It's often nowadays that a game launches on Steam and garners a quick cult following nowadays. It has been seen before with titles such as Five Nights at Freddy's and Doki Doki Literature Club being greatly successful. One of the latest games to have captivated a lot of Steam users' attention over the month of March is the game When the Darkness Comes.
Disclaimer: Difficult themes are talked about in the article such as (but not limited to) depression, anxiety, verbal abuse. manipulative control, suicide, and similar themes. Reader discretion is advised.
When The Darkness Comes boasts itself as a walking simulator that illustrates the hardships of dealing with depression and anxiety through the usage of the game's landscapes and environmental designs. TechRaptor's Samuel Guglielmo has already given a full in-depth review of When the Darkness Comes so if you want to give that a read, you can find it here. The game is free to play as well.
After finishing the game for myself, I had this feeling that I really wanted to get a better understanding of the person that was behind the game, Sirhaian. Through email we discussed a variety of topics, from questions about the game itself, to his personal history and what went into making a game this unique and with such a heavy underlying layer of clever design to tell a narrative.
Mellow Online: Considering the heavy themes involved in the game, how did you arrive at the decision to tackle these and did you have any fears while making the game?
Sirhaian: I've been struggling with the dark thoughts portrayed in the game myself, for a long time, especially social anxiety. At first, I tried overcoming them through writing, then through simple environments, and ultimately, I took all that and mixed it up into what later became WTDC. I feel like it helped me understand myself and my struggles a bit more. By the end of the development, a couple friends told me I should maybe release it, that I had nothing to lose. I didn't have any expectations, and this was more of an experiment than anything. Only thing I was scared of would be the players reaction, in case it somehow got any traction, and that some people would overthink or freak out with some of the features of the game, which obviously ended up happening with a handful of players.
MO: What was your goal when you set out to make the game?
Sirhaian: My goal was simply to understand myself better, and help my friends understand me, all while learning more about programming and world building. I had absolutely no idea anyone out there would enjoy this. I even told myself that it would be amazing if I reached 100 downloads and a 50% rating. My secondary goal was to hopefully open doors for people struggling with the same dark thoughts, as it had helped me a little while creating it. The first versions were much more somber, and I had to add more messages of hope at the end of the development to make sure that I could hit that goal. Funny note: I am terrified by horror games. One of my goals was to face those fears by making one. Ultimately, that didn't work and it still terrifies me (testing some of the jump scares was pretty difficult.)
MO: Do you feel you have fulfilled this goal?
Sirhaian: From the reviews and messages I've received and read, I'd say that yes, it's been successful, once again contrary to my expectations. I've been overwhelmed with the amount of good reactions the experience received. But to be perfectly frank, this also gave me a huge anxiety spike after the release: I'm really not used to this amount of visibility, and I am struggling to manage that. I've even thought about removing the game from the store altogether to hopefully turn that blinding spotlight off.
MO: Are you pleased with the current success of your game?
Sirhaian: I am both super happy and super scared. As I just said above, I had never expected this, and low-key didn't really want it. I thought it would be played by a handful of indie lovers, that I'd get some game dev feedback, and that's it. There's one side of me that's really happy that it's helping people out there, but there's also that other side that keeps telling me that I should protect myself and stay away from the spotlight because the light hurts.
MO: Did you take inspiration from any other games when creating When the Darkness Comes?
Sirhaian: Mainly just the obvious ones people have pointed out, like the Stanley Parable, the Beginner's Guide or Doki Doki Literature Club (for all the files trickery). Some have also pointed out some similarities with Undertale, which is also another game that I loved. All in all, my two main gameplay inspirations were the Stanley Parable and DDLC. Style-wise, the black and white environments were more inspired by Limbo, but obviously a bit simpler.
MO: Did you have any experience with the games industry prior to this game's release?
Sirhaian: I've been working in the games industry as a VFX Artist for a few years now, mainly at Gameloft Montréal, and now at Riot Games. I had also studied video games art at school before that, although I must say I don't remember much from that time, haha. This is my first attempt at making a game by myself, which is also why I never expected anyone to actually enjoy it.
MO: Where do you plan to go here on out?
Sirhaian: For now my only plan is to recharge. I'm not really good at dealing with all that (as one could have guessed), and I need to rest. Opening myself to the world in this way was both rewarding and distressful. I do have some ideas for possible future experiences that I would like to test, but that would be in a far future.
When the Darkness Comes is a free to play psychological horror game that can be downloaded on Steam here. I would like say my thanks yet again to Sirhaian for the time he took out of his day to do this interview with me.