A short history of ULTRA ADHD’s development

How Ultra ADHD turned from a surreal horror game to an interactive improv show.

(Originally included in the “Sprites and Scripts” ZIP file. This post adds markup, screenshots, and some clarifications. It also contains SPOILERS.)

From the very beginning, ULTRA ADHD was developed without a design doc, a script, or any kind of plan. I just made it all up as I went along.

However, before ULTRA ADHD was a nonsense/random video game, it was a horror game,originally titled “Everyone Dies at the End”.

Instead of being some random schmuck who got themselves tangled in an anti-developer conspiracy, the player took on the role of the Ultimate Moral Authority, appointed by God (an actual fictional God this time), choosing who lives and who dies in a semi-open world during the END TIMES. The eeriness came from the contrast between themes of depression, suicide, futility, and death, and the amateurish, hand-drawn, vibrant artstyle inspired by Space Funeral.

The gimmick was that no choice was right or wrong. Someone, somewhere WILL suffer from your decisions. If you don’t kill anyone – there would still people who suffer. If you kill the murderers and the tyrants – there would still be people in despair. The game was a juggling act, akin to that one moral conundrum about a train running over one “important” person or several “unimportant” ones.

So if you were wondering why there are so many eyes in ULTRA ADHD, this is why. It was originally supposed to be a horror game. Also, if that pitch sounded suspiciously like a darker spin on Undertale, that’s because it pretty much was. I think the amount of work that went into Everybody Dies and a critical look at its systems and gameplay (which, in turn, is also a bit of critical look at Undertale) was the catalyst to the Pretentious Ending and the obscene amount of fourth wall breaks.

“Everyone Dies at the End” Art & Dialog test, August 2016

“Everyone Dies” evolved into ULTRA ADHD for two main reasons.

One – its scope was enormous. I’m not a person who makes intricate plans for my games, and planning such a wide variety of choices and consequences was going to be hell to develop and something I was not used to doing. Besides, eventually players world pick up on the idea and just say “Oh, everything I do is completely useless. Why should I play this then?”.

The second reason is that I felt like I could do more with the artstyle. The atmosphere was eerie, yes, but the strange amateurish artstyle hinted at something more irreverent, darkly comedic, and dare I say, punk.

And so, slowly but surely “Everyone Dies” turned from a grim moral choice clusterfuck to a survival horror game with shooting mechanics ripped straight from Resident Evil 4, to a wacky game with no fourth wall.

I’ve been told countless times by fellow developers and entrepreneurs that the way I work on games is unprofessional, that it lengthens the development time and generally makes for an inferior product. And yeah, I admit that if I had stayed on one vision, the 1.5 month development time could be cut in half or more. I also admit that I’d never employ this philosophy in a professional environment.

When developing (and writing) by the seat of my pants, without a document I worked on for hours and must commit to, new ideas start blooming during development. Failed concepts turn into strengths. Everything is a remix. I develop set pieces just because I think they’re cool or fun or I think that they’d fit. I can turn my game concept 180 degrees and still churn out something enjoyable.

And ULTRA ADHD is what happens when I just say “Eh, fuck it” and just puts every single idea I have in one game. True art is genuine after all.