Positive Influence

(Image credit: Future)

his article first appeared in PC Gamer magazine issue 360 in August 2021, as part of our ‘Positive Influence’ series, where every month we chat to a different developer about the inspirations and unexpected connections behind their work. 

In 2007, on the eve of what is now known as the Great Recession, a market risk analyst decided to quit his job and embark on a career which, from a risk mitigation perspective, his colleagues would have advised against.

“I was young,” Terry Cavanagh says. “A lot of my friends were doing things like going off to Australia for a year. At the time, the whole indie developer thing was just starting to really kick off. I saved up some money and decided to give it a go. The decision was my version of going to Australia.” It didn’t go very well. After many failed starts and projects that didn’t pan out, Cavangh ran out of money. He borrowed some cash from the bank in order to keep going, then ran out of that too.

“I’d come to the end of the whole thing, where I just had to say, ‘This is not working out, I have to go and get a real job,'” he says. “And I was working on one last project, which was this little gravity-flipping platformer.”

(Image credit: Terry Cavanagh)

VVVVVV was Cavanagh’s breakthrough, but it was also a break from form. His previous games had been serious and arty, part of a nascent indie scene reacting against AAA power fantasies. His most successful experiment, a Game Boy-esque platformer called Don’t Look Back, had been a riff on the ancient Greek legend of Orpheus and Eurydice, about storming into Hades with a handgun. When the player led their dead lover back to the surface, they were confronted by the image of themselves still standing impotently at the graveside, as they had been at the beginning of the game, grief undefeated.

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