It’s not hard to see why Russell Quinn calls 2017 the worst year of his life. That was the year he moved back to the United Kingdom to take care of his mother, and the year in which both his mother and grandmother died within a month of each other.
Quinn recalled returning to Los Angeles afterwards and “trying to unpack all of this trauma that had happened.” During that time, he said he was “reading a lot about how other creative people dealt with grief” and realized there’s “a rich history” of novelists writing about their personal tragedies.
So Quinn — a designer and programmer who previously worked as digital media director at McSweeney’s and co-created the digital novel “The Silent History” — decided to make a video game about the experience.
Grief isn’t exactly a popular subject for games, but Quinn suggested that this was the approach that made sense to him.
“I’m not a novelist and I’m not a filmmaker,” he said. “I had been wanting to make a game for a while, and it seemed to make sense to tell my story in the medium that I am most used to.”
He admitted that the development process could be emotionally taxing. For example, he delayed creating a 3D model of his mother, instead letting a pink cylinder stand in for her character, because he worried that her death would “become far too real once I put her in the game.” But once he created the model, “I realized: That is not my mother. It’s an actor, it’s an avatar. From that point onward, I felt like a director directing actors on a stage.”
And this week, Quinn released “Four Months Earlier,” a free prologue playable on Windows, Mac and iOS. As the title suggests, the prologue takes place months before the rest of the game, with Quinn going for a walk with his visiting mother Linda. Through dialogue choices, you get a sense of who they are and the challenges they’re facing.
Quinn doesn’t expect to finish the full game, “Linda & Joan,” until 2022, but he’s releasing “Four Months Earlier” now as a promotion, both for future players and potential publishers.
It sounds like the prologue is very different from the rest of the game, which will shift from sunny Los Angeles to “small houses in England.” Compared to “Four Months Earlier,” Quinn said “Linda & Joan” will be “more of a point-and-click adventure,” with “tasks and puzzles to solve.”
Not that he’s trying to add fictional drama or a happy ending to the real story. The puzzles, he said, are all “emotion-based” — you’ll play as Russell, Linda and Joan (his grandmother), trying to balance their different needs.
“It ends with the two deaths, there’s no way of avoiding those things,” Quinn said. “What you can change is how you feel about them, which kind of mirrors [real life]. If somebody in the family gets a terminal diagnosis, that is fixed. But you still have to live together for many more months, and your reality, how you deal with it, can change from day to day.”