Hello, I’m Ben Steele, one of the creators of Deliriant. It’s a visually beautiful slice of the 1970s that takes a subtle approach to the exploration of serious topics like abuse, coping mechanisms, and familial relationships. Today we’re announcing our upcoming launch on May 23, and would like to use this opportunity to reflect on our journey through school that has led to one of the first student-made games to successfully self-publish on PS4.
We’re a diverse team of 12 students working from the Entertainment Arts and Engineering graduate program at the University of Utah, one of the top academic game design programs. We are given relative autonomy in regards to the development, ownership, and publication of our own work, but it’s a bit of a double-edged sword. Where most student games are able to focus their efforts on pure development, we took on a lot more of the process you might see out of a professional studio, like creating our own dev business (Manic Interactive) and self publishing on our favorite console while still trying to do something experimental; a huge creative benefit of student games.
Going to school for a game development degree can, in some ways, be a risky decision. Games are a talent-packed, intensely competitive industry of entertainment. People are so passionate about making games! Meanwhile, our budget was $20 that each team member generously donated in order to pay the fee to register our company and make a website.
So how to stand out? The people, for one. That same passion that drives the video game industry is stamped into the essence of every member of our team. Our ambitions weren’t necessarily focused on school as much as success in our field. In large part, that’s possible due to the freedom our school afforded us.
It’s that autonomy that led us to the decision that our small game needed to be something kind of different. I’m hesitant to even call it a game in the traditional sense. More of an experience. We began with the idea of “gaslighting,” a subtle form of psychological manipulation in which one person uses the other person’s reliance on their relationship to make them doubt their perceptions and reality. Inspired by the emotional power of Fullbright’s Gone Home, the beautiful non-traditional presentation of TGC’s Journey, and influence from the original Myst, we combined this theme of psychological abuse with our own developed concept of nontraditional storytelling.
What emerged is an experiment in empathy. A victim of intense suffering cannot get over their trauma because their mind re-lives that event again and again, keeping it inescapably cemented in their thoughts. So what if your own home — every room, every object, every person who lives there — was the very prison of obligation that trapped you within your suffering? How would you escape? Could you?
With Deliriant, we ask the player for some reflection. When trauma is shared with you, you experience some fraction of it yourself, and that creates understanding. We’re definitely offering something out of the box and asking a lot of the player, but my greatest hope is that someone’s perspective will be positively impacted by our game. That by itself would be success.
Thank you for reading, and we can’t wait to see all of you on May 23!