soulmate

Soulmate is an introspective, psychological, spiritual, emotional exploration of a lonely young woman's inner world, as she seeks to 'tame her mind': to befriend her inner demons; to defang the negative thoughts that hold her back; to find meaningful happiness. To learn to stop loving the idea of impossible love and start loving life.

Oneira, a sensitive introvert, is unhappy with her life. While her ex is on his way to becoming a respected scientist, her novels remain unfinished.

She dreams of a perfect partner - a soulmate - whose unconditional love will complete her, save her from her loneliness and herself...

Can she wake up?

Oneira's inner critic, Ego, assures her that she will find happiness only by pursuing three ideals:
By developing an impressive Identity, people will love her and she'll be happy... right?
By Longing for fond memories of the past or exciting hopes for the future, she can be happy... can't she?
By using her Judgement to embrace the good and reject or avoid the bad, she'll be happy... won't she?
Only once Oneira has mastered all three ideals will Ego allow her to live with her soulmate in paradise.

As Oneira lies in bed in her pyjamas, she explores a vivid dreamscape within, interacting with her thoughts. The three ideals, intermingling with her feelings about three key people in her life, have given rise to three dream worlds.

The Pyramid Office
If only she were impressive like her ex, she could climb to the top, and he wouldn't have left... But she could never have lived up to his ridiculous fantasies anyway. And yet...

The Cybernetic Mausoleum
Spending her childhood with her mother was the only time she was truly happy... One day, technology might resurrect her...

The Neglected Badlands
Her mother's death destroyed her father, and his pain and loss led to a life of pain and loss for her. If only she'd had more nice things and fewer nasty things in her life...

Through these worlds, Oneira encounters mental fragments of herself; alter egos who join her and help out.

Idol knows that her beauty and career success will lead to an Identity worthy of fame and admiration.

Snowflake knows that following one's own path rather than the mainstream builds an Identity uniquely impressive.

Nostalgia knows that Longing for memories of childhood is safer and more satisfying than exploring new things.

Yearn knows that Longing for cybernetic technology will one day make all our dreams come true.

Pamper knows that if she uses her Judgement to fill her world with the right luxuries, she will always be comfortable.

Austere knows that using her Judgement to avoid danger and undesirable things will save her from suffering.

But are any of them right?

Soulmate plays like a retro RPG, with pixelated graphics, a deep story, a world to explore, NPCs to talk with, and turn-based battles...

...Except they're not really battles. Oneira and her alter egos face her inner thoughts given form, and tame them using dream magic born of emotions.

Rather than focusing on physically overpowering foes to kill them, the focus is on using personality traits and emotional states to find a rapport with thoughts - to understand them through sympathy and empathy - in order to befriend them. It's constructive, not destructive.

Encounters aren't random. Each 'Thought' expresses a unique negative thought when it sets its sights on you. When tamed, it expresses a positive spin on that same thought. In this way, Oneira is able to light up her own dark thoughts through gameplay.

The story behind the story...

As a neurotic, introverted teenager with no social life, I spent my abundant time alone teaching myself various creative skills: drawing, music composition, programming, storytelling, etc. I used these skills to develop a few games in Flash, which eventually led to the release of three chapters of an RPG called MARDEK.
They were quite popular, and even now I get emails from people who tell me that these games made an impact in their lives, wondering when chapter 4 might be done.

However, my life during their development was... difficult. I was struggling with depression, social anxiety, social isolation, agoraphobia, whatever you want to call it. I spent all my time alone in my room without meaningful human contact, trapped by fears. The online interactions I had with people on my site were often difficult and stressful. Those things - and the fact that MARDEK 3 took three years of work but earned me very little money - put me off making a fourth.

I'd also always been a pacifist - the sort of person who'd refuse to kill a mosquito because I saw it as cruel - so it bothered me how much of our media glorified or at least involved violence as a solution to problems or source of fun, including the work I myself had made.

