Will O'Neill is the creator of the recently released PlayStation Vita game Actual Sunlight – a unique title that's a candid and no holds barred game about one man's struggle with depression. We thought that it'd be a good idea to have a quick chat with Will and find out a little bit more about him, the aforementioned release, and who may be his favourite member of Steps – although we can't promise that we got an answer for that last one.
Push Square: What made you want to make this game?
Will O'Neill: There is no denying it as a piece of art that stems from personal frustration. I felt lied about when I saw how popular art and media describes somebody like me – overweight, depressed, and more. I tried to fix it. I knew I was happy with how it turned out, but I never really expected the response to be as big as it was. Maybe a lot of other people feel lied about, too.
How did making Actual Sunlight affect you?
The environments in Actual Sunlight are all based on real locations. Often I'd be working in the places where the game itself was taking place. Making the game – or at least the office parts – often felt like trying to see myself from the outside during that time in my life. The more personal stuff was more difficult. I wrote the game over 6 to 12 months, but it was based on 15 or so years of my life.
How effective did you find the medium of video games for telling this sort of story?
Rather than a video game enhanced by strong writing, I look at Actual Sunlight as a strong piece of writing that is enhanced by being a video game. It could have worked fine as a book, but I find the interactive nature of games makes the story a lot more personal – even the simple act of moving a character around the world yourself. Video game addiction is also a part of Actual Sunlight, and I think that it connects with audiences in an interesting way when presented in a video game setting.
It was also impactful to invert the typical gameplay experience of a character who grows more powerful. Removing agency at critical points in the story meant I could have the player experience how a powerless, narrow state of mind can affect how people make decisions.
How have you found the reaction to be to Actual Sunlight?
A character study about depression isn't the easiest sell, but I had a lot of confidence that people could connect with it. Slowly but surely, they did. The reaction to the console version has been very parallel to the way people felt about the PC one. I guess console fans and PC gamers aren't as different as they think!
To a certain extent, it's probably a strange thing to have so much of my personal life out there, but I wouldn't change a thing.
You personally have a strong narrative focus, what do you think of the current state of storytelling in games?
I wish there were more human stories relative to the supernatural. I'd like to personally see tighter stories as well – not every game needs a huge, sprawling narrative. Shorter, more focused experiences are something I'm looking forward to in the future as well as the grander, more visual and atmospheric storytelling experiences.
What made you want to put Actual Sunlight out on the Vita?
It was a whole new audience to explore! There's nothing quite like Actual Sunlight on the Vita or any other major console, so thought that it would be great to bring it to the platform, try to break new ground. I also like the Vita a lot personally.
What are some of your favourite games and what are you looking forward to?
This year I think it has to be Bloodborne. Overall, though, I think it'd have to be Star Control 2. The writing in that was pretty much the peak of writing in games for me. It's a huge inspiration for me as a game writer. Silent Hill 2 is also an important game for me, but Silent Hill 2 is a boring answer, right?
Actual Sunlight or Tearaway?
Both! Forgo some other non-essential thing in your life – drugs, probably – and support innovative developers who want to hit you with interesting experiences. It's worth it!
Have you played Actual Sunlight yet? Have you been able to relate to the game's narrative at all? Let us know what you think of it in the comments section below.