It was a cold night in early December; one that I’d been looking forward to for a while: The Game Awards. Hosted and produced by Geoff Keighley, this was the second iteration of the show, promising new game announcements and exciting performances in addition to awards. I sat at the desk in my college dormitory, cup of tea in hand, pen and paper beside me (I take notes on every major show pertaining to gaming). Midway through the show, Geoff introduced a series of three short video documentaries, in a series called Made with Unity, regarding games, you guessed it, made with Unity Technologies. One in particular caught my eye, a game called Pinstripe, being made by one man, Thomas Brush. Immediately, I knew this was a special game, and came to the realization that Mr. Brush and I have many things in common – and working alone is one. I found Mr. Brush on Twitter, sent him a message, and arranged an interview.
Pinstripe is a 2D adventure game about an ex-minister named Teddy who must explore Hell in search of his daughter Bo, who has been kidnapped by a strange entity claiming to be God.
Thomas Brush began work on Pinstripe at just 21 years old. After four years of balancing a career, working full time, and working on Pinstripe part time, he launched a Kickstarter for the game, which surpassed its modest $28,000 goal in under 24 hours.
Don’t Define Yourself as an Artist
Brush describes himself as “passionate about creativity,” and says that oftentimes, that defines him. “Being considered an artist, whether that’s musically, in illustration, in development, or in storytelling is quite important to me. It’s imperative to me that I’m considered an artist,” he says. However, he continues, saying, “The thing is, I don’t think people should think that way. And I don’t want to think that way either.”
“When you define yourself as an artist, or as a creative person, what happens is, when you find success, you feel great about yourself. But when you don’t have success and creativity, you feel worthless. So it’s important to not definite yourself creatively; even though that’s my temptation every day. For almost four years now working on this game, nobody said anything, until now. And I was down on myself for all those years because of that, because I defined myself creatively.”
Brush’s lessons ring ever so true. It’s important not to define yourself by what others think of your work, nor by what you think of your own work. He says, “A true artist will always feel as though their work is not good enough.”
“For me, I try do define myself on a daily basis through my faith, my family, my friends, and what they say of me. Define yourself through love and the people who love you; and not through your work. I truly believe better work, better creativity and better games will come from that thought process. If you only think of success and money, your work will suffer,” Brush explains.
There are all sorts of mediums with which to express creativity; too many to list here. Brush has chosen to make games, and has a clear explanation for doing so. “The reason why I make games is because I love to do it – it’s the most important thing in the world to me, on both a career and creative level. I think making games represents the culmination of every art form, in one package. I love to think that my music is one art form, my coding and development abilities another, and my illustrations and storytelling ability another. These all come together in one package for you to put in front of people, and they can see every side of my ability in one product.”
He continues, “I’ve been working on Pinstripe for close to four years. It has been a long and hard journey. And I think it’s strange that I’ve stuck with it for so long. I don’t really know why or how I did it. I put 25 hours of work in per week in addition to my full time job, for three years. Hopefully, when I release it, people will love it, and then I can say the reason I stuck with it is because people wanted it.”
An Adventure Through Hell
In Pinstripe, players assume the role of Teddy, an ex-minister who must explore Hell in search of his young daughter, who has been kidnapped by a strange entity claiming to be God. While you’re in Hell, you’ll speak with various characters, as well as encounter a dog. The dog has the ability to dig up secrets. Secrets to your past. “There’s these little icons that you can find throughout the game where the dog will dig up an object, which will then be shown on screen,” Brush explains, “You can then examine that object, spin it around, and decipher clues to your past.”
“Your three year old daughter is kidnapped while they’re in Hell by this demonic looking being and he’s claiming to be God. And so you have to go explore this really sort of Alice in Wonderland styled afterlife and meet all sorts of strange characters and figure out what happened in your past that put you in this situation.”
Interestingly, it was not always Teddy’s daughter that got kidnapped. In prior iterations of the game, it was Teddy’s wife who was taken from him. However, as Brush had players beta test the game in that state, they didn’t feel an emotional attachment to that particular character, which essentially made the game pointless. Instead, Brush created a character he knew every player would have to care about: a cute little three year old girl.