Though I felt exhausted by MARDEK, I felt I could try to use my games development skills to make something more original and meaningful. Something non-violent!

I experimented with a concept for an RPG sequel to a silly platformer I'd previously released, where instead of battling enemies, you'd have 'awkward social situations', which you'd engage using skills that represented forms of interaction rather than swords and sorcery.
It - like its predecessor - was quite mean-spirited, however, focusing as it did on the obnoxious aspect of social ineptitude, so I didn't stick with it. I tried to rethink the concept as a more compassionate exploration of mental struggles in the form of a game where you played as a socially anxious deer girl, for whom social interactions felt like difficult battles...
...But this felt awkward and off-putting, so I didn't stick with that either. I redirected my attention to more conventional, battle-focused RPGs, relegating the 'non-violence' to the conceptual level: the monsters you fought weren't poor animals you rampantly slaughtered; they were just illusions formed from your mind. Dark thoughts made manifest.

Though this idea had been present since MARDEK, I made it the focus of a Pokemon clone called Miasmon...
...but while I did a lot of work on that, its genericness and too-huge scale meant I never managed to finish it.

Next, I tried to make an RPG which focused on a map editor that allowed users to make their own stories. I continued to develop the 'emotions, not violence' concept, replacing the 'elements' seen in so many fantasy games (fire, water, air, earth, etc) with six 'sentiments' (courage, fear, bliss, destruction, creation, sorrow), which were an extension of the 'mind manifestations' idea from Miasmon.
Through all of this, my mental health issues and isolation were getting worse. I wrote a lot of candid blog posts about my struggles, and got many private messages and emails from people telling me that they're relatable or inspiring, thanking me for being so open. If you're struggling, it's easy to feel that everyone else has things together except you, so seeing someone else experiencing your struggles makes you feel less alone or 'broken'.

I saw therapists and read many self-help books about how to be happy, how to overcome mental issues... but therapy is no magic cure, and the books were always written by wealthy doctors with partners, fancy houses, friends, stable careers... "No wonder you're happy", I thought; "I would be too in your situation!"

My fervent atheism had been a big part of my life; it distressed me how people could so 'closed-mindedly' believe things that were 'obviously' not true. However, I felt it was just as closed-minded to scoff at and reject out of hand anything that didn't fit with one's pre-existing worldview without exploring it... As such, I experimented with 'spiritual' practises like meditation, even astral projection, with an open mind. I was desperate to be free of the anxiety that was ruining my life. But for a long time, nothing 'worked'. I felt so lost.

However. As I added more pieces to the puzzle, eventually something clicked inside; an epiphany. I had what I'd call a 'spiritual awakening', and it was amazing! It was as if I'd taken off a pair of dark glasses, and seen the world in its true colours for the first time. Like I'd found love, and now understood what all the ballads were about. Like I'd awoken from a dream. I felt I finally had 'the answer'. For months, my empty life was lit by a wonderful brightness from within.

As this epiphany had moved me like nothing else, I felt I had to share it in some way, and wanted to use my creative skills to do that. I decided to return to the MARDEK games that I and others had loved, but I felt I'd grown beyond what I'd made years earlier. So I decided to reboot the series using much of the lore I'd developed in the intervening years, intermingled with these new spiritual findings.

This became Taming Dreams, and I finished three episodes.
Though I loved it and still do, I felt burdened by the existing MARDEK lore I was building on (or in the eyes of some, defiling), and I'd planned to make many episodes, released regularly. Changes in my life - in particular, going to university to study Psychology in order to escape my isolation - made me uncertain of whether or not I'd be able to finish all the planned episodes. I also felt that the game was a bit pretentious and inaccessible!

Soulmate is an attempt to salvage the work and ideas I put into Taming Dreams, while learning from the mistakes I made with it. It'll be a standalone RPG that won't take me or you forever to finish. It feels like the culmination of all that I've done before, and to me it feels both useful and meaningful. I'm hoping that I can tame my own mind by working on it, and if others can get something out of it too, that will be a wonderful thing!

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