I can get across how much this affects a person across a large amount of time.

Now the art, I mentioned that in the beginning and got side tracked. I plan on doing all the 3d work and putting  it all together in Unity. The game will be set entirely in an apartment where your aim is to basically take care of yourself. There will be moments where you can leave to say go buy food and possibly go to work (that is still undecided) and in those moments I'll use a nice 2d painting of the scene that is happening eg a picture of a store while the player is at the store.

I think that is about where I am now. It feels like I have a lot of ideas but no  real idea of how well they're going to work. So I think it's time to start  throwing together some things and test  stuff out. I love nothing more than some prototyping. I already have a partially modelled apartment that I plan on using for this, so I might touch that up, throw it in Unity and start messing around.

Game Brainstorming update by Charlie Francis Cassidy

I've still been giving this game a lot of thought in between all the study and uni work I am trying to catch up on. Which I am stupidly behind on, but being in hospital will do that to a person. Especially a person coming off all her medications. But I have a separate blog for just that.

I have decided on a few things and again all roughly drawn up on paper.

I've started thinking about the art now, and I'm like First Person more and more. I want the player to really immerse themselves into the game. I want them to sync up with it to a point that when they can't do something because they've run out of energy they are frustrated as the character, not frustrated at a game mechanic.

Otherwise I think I've gotten myself too attached to the idea of doing it in 3d so I can model all the stuff. I've been wanting to make a house interior. Problem is that I'm not much of an animator. I mean I can do it, but it would just be a lot of work to do for this game. I could maybe get away without it but it would be very obviously missed. I could still get someone else to do it of course.

The other idea getting me excited is that that player has to throughout the game try and maintain their house. So that means doing dishes, washing and cleaning. All of those things. Of course they don't have to, but that will just keep bringing their mood down too. And of course it takes a lot of energy to actually complete these tasks. 

For things like going to work and the grocery store they also need a certain amount of energy otherwise they just won't go or in the case of shopping if they will leave the house they may not come back with all they meant to. It's things like this that I will make up most of the game, finding the energy to do little things. Because when it comes to it, that can be the hardest thing - depression side. Now what it means mania wise well that's some more thought.

The other art option is 2d, so I could again have someone do the art for me or try my hand at some 2d art (which could look cool interesting or just bad). I could also then make it in Game Maker which is kinda what I wanted to have a go at. I haven't made anything in it yet so I'd like to do something sometime. But Unity for 3D is the obvious choice there.

I still have plenty of time to work out more details.

My new game on - Bipolar! by Charlie Francis Cassidy

So I'm sure I've mentioned before that I've been wanting to do a game on depression and I've also been having trouble with inspiration and that sort of thing. Well last night it hit me, I know I'm not just battling depression anymore. Why not make a game based on the whole of what I'm going through. So ideas started flowing last night and I think I have mostly worked out how I want to do it.

I want to blog my whole process as I go along too, hence the early shots of very raw thoughts on paper from a probably manic brainstorming session last night.

It's still very early stages, I'm not even sure on art style, game engine or even how to present this yet. I am very excited though. After months of no game inspiration, to finally get some is pretty great. I'm still planning on doing that medication reminder app and a few others. Not to mention my degree, so everything will move pretty slowly I imagine but it's getting somewhere.

Oh and a name, I already have a name I want to use.

A Day In The Life.

Medication Reminder/Tracker App by Charlie Francis Cassidy

So, I've gone through a lot of medication apps trying to find one that suited all my needs with keeping track of doses and remaining supply of pills, prescriptions etc.

So far I haven't been able to find one that fit, there was always something missing or wrong or annoying about it. 

To remedy this I've decided to make my own. I'll also make it available to the public once I finally finish it. Undecided as to whether I should charge say $0.99 or make it free for all.

But, before I get that far I need to do more research! I want this to be both functional and appealing. Maybe a bit of humour too.

To give myself a bit of help I've made a survey

If you happen to use regular medication it would be grand if you could quickly fill it out or if not, pass it along!

Routine! by Charlie Francis Cassidy

I'm starting to put together a routine for myself, so I can actually get stuff done. There is a heap I want to get on top of before my Masters course starts.

