Interview: David O'Reilly, Creator of Everything

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David O'Reilly is the award-winning animator behind such work as the video game sequences in Spike Jonze's "Her" and the Adventure Time episode "A Glitch Is a Glitch". Earlier this year, O'Reilly released "Everything", a mechanically minimalist philosophy game narrated by British intellectual Alan Watts. Here, he discusses the forces that shaped Everything and the role that games can play in bridging the gap between artist and audience.


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Gamer_152: You've said elsewhere that you originally conceived of Everything as a six-month project but that it eventually took three years to complete. What decisions lengthened the dev time in that way?

David O'Reilly: There were so many decisions that drew out the process, each one was absolutely necessary and it would be hard to disentangle them. I did keep track of the to-do lists we used, those contain the specific set of decisions that led from the beginning to the end. I would say there was as much time put into optimization as features - or into pulling back as there was including.

G_152: What is your relationship with the views of Alan Watts that you present in the game? Are there aspects of his worldview that you passionately agree or disagree with?

DO: It's important to emphasize, as he often did, that Watts wasn't necessarily trying to get across his point of view as much as describing ideas that have been around for a very long time. Of course, he does it in his own way, but we tend to confuse the message with the messenger. In any case, the parts that are presented in the game I agree with entirely, every word. Alan Watts was the first thinker I ever encountered who I fully felt aligned with. The root idea he describes verbally is the same idea the game itself is describing. I would also say it is strictly an indescribable idea, but I believe games have the potential to describe it better than any other medium.

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G_152: Everything depicts the entire universe from bacteria to galaxies in the form of well over 1,000 things the player can control. How did you decide which things gave a good picture of the universe? Was there a lot of research involved?

DO: It was an iterative process of filling out what felt needed. It was a task that could have derailed the entire production but it was something I just added to until it felt right. It was more intuitively driven than research driven, though there was loads of research too. I got to know a lot of things, insects, shells, flowers, cactuses etc. as well as everything in micro and macroscopic scales. The game can of course be used to learn about these things in the world.

G_152: While most of the game is recreating real things and actual places, there is some more surreal content in the form of the alien planets and the "Golden Gate". What made these necessary parts of the game for you?

DO: That is a good question, both are aberrations and were not straight forward decisions. The alien planets are kind of easter eggs, the game will never begin there. I would have loved a whole range of alien planet types but just went with a single one because of resources. These were initially going to be barren environments with some off-world assets - to act like canvasses for people to construct worlds in. Over time though I kept making them more playful and unusual, until they became these experimental environments in sound, shape and color. Their function, in a way, is to obviate how varied, interesting and beautiful our familiar world is. The Golden Gate world, I would rather not discuss, but it was also a part of an evolutionary process of adding and removing until it felt right and necessary.

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G_152: Do you have any favourite things in Everything?

DO: The Nothing object. It makes the game first person.

G_152: Looking back at your body of work, it seems to be incredibly diverse. Is there any approach or theme that binds together some or all of the media you've created?

DO: I've been fascinated by 3d software for a very long time, and its potential to create abstract but emotionally resonant worlds. I consider 3d to be the overarching medium I work in, and it includes design, film making, games and everything else that comes out of 3d software.


Thanks to David O'Reilly and thank you for reading.