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Travail and the challenges of artistic creation

Dr. Bones is kind of an idiot.

If you don't watch his steps, he'll run straight off a cliff. If you're not telling him when to jump, he'll smash into a wall. Bones is just an ordinary guy with a goal and little idea of how to get there.

According to creator Eli Delventhal, Bones is not so different from anyone that's ever tried to make something.

Travail is the story of a graphic novelist struggling to write a comic book. As the artist penning Death Boulder Bones, players will physically guide Dr. Bones on his quest to save his wife. The controls are simple. A left click and drag on the mouse will draw paths, which you can use to guide Bones. Right click and dragging will draw walls to protect him from enemies and projectiles. One small right click catapults Bones into the air, and space flips backward in the comic, effectively starting your progress over. The goal is to make sure Bones dashes safely through each level.

The concept for Travail started with a dungeon crawler Delventhal worked on previously, where enemies used a pathfinding algorithm. Eventually Delventhal began experimenting with the mechanic — throwing up walls to stop enemies, creating new paths. At Ludum Dare 21, Travail began to really take shape.

"The story was originally just a character trying to get through temple," Delventhal said. "We sort of realized that we were actually drawing stuff in, and [a comic book] makes a lot more sense, rather than being some spirit that's creating walls to save some guy."

"It's a story that resonates with me about how hard it is to make something."

The game is as much an ode to Delventhal's love of comics as it is an allegory for his life. His goal was to avoid making a game that looked like it was about making games, though that's really what Travail is, Delventhal said.

"It's a story that resonates with me about how hard it is to make something. You're actually the person creating this book."

Travail's "idiot character" is no idiot at all, but an allegory for the game's artist. Delventhal said. The artist sees himself in this character who can't stop running off cliffs.

"He's had all these sleepless nights," Delventhal said. "He's sort of going crazy as he makes this. The idea of having someone who just barrels ahead against intelligent judgment sort of resonates with both the character, and I think me about creating this game."

"He's just a guy in a world of superheroes," Delventhal said. "He's just trying to reach his goal. That really is what making this game is for me. It's my part-time passion."

Delventhal works a full-time day job in order to make money, but it's not unusual to find him up late working on Travail. It goes against his better judgment, he said, but he's compelled to work on the game.

"I don't get any exercise anymore," Delventhal said. "I should not be doing it. But I need to finish it."

The alpha build of Travail is available through the game's website. Travail is currently being developed for Windows PC, Mac, Linux, iOS and Android.