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On Kairo and Death: Endgame

On Sunday 21st October 2012, after two and a half years of development I released my video game Kairo. Exactly seven days earlier I received a phone call to let me know that my father had died. After two weeks in intensive care with pneumonia his body couldn’t take it anymore. Normally I try not to talk about my personal life in public like this but it’s impossible for me to adequately explain what it was like finishing this project without giving you some understanding what I was going through.

I owe my father for everything I am today. He always encouraged me to take whatever path I wanted in life and once I made a choice he did everything he could to support me in my decisions. We went down quite a few dead ends together before I really figured out who I was and what I really wanted to do with myself. I don’t know where I would have ended up without him but I doubt very much I would be pursuing a creative career I love. I know he was proud of me and I just hope he knew how proud I was of him.

Finishing any long term creative project is never easy but as the end of Kairo appeared on the horizon I was finally starting to enjoy working on it again. The long slog of finishing all the content was over and all I was doing now was polishing. The polish phase is normally for me the most fun, as it’s when all you’re doing is making a finished game even better. I have half-jokingly said that I could easily spend another entire year on the game polishing it to perfection. Ultimately the more time I spent doing that the more diminishing returns I began to see so I decided enough was enough. I set a final deadline on which date the game would be released and booked a London venue to celebrate the end of an era with a launch party.

Just to make things even more complicated, Kairo wasn’t the only project I was working on. I have been funding my game development over the past few years by doing contract work as well. During this same period I took on a project from a client that seemed simple initially but quickly turned into a high pressure project with very strict deadlines that could not be delayed even by a single day. This involved me working evenings and weekends and even taking a day off for my father’s funeral was a huge inconvenience. I could have ditched the client and told them to replace me but it would have derailed the project and knowing the stress the rest of the team was under I couldn’t do that to them.

I could have delayed the release of Kairo of course, but I needed it off my back. With the things I still have to deal with in the coming weeks I just wanted one less thing to worry about. So the last few weeks of development were utterly miserable but I got the job done. I made long lists of things that needed improving and worked through them like a machine. Focusing on the work at least made for an effective distraction. The whole final process just felt so clinical for me but I couldn’t deal with it any other way.

Now I’m done people keep telling me “It must be a relief being finally done” or “It must be really satisfying.” and when they do I smile and agree and talk about what a long journey it’s been. However the truth is I don’t have any positive feelings about the game, right now I mostly feel numb. For a long time making something personal to share with an audience was important to me, however now I’m weighing it up against what I’ve lost it all seems very pointless.

I hope those of you who’ve bought Kairo enjoy it. Though it may not seem like it there is a lot of me in that game, the person I was as I went on that long journey to make it. Now I’m at the point where I need to decide where to go next. Thematically Kairo is a game about hope when all seems lost, and that came from a personal place of where I was mentally when I started making it. Right now though hope is not something I can relate to so I think whatever I work on next is going to draw from much less optimistic feelings.

I should end by saying that I am not without perspective. I know losing parents is something most people will go through sooner or later so my loss is not really special. I also know that making games probably isn’t that important in the overall scheme of things. However I wanted to write about finishing this long arduous project and this was the only way I knew how.

Good luck to everyone else out there working on a long project that seems like it’s never going to end. Just don’t forget to spend some time with those you care about while you still can.

Richard Perrin

Welcome to the home of Locked Door Puzzle, the independent game development studio of Richard Perrin located in Bristol.

My primary focus is on creating expressive games that explore different forms of interactive storytelling.

For contact details check the about page.