Creating The Night When He Left
The Night When He Left is a solo project by Coraldomino, which uses game design to express something raw and deeply personal. Pixel Primers spoke to Coraldomino about their experiences of making the game...
Pixel Primers: What inspired you to make the game?
Coraldomino: I went through a breakup that was quite intense. I found myself in quite a dark space, and not necessarily a dark space where I constantly felt sad, although that also happened, but in a space where I was struck by a lot of apathy and numbness to my future. I think it’s inevitable that when you spend so much time with someone, they become a part of your life to such an extent that it almost feels like a part of you has been torn from you when they disappear.
During the first period, I was just struggling to get through the days, but eventually, I started jotting down notes and small drawings. I’ve never been good at talking about my emotions, so art has been my outlet for being able to sort things out in my head.
I didn’t necessarily have a plan for it except that I felt something was building. I didn’t know if it was building up to a painting or something more, but of course, being in game development something in me was itching to make something interactive. There’s just so much more space, I feel, in the world of interactivity. In a painting, you’re stuck in one perspective, in a movie you have the perspective but you force what your viewer should see. In a game engine though, you can scatter a lot of details and ideas and let people explore this freely. I think this is what I love about games because sometimes people have different experiences just because they discovered something someone else didn’t. Additionally, in a game if someone likes a flower they have all the freedom to sit and stare at it for minutes, while someone who loves something else can focus on that. So you can just choose to stay in a space that you like, and that’s something that’s hard to obtain in other forms of media.
So anyway, when I eventually got a little more functional as a human being, I wanted to harness everything I had done to make something. I didn’t want all the time I spent going through intense emotions to go to nothing. And that’s how I ended up starting to create The Night When He Left.
How did you settle on the game’s art style?
I’ve always loved more stylized things in games and wanted to create something that I felt I hadn’t seen before. I think stylized 3D usually falls into two categories: either it’s trying to be 2D, or it has this very generated look that is now shared by a lot of games. So I wanted to create something that looked like something that didn’t shy away from 3D and something quite handmade, which I think would make sense since I was speaking about quite personal experiences. Why shouldn’t the art also become an extension of that too?
Apart from that, I also wanted the symbolism carried to the art as well. For example, in the beginning of the game where the relationship starts, the player’s proximity to items makes them flare up with colors, but as the game progresses, this inverses and everything around the player becomes grayscale, eventually becoming black and white without any gradients. Other symbolism included using a lot of spirals in terms of models, I thought it could be an easy way of symbolizing mental spirals that one could experience.
You’ve written online about the challenges of making a game when you’re not as familiar with coding. How did you overcome these challenges to make The Night He Left?
So I found this FP-Explorer-Kit by KaiWerder on the Unreal Store. Don’t get me wrong, the kit is actually quite great, but I was unable to always use many of the features of the kit. For example, I was hoping to make a puzzle element where you would pick up a green cup, put in a green box, and that would unlock the first part of the puzzle. Then I just sat and stared at my screen and had absolutely no idea how to do that. I even tried going on reddit and Unreal forums and asking people how I’d go about doing this, but unfortunately I was unsuccessful. So after some time, I just had to come to terms that either I sit and wonder how to do this for months, or I come up with different ideas. In the end, I just ended up doing hitboxes that triggered events which... wasn’t really optimal, but it did still tell the same story, so that was fine.
In some cases, I let coding be substituted with technical art solutions. For example, I wanted the footsteps you can see to appear and show you the way to go when you got close. Again, I didn’t really know how to do this. However, because of the distance shader that I worked on to make things get color when you got close to them, I knew I could maybe connect alpha to proximity, meaning that I could make them appear when you got close. And then on top of that, I made a rolling alpha texture with footsteps on them that just looped, so it *almost* gave the same effect of footprints appearing when you got close.
In other cases, I just had to double-down and learn the blueprints. So just to be clear, I didn’t do any coding myself. I solely relied on blueprints, which is also why I actually chose the Unreal-engine. Previously I’ve worked in Unity, but only along with programmers, so I knew I wouldn’t get far if I had gone down that route. So even if I didn’t really know the Unreal Engine, I knew I’d be able to get further.
What advice would you give to anyone who is interested in making their own game? And especially to other artists who are interested in exploring the possibilities of creating art with video games?
There are a couple of things that I would give as advice: first of all, whatever your scope is, bring it back a lot. Try making some small projects and see how far you get. It kind of sucks when you have to give up on your ideas because they became too big.
Second of all, get yourself to the end of your game loop, however barebone it may be. In the beginning, I did mostly white boxing. The exception was sometimes when there were some models or shaders that I felt were quite important where I would stop to see if they worked as I wanted them to. Otherwise it was just making sure everything was in place, were things changing colors as they should? Was I able to get to the next level? Are all trigger boxes working correctly? Once I knew I could make the items that would change level, the hitboxes that triggered events, the text that would appear and disappear as I wished them to, all cutscenes would work as intended. That’s when I really started creating content.
Third, accept your limitations. Not knowing everything is fine, just try to have the bigger picture in mind. Do you really have to make X work? Is there something else you could do instead of X that would maybe have a similar effect to X?
Lastly, allow yourself to take breaks and get some space from your project. I think we get caught up in this thing where we think we just need to be on a continuous workflow, but that can sometimes be quite negative for your project. Don’t get me wrong, it’s good to be adamant about getting to the finish line, but especially creativity isn’t something that can always be rushed. I think it was T.S. Eliot who said that creativity unconsciously come to us as waves, and we just have to be able to harvest it when it does; but trying to force it to hit us probably won’t work.
The Night When He Left is available to play here