ICARUS (2011) and the Difference Engine Initiative


(old version)

What is it?

Icarus is a top-down exploratory game in which you must build a jet pack to escape the island where you and your inventor father have been imprisoned by an evil corporation. Also, reflect on your own dysfunctional relationship with a man whose genius apparently didn't extend to his parenting skills...

How was it made?

Icarus was built entirely in Stencyl. I did the art, writing, and (with a lot of help from the Stencyl forums) some block coding. I used Adobe Flash to animate, and Photoshop for colouring and art assets.

Notes on the first game I ever made

I made Icarus back in September 2011, over the course of about two months. I had just graduated from Sheridan College's Classical Animation program, and moved to Toronto with no job prospects and only a dim sense of what to do next. At some point I decided to Google "toronto video games", not as part of my job search, but out of simple curiosity. I like video games! Maybe there are people in Toronto who also like video games!

The very first hit was for a local video game organization, the Hand Eye Society, which was taking applications for something called The Difference Engine Initiative. The idea was that 6 female applicants, who had never made a game before, would be chosen to go through a 6-week game-making crash course. It was free and sounded like fun, so I applied. The participants ended up being: Me (Sagan Yee), Stephanie Fisher, Zoe Quinn, Beth Maher, Una Lee and Cecily Carver. You can play their first games- as well as those of the DEI II participants- and read more about the program at the aforementioned link.

Screenshot from Icarus.

Screenshot from Icarus. Poetry by James Merrill.

The idea behind Icarus was sort of a mash-up between the solitary island exploration of Myst, Greek mythology, and adventure games. If Gone Home had come out in 2011, I would have probably said I was going for a similar gameplay style: Lots of reading and trying to piece together information from documents and other narrative clues, with some very light puzzling in-between. It's a contemporary re-telling of the original story, in which genius inventor Daedalus builds wax wings so he and his son can escape their imprisonment by King Minos. Unfortunately Icarus flies too close to the sun and, with his wings melted, falls into the sea and drowns.

Icarus: The Game is just barely like the original in that you have to build a jet pack instead of wax wings, and also Icarus isn't the one who dies. The game focuses instead on the dysfunctional father-son relationship of the two characters, with almost none of the flying too close to the sun part (which is what most people think of when that tale is invoked). I was more interested in exploring the question of what it would be like to be a teenager stuck on an island with his genius father, cut off from the outside world with nothing to do but play video games all day. And then, what it would be like for all of that to change.

The game is not very good for a lot of reasons (numerous bugs, placeholder writing, faulty design, the fact that I had never made a game before and didn't even know what a Boolean was), but the art is pretty and there are some interesting ideas that may invite me to revisit this project someday. More importantly, making the game opened up a huge number of opportunities and set me on a path to game-making from which I have yet to stray.

FUN FACT: The character design of Icarus is based on myself, in high school.

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