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2 Year anniversary of my first video game: Billy Suicide

2010-04-08 16:32:22 by dlasal

Some time in the winter of 2007 it occurred to me that I was drinking more often than I was making things. Well, I was making websites for clients in order to pay my rent and eat, so that I could continue to make websites for clients in order to pay my rent and eat, so get the idea.

I had developed a winter routine that involved me finishing a bottle of Jack Daniels sippin' whiskey every two days. There was also a lot of revealing emotional releases in front of an unhappy girlfriend. I recognized that this was a bad routine and a good solution would be to attempt a new creation. In the past I would pick up my guitar, but the mental demands of my web development work had ruled out medium-multitasking. After some thought I decided my new creation would be a video game built with the same tools I was using for websites, and it would be playable on the internet, but what kind of video game would it be? My songs had always been very introspective and self-aware, which I was growing tired of. I wanted to move away from studying myself, but at the same time I needed to address my deepening negativity. After a good amount of thought I decided an exaggerated self-portrait in video game form where the object was to keep a suicidal guy from killing himself was a clever idea that would permit me to deal with my current dilemma, while also being a swan song to my self analytical creations. The concept was born, and I quickly began to develop it in my spare time. I shot video against a make shift green screen of the various activities that the character in the game would do, along with a wide variety of comedic suicides. The game ended up with four suicide variations: gunshot, on fire, hanging and an axe in the head. Sadly I couldn't include: bath tub electrocution, shotgun face, rotary fan face, pill overdose, knife in the gut and Japanese Sepuku (Billy disembowels himself and then his girlfriend cuts off his head). I should mention that this was my first effort to address my suicidal thoughts with dark humor and I found it very therapeutic, although I would later learn that many others wouldn't. I also included my own drawings as wall art along with images by my ex girlfriend, who happens to play Billy's girl in the game. The TV show in the game is a clip from a short movie I made, and all of the music is stuff I had recorded over the years.

The game took nine months to make and pushed my old Dell Dimension 8100 computer to it's limit, but somehow I finished it and called it Billy Suicide. "Now what?" I thought. I really didn't know anything about online game distribution, especially for something as subversive as a darkly comedic game about suicide. I decided to consult the online game community and found a greatly supportive, cool bunch of independent artists. In particular Tom Fulp, who is a hero in the flash game development community offered me great feedback on the game. I was eventually directed to a site called Flash Game License, which is a hub for publishers to connect with developers. Through it I connected with a guy who wanted to publish Billy Suicide. He offered me a thousand dollars. In all the years I made music, films and videos I never earned more than free drinks and a few bucks. Suffice to say it was the best money I ever made in my life.

A short time later I gave the game file to my publisher, Dragon Gamez, and I personally published it to Newgrounds, which is the real testing ground for a flash game. To my chagrin the game was featured on the front page and generally well liked, although here is an example of some of the negative intellectual discourse the game generated:

This game blows so much that even a fag would say that it sucks. Whoever made this game ought to be shot in the back of the head execution style in front of his family. - Damien1363

That's the amusing side of reaching a broad audience on the internet. Anyway, the game was really hot for about a week and a half, and stayed active for months before it started to dip. I felt renewed creatively and began working on the sequel, which I intended to totally disconnect from the original. Billy would not be a self-portrait anymore, but a character that could go places and do things I could not. I decided to return to the adolescent roots that I had been made to feel ashamed of during my year in art school: horror movies. I would drop Billy into a "Night of the Living Dead" style zombie apocalypse, and call it Billy Genocide. I dove into the new game with a lot of ambition, fantasizing that I could turn games out quickly enough to make a living doing it, and not have to bother with web design jobs anymore. After four months I had the game in good shape, but felt that I needed two more months to polish it up, however with the rent and bills looming ever closer, I was forced to try to publish it prematurely. I struck a deal with Dragon Gamez again. When it was published I was excited to see that the game had once again been featured on the front page of Newgrounds, but then the commentary started coming in:

When your character gets hit, he staggers and stays in one place. He recovers so slowly that he cannot move away from his attackers nor can he attempt another attack. He just gets struck over and over until he dies.

There were many more like that one and the game was removed from the front page in just two days (Billy Suicide had been up for a week). I was disappointed to say the least, but it taught me a lesson about releasing work prematurely that I won't forget, and I decided to press on and make a third Billy game. This time it would be my homage to 2001 and Star Wars.

