Seeking Ataraxia Postmortem

Where it Came From
So the idea for Seeking Ataraxia came actually from a moment of agitation: I was on Facebook and someone had linked some inane “how OCD are you” Buzzfeed-style article, filled with pictures of things being crooked or out of order. And I thought to myself, people have no idea. People have no idea what it’s like to actually live with OCD if it doesn’t look like an episode of Monk.

I was doing some games journalism at the time and of course had Depression Quest in the back of my mind, which turned out to be more of a curse than a blessing, because I think it really hemmed me in mentally as to “what can I actually do.”

WTF Was I Thinking
The original concept was going to be a very different game. I had originally intended to make a resource management simulator. You would have “stress” and “energy” as two stats to maintain, and you had to go through your day keeping the two in balance: If your stress got too high, you would have an anxiety attack and break down; if your energy got too low, you would fall into a depressive slump and refuse to do anything else. You could do things to reduce your stress, but they would use up energy. You could do things to increase your energy, but they would eventually cause more stress - by eating up your time, and making your life feel more hectic. You could practice compulsions, which would temporarily decrease your stress but in the long run become devastating because you’d have to do them more and more and more often in order to get the effect, which would deplete your energy faster.

Well. It didn’t happen. It didn’t even come close to happening because I quickly realized I had absolutely no idea how to program all of that. And so I looked at the bits of story I had written for it and naively thought: Oh, what the hell, that will work! I’ll just make it a lot smaller, and a lot simpler, and see if maybe anyone would be even a little interested in this type of story before I spend a ton of time learning how to code something complicated.

What Went Wrong
Things went sideways for a few reasons:
[]As noted, I didn’t have the technical skill to make the game I’d originally envisioned
]And maybe I didn’t actually have the technical skill to make what I actually did, either :\

So that was the biggie. The bug thing – this terrible blight on my memory – is so embarrassing. So the state-tracking thing, the variables…I’m not even entirely sure when or how some of those broke, because we didn’t encounter any of that when my lone beta-tester was testing things. All I can think is that I broke the game with a last-minute change.

See, at one point, there was a storyline where you actually end up neglecting the cat, and it dies, and you have a huge fight with your roommate about it. I decided at the last minute that this was way too harsh and I didn’t want the poor cyber-kitty to face such a cruel end, so I went in and tried to make it FORCE you to feed the cat. Unfortunately, doing so also apparently disrupted the space-time continuum, and all hell broke loose as a consequence.

It took me a while to be able to get on and fix the bug, and of course by then it was too late. I’m not sure how many reviewers, if any, played the de-bugged game, or how much difference that would have ultimately made to my score.

IF Comp, Seriously?
OK, so, um. I’m new to this community. I actually joined…shortly after I decided I was going to try and make a Twine game. And then mostly just lurked around and didn’t think about it much. So I had no idea what IF Comp was all about, really, and just used it as a motivation to finish a project – not really thinking about the fact that I’d be competing against people with really polished work, people who did this sort of thing…if not professionally, then at least with a lot of experience and stuff.

I used to enter a lot of query letter contests to attract potential agents and whatnot (this is a thing that happens now, thanks social media) for my novels. And in my head, I was very much thinking of IFComp in the same terms. Only when I saw the competition did I sort of grimace and think, “Oh dear god, they are going to eat me alive.”

Which I’m fortunate about, actually, because Seeking Ataraxia seems to have mostly squeaked by under the radar, earning more apathy than outright scorn. And the authors themselves have all been very lovely people and I am happy to have met them [emote]:)[/emote]

What Went Right
So as noted: The best thing for me about this comp has been meeting the other authors, and also playing all of these games and learning stuff and soaking things up like a sponge.

I did do a few things alright with the game, I think. I think by and large the writing itself was pretty solid. It’s serviceable, anyway - this is not a particularly poetic game, but I like to think there were some decent passages and images in it, or that the writing managed to evoke the emotion I was going for. I still feel good about the writing, is what I’m saying.

And I’ve heard from several people that the thing with the cat rang true to them, and that it was compelling – and that means a lot to me. My goal going in was pretty much, "If one person says to me, ‘God, thank you, I’m not the only person who does this! I don’t feel so crazy.’ I’d feel pretty good about myself. So +1

Also the pop-up window thing. It’s not exactly the effect I had wanted to use (I wanted to use literal pop-ups, like the advertising kind, and a whole lot more of them, but I couldn’t figure out how to do it so I did the error message thing instead) but a lot of people seemed kind of impressed with it so that felt pretty cool.

What’s Next?

So, I don’t know if I will ever go back and make the resource management simulator I wanted to create in the first place. Honestly, I’m…not exactly “over” writing about anxiety (I will NEVER be over writing about anxiety) but I don’t know if I’m actually that interested in approaching in a straightforward “on the nose” fashion anymore.

But I did learn some things during the comp – it’s hard to play so many games and talk to so many creators without it – and honestly I think my EctoComp entry ASHES is stronger in every possible way than Seeking Ataraxia. So I’m going to pour my energy into that, and making a really nice, full game out of it. And then we’ll see what happens [emote]:)[/emote]

But one thing is sure – y’all can’t get rid of me now. I like you too much. So I guess I’ll just have to step my game up if I wanna play in the big leagues.

This was a great postmortem; it’s nice to see how people’s game ideas evolved over time.

I agree! It’s interesting to read how projects morph through different development stages.

Also, it’s just now occurring to me that “cats in jeopardy” was probably the inadvertent theme for this IFComp.