"There's a joke in game development that you're always six months away from release," David OReilly says. For OReilly, the acclaimed animation artist, those last "six months" of developing his latest game, Everything, stretched out for more than two years. In that time, he moved his headquarters from an offsite office back to his small, downtown Los Angeles apartment, where he worked with little more than his cat for company. He collaborated with a very small team of people, including a programmer and sound designer in Austin, Texas, and a composer and cellist in Germany.
OReilly, whose résumé includes several award-winning shorts, an episode of the hit cartoon series Adventure Time and the fictional video game in Spike Jonze's movie Her, had been at work on what was supposed to be a yearlong project. In the end, it took about three years to complete Everything. So, what happened? "It got really interesting," OReilly answers. "Then I realized how much better it could be."
He adds, "You find what it is after a while. You start with instinct and you start with this kind of vague idea and you imagine, I can see how pieces will fit together in the future."
The story begins with OReilly's first stab at a real, playable video game. In 2014, he released Mountain, where players become a mountain that simply exists as seasons shift and time passes. It is far from what you would expect from a hit game, but it sold 400,000 copies for Steam and iOs.
The success shocked OReilly. "It doesn't have a built-in audience. It didn't have a genre. It was kind of an anomaly for people," he says. But OReilly had told himself that, should Mountain find its niche, he would use the profit to fund his next project. That he did. Everything continues with what OReilly did in Mountain, but it gets even stranger.
Everything, available now for PS4 and PS4 Pro, is a game that lives up to its name. In it, you can play as anything from animals who tumble across land to trees or even solar systems. Along the way, you gain abilities that allow you to travel in groups, to communicate through song and to dance. As with Mountain, OReilly worked with programmer Damien Di Fede to create a game that could go on indefinitely. "We did that and then showed that and then found that we needed an adventure," he says. "I don't like saying that it has a length, but it does have things to find in a particular order." OReilly notes that he can get through it in two hours, and he heard from a play-testing friend that it took about seven to finish, but the actual length is hard to calculate.
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In Everything, there are randomly selected questions that will precede your journey and thoughts of a somewhat existential nature that may pop up as you play. It's a game that's filled with philosophy, particularly the musings of Alan Watts, whose old recordings serve as narration in Everything. It's also, OReilly says, a philosophy in and of itself. "It's a kind of philosophy that you experience," he says. "It's not one that you're reading."
That's similar to what OReilly did with Mountain. Regarding that game, he asks, "What's the point of view of the mountain?" Here, he prods the player to look at the universe from multiple perspectives. "What do all things, even things that we wouldn't call alive, what do they have in common? What do they do?"
And that's a kind of challenge meant for an artist-gamer to tackle. "That's not possible in any other medium. It wouldn't make sense in any other medium," OReilly says. "Games can change the way you think."