There is a certification in Gamification I'm interested in looking at as well as some Android programming ones that I'd like to have a look at. Prepare myself to make this app I agreed to program. We decided building it for Android first would be the way to go then port it over to iOS depending on feedback etc.

I actually have another app someone wants me to make for them too, but I've been very slack. Slack and frequent hospital visits, so you know, I'm a bit behind in just about everything. Hence the routine building. Not only is it good for my mental health it should help me to actually do all the things that need doing.

That being said, I'm going to go and have a look at that Gamification course now.

Apparently I post monthly... by Charlie Francis Cassidy

My apologies again! I seem to forget that I have this blog here and then remember about once a month. So let me summarise what's been going on.

I finally got a response from the University I wanted to do my Masters at, University of New England, so I start in a few weeks. That'll be my Masters in Computer Science. I think I've decided to a thesis at the end of the course (so next year) but I still have no idea what that'll be on. I'm hoping some of these classes point in more of a direction. Either way, I'm excited to take my programming skills to the next level and understand computers and software a lot more.

I've also started a new project with Grant again, one which I won't announce until it's further along, but it should be easy enough to work on it on the side of our studies. 

Also, I'm back in hospital again. Another medication change/adjustment to get myself stable again before I throw myself at a Masters degree, this time for mania as opposed to depression. Speaking of depression, I've been incredibly slack at designing that depression game. I really haven't been up to much lately, it's been far too hot at home to even think, let alone do work and far too much valium in hospital to do work either. Though I have signed up to do an online course on Android development that I really should start looking at, so I can get started on this mystery app.

Now, if you're wondering what it is I have been doing in here, there are a few things.

1. The Mental Illness Happy Hour podcast
   I have become very addicted to listening to this, it's brilliant. Check it out.

2. Fantasy Life
   Seriously, I have become addicted to this game.

3. Animal Crossing
   I've discovered I have a serious clothing problem....

Feel free to follow my Tumblr for more updates on my gaming habits. 

Nearly a month later... by Charlie Francis Cassidy

I'm often bad at updating anything, depending on where my mood has been sitting. I'm still sorting a lot of things out so I haven't really made much progress. 

But I can show you what my wall looked like before I took it down to cover my wall with whiteboards.

All of this was before I started considering adding the other side of my mental illness. I'm still not entirely sure how to tackle it. Since I'm in a manic state, rather than a depressive one, this is probably the best time to work out how I can combine the two. Perhaps it will end up making the game quite jarring, but then again that is what my life is a  bit like.

Depression, Anxiety, Bipolar and whatever else by Charlie Francis Cassidy

I was diagnosed with depression when I was about 15, and when I finally came out of my first rough patch I had the dream of becoming a games developer. I managed to get through highschool, a diploma of animation and finally got into a Games Design degree.

That's when my next rough patch started and it hasn't really stopped. But since then, I've graduated and have been wanting to make a game to try and show people what it's all like. I just don't have the words to convey it.

I have gotten significantly worse since graduating, now with a few more diagnoses. But that has only made me more passionate about the game I want to make. It might be a little bit ambitious, but I want to change the world. I want to reduce the stigma that is attached to all this. It took me a very long time to admit to even my closest friends that I may be bipolar. Let alone telling the world, but here I am. I don't want to feel like I need to hide parts of me, I don't want other people feeling like they need to hide parts of themselves.

One of the biggest hurdles is, how do you explain this to someone. How do you explain that there is something going on in your head that changes everything. I really feel like this is something games are perfect for. My goal is to create an experience for the player, the experience of living with my mind. My up, down, mixed up head of thoughts that are either too fast or not there at all. I want people to feel the things I do. Then maybe it'll be easier to accept these illnesses for what they are, an illness. Not a flaw or fault in the person.

So that's what I'm going to do. I've been out of uni for 2 years now, next year I'm going back to do my Masters in Computer Science. But I'm not leaving the world of Games Design behind. I'll still be working on a couple of games projects. Especially this one. It's time for me to start designing this one.

This is where I am going to be posting my progress as I go along.