One day while working on the new game, a friend emailed me to say he saw something about Billy Suicide on his news feed. I was intrigued and began to search the web, eventually finding a news story published by The Telegraph, which made a claim that the developers of Billy Suicide were being pressured to remove the game by a group called Samaritans. Here's an excerpt:

...there have been calls to remove the game, after mother-of-one Lisa Dalton, 25, became the 24th suicide victim in the Welsh town of Bridgend. A spokesperson for Samaritans, said: "Suicide is not a light-hearted subject and is should always be taken seriously. Certain types of suicide portrayal can act as a catalyst to influence the behaviour of people who are already vulnerable, particularly young people, and result in an overall increase in suicide and/ or an increase in uses of particular methods."

I was never contacted by Samaritans or The Telegraph, and there seemed to be no connection between Billy Suicide and the people in the town of Bridgend. It was truly bizarre, kind of like in the 1980's when people targeted Heavy Metal as the cause of every bad thing teenagers did. Anyway, the website Eurogamer got in touch with me and asked if I would offer my point of view. Here's an excerpt:

Dave Lasala, creator of controversial Flash game Billy Suicide, has hit back at organizations campaigning for its removal from the internet. His comments come after The Telegraph contacted the Samaritans and PAPYRUS (Prevention of Young Suicide), and printed responses claiming the game was both "irresponsible" and a "catalyst to influence the behaviour of people who are already vulnerable" to suicide. "I wanted the game Billy Suicide to be an exaggerated self-portrait," Dave Lasala explained to Eurogamer. "I also wanted to use it to look at a difficult subject with a sense of humour. I feel I have some authority on the subject, having rescued two brothers from suicide attempts. "Anyway, it seems to me that people blame violent art, angry music and horror movies for negative behaviour because it's easier to reduce complex issues down to a neat one-sentence solution, like, 'If there were no violent movies there would be no violence.' "I would encourage everyone to check out the Oscar-winning documentary Bowling for Columbine for an in-depth examination of this behaviour. That being said, the object of the game Billy Suicide is to keep him alive," he added.

None the less The Telegraph version of the story got parroted around the UK news web for about a week, but as they say, any press is good press. I went back to work on the final Billy game.

After several months of development I was feeling pretty good about the direction it was going and decided to contact my publisher so he could give it a try. He did, and quickly indicated that he wasn't interested in publishing it. Additionally, many of the people who beta-tested it had nothing good to say about it. I was crushed and gave up work on the game. I won't go into the details of what followed. I'll just say that my life went forward in pretty much the same way as Billy Suicide portrayed it: mediocrity, day in, day out.

It's now April 8th, 2010. Billy Suicide has broken a million plays, Billy Genocide has a 4 out of 5 score at Newgrounds and I finally got the nerve to make public the unfinished third game, Billy's Rocket Ride. I am pleased with The Billy Trilly as I've come to call it, corny as that sounds. I think it's a pretty good thing, imperfections and all. I wish I had a better way to conclude this little recount, but sadly I don't. I just felt that it was appropriate to write a little something about it on it's two year anniversary, but maybe this is a good note to end on:

I've been trying to decide if it's good enough to put on a smart phone or not.


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2010-07-30 15:49:19

I can't believe you haven't gotten a comment yet - Billy Suicide is one of my favorite games on Newgrounds. It's just the simplicity maximizes the fun.


2010-09-05 00:19:14

Man, you were one of my favorite flash artists'. I thought Billy Genocide was one of the best online zombie games ever made, even though it had some big flaws it was still better that most of the stuff out there. You got talent man, and a lot of people here can see that. You do what you want with your life, man, but I just want to say that if you keep spiraling down this incredibly boring lifestyle that you've had for about two years, your going to end up wishing that you could've all changed it at some point in your life. Look, just because you got knocked on your ass once just means it's less likely to happen the next time. Good things come to those who don't just run after there dreams, but sprint. All and all, man, your talented and you deserve to treat yourself better by going after what you love doing, whatever that may be. Just don't give up on the creative front, and try managing your time maybe so as you can both work on websites and still make great games. Just a bit of fortune cookie advice, but I think it'll help.