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Drunk Game Development

June 28, 2018

An overlooked fact of being an independent developer is the ability to set your work conditions. To most people this is something like waking up later, or working into the dead hours of the night, or taking breaks throughout the workday. All of which is nice, but doesn't really push social boundaries in any way that interests me.

What does interest me is the idea of using drunkenness towards creative ends, whether giving you that emotional kick to write something you normally couldn't write, or simply giving you that feeling of elatedness that might actually make you productive.

In a recent interview with Yoko Taro, the director of Nier Automata, he mentioned that he wrote a good portion of his game's script while drunk [1]. Before this, I'd never heard of a creative person in a professional industry admitting to doing work while inebriated.

It always struck me that admitting to drinking or taking drugs in some form was a professional faux-pas in the office, one that would make you look irresponsible or untrustworthy in front of your colleagues. Drinking is something to be done in the privacy of your home and not to be publicly discussed otherwise. At the same time, I've heard that certain "hipper" companies have beer on tap in their kitchens — though I imagine that this just means having a single beer for lunch instead of getting trashed by 5 PM. (Sort of like "unlimited paid time off", which, as far as I can tell, really means "about 15 days off a year".)

The majority of the work behind Flitter Inc. was done sober.

The programming behind Flitter Inc. was done entirely sober. There was, of course, a lot of coffee involved, but its effects are mild and do not warrant much of a discussion. On the other hand, while I've heard of the Ballmer Peak [2], and the supposed coding self-confidence that it inspires, I've never wanted to program while inebriated. In my mind, mostly because of my work history and its related stresses, programming is something done in a cubicle, between the hours of 9 AM and 5 PM, and isn't aimed at producing anything exciting. This is a bit of an ugly opinion to hold, and probably isn't true for most people, but unfortunately that's how I feel about programming, even when programming something as fun as a video game.

Writing was more or less the same, but it differed in that, when I entered what could be considered my leisure time for the day, I would still get new ideas and would take moments to jot down notes here and there. And so, on the days that I decided to drink in the evening — my usual drink of choice being Sapporo beer — I would sometimes get an urge to write part of the Flitter Inc. narrative. In many cases, an entire evening reserved for merry-making would become an evening of writing and editing because I was having so much fun putting pieces of the story together.

The entire script for Flitter Inc. is about 36,000 words long. I can't say how much of it was written while I was drunk. I don't really remember. Probably no more than 5%. But in many cases, it was exactly the drunk writing that had the strongest emotions behind it and gave the game some its best moments. Being drunk made me both more sentimental and melancholic, which opened interesting avenues for expression that I would usually be too embarrassed to explore. I'm still not sure if this is an emotional crutch or if I am actually crafting better stories because of it. The fact that it inspires self-reflection in me makes me believe that I am indeed developing as a person, which is all a writer can ask for.

Moreover, I think it's fair to say that I got maybe 3-4 hours of extra productivity out of myself because of drunk writing. In terms of indie development, where your funds and time are limited, any additional effort is welcome, especially when the effort feels more like recreation. Of course, as with any drinking, the real consequence comes the day after. At this point in my life I am confident in my ability to consistently hit pleasant states of drunkenness without going overboard and suffering a significant hangover — one that would impede productive work — the next day.

I'm by no means successful, so it's easy to pass off this discussion as a way of trying to legitimize my own drinking habits (which I don't think are problematic though that's what an alcoholic would say), but I do believe there is value in creating in another state of mind, as long as you're not reliant on it.