“One of my biggest fears, is that when my wife and I decide to have children, is that I won’t be a good enough father,” Brush reveals. “Of course, there’s no reason for me to believe that, it’s just this terrible feeling in the pit of my stomach. So even though you lose a daughter in the game, it’s not really about that. It’s about a father who really screwed up and you as a player have to explore this world and examine the clues you’re presented with to find out why he screwed up.”
Clearly, Pinstripe has several religious undertones: you’re playing as an ex-minister exploring Hell for his daughter, kidnapped by a demon claiming to be God. In that sense, faith is a large motif within the game. “I don’t want the game to be about my own faith, rather, I want it to be about the character’s faith – and how players perceive that, and how they perceive their own faith,” Brush explains.
“The protagonist, Teddy, he struggled intensely with his faith on numerous metaphorical levels. Whether we say we’re confident in what we believe, I think deep down, that confidence will always be shaky. We will always have doubts. People who are atheist, I think that at some point, they’ll question if there really isn’t a God. And people who believe in God, will question if that God actually exists. That’s a big big part of Teddy’s mindset, and of Pinstripe in general.”
In the Made with Unity documentary focusing on Brush and Pinstripe, which also happens to be the video for the game’s Kickstarter campaign, Brush says that Pinstripe is not a game about gameplay. Here, he elaborates on that sentiment:
“When I make games, I don’t make them for anyone else but myself,” he begins. “The reason why I make games for myself and what I like is because there are thousands of other people out there who are just like me. So if I focus on those people, and I don’t get distracted by the people who want different things, I can create a piece of art that can reach those people like me, and touch them.”
“The reason I’m saying this, and the reason Pinstripe isn’t about gameplay, is because I don’t particularly care for gameplay. All I care about in games is exploration, which is indeed a variation, an aspect of gameplay. Exploration games, even games like Zelda, are simple in objective, and simple in terms of mechanics. You explore, kill the things or people trying to kill you, and talk to people. That’s as simple as it gets.”
“So as long as I focus on making that sort of game play perfect then I can create beautiful atmospheres and create beautiful music and illustrate the game and really polish it up and not have to focus on all this complicated game play that I don’t personally care about to begin with. I want the folks who play Pinstripe to have this feeling of safety in the midst of unknown. I love that feeling and I think that I put that into Pinstripe. I feel it, so I’m hopeful that other people feel it as well.”
A Lonely Journey
When I started this website, I consciously made the decision that I would do this alone. I would employ no other writers, I would have no set editor, no one but me. At first, I started the site with the intention of using it as a resume booster to get hired at a company like IGN. I quickly realized I would not, and could not, do this for a professional living. As such, it will always just be me, and it will be around forever. I’m going nowhere.
The reason I pursue this endeavor alone, (although I’ve had much help from many friends along the way), is because it provides a sense of fulfillment that nothing else can. When the website gets a compliment, it’s me getting a compliment, because every aspect of the website is me. I’ve put all of myself, and then some, into this site, and will continue to do so.
As such, it immediately struck me during the Made with Unity documentary at The Game Awards when Thomas Brush revealed that he’d been working on the game alone, on his own time, and would always do so. I can empathize with that. And, more importantly, I respect it.
“I get this strange feeling of accomplishment, of knowing that what I’ve achieved, I’ve done so alone,” Brush says. “When you get a taste of what it’s like to make something that people like, you’ll never quit. It’s this high, for every article you post, or every game that you make that people love, it gets you high. And it makes you try even harder for the next one.”
However, Brush explicitly references what he said above, that he cannot allow himself to be defined by this. “You can definitely enjoy it. It can push you to continue, but the moment you begin to define yourself by these things, and then the inevitable happens, which is your site’s traffic tanking or my making a game that people hate, we’ll become depressed. And that’s not OK.”
Clearly, Brush’s long and lonely journey is bearing, and will bear fruit, as his Kickstarter has raised $83,000 of its $28,000 goal in just two weeks. I wish Thomas all the best, and will continue to speak and collaborate with him as his journey continues.