Richard Flanagan and Quynh Nguyen are a couple and game development team that had to face a very difficult obstacle in the development of their game—the birth of their first child Zoe halfway through.
Balance and flexibility are reoccurring themes in their story. They had to learn to balance work, parenting, and a healthy relationship. Like so many of life’s lessons, the lesson about balance had to be learned through a rough system of trial and error.
Richard and Quynh are the creators of FRACT: OSC, an ambitious PC game. FRACT is set in a connected open world featuring a unique electronic soundtrack fused with puzzles and exploration. It’s an esoteric, dreamlike, and unique game. So unique, in fact, that its ambitious and intricate development served as the base of a very challenging time for the couple.
Early on in FRACT’s creation, Richard and Quynh experienced a lot of turbulence in their personal and professional relationships, often struggling to agree with one another on aspects of development and appreciating each other’s roles. Eventually, the stress led Quynh to outright quit the project.
It was not long after that she found out she was pregnant. When I asked her if that was one of the reasons why she left, Quynh surprised me with her answer.
“I think it’s because I was pregnant I came back to the project,” she says. “I thought ‘okay, it’s not really getting done without me, and I want to get it done before the baby [is] born.’ So, I kind of knew I had to come back to have that happen.”
Learning Lessons About Priorities
FRACT’s development continued long after Zoe was born, but her birth forced both Quynh and Richard to learn a series of lessons that ultimately helped make FRACT’s development even more efficient.
“There were obviously learning curves, because we were exhausted and learning how to be new parents,” Richard recalls. “That time you might waste before? We just didn’t have it anymore.”
“I think that [Zoe’s birth] is also a part of what made me become more decisive, because I was like, ‘Well, what if I’m wrong? We’ll fix it. I need to make this decision now, we need to go forward. I need to be a dad in 20 minutes, and I can’t deal with this while I’m a dad.’ I think being decisive makes everyone’s life a little easier.”
Quynh sees learning to accept one’s limits as another lesson she learned during Zoe’s early months. According to her, balancing the act of working full time while being the parent of an infant means you’ll have to accept what you can and cannot do.
“There are always trade-offs,” she says, mentioning that she’d love to be the so-called “perfect Pinterest mom,” but for her, it just isn’t possible.
“You have to realize you can’t do everything 100%. [You need to] accept that you have limits, and that’s okay.”
Since they worked together, Richard and Quynh were forced to be more flexible within their relationship to accommodate a baby and their project. This flexibility led them to eventually develop more empathy within their respective roles.
“We ended up collaborating a lot on design,” Richard says, adding that he and Quynh’s roles took on a new level of fluidity as they attempted to balance everything. When one needed help, the other had to step in to offer a hand.
Working from home allowed the two an added amount of flexibility, as they were able to take turns watching Zoe. Quynh remembers meetings with Zoe strapped to her, while Richard describes Zoe frequently sitting in on his design sessions.
Making Time for Zoe
Being in this shared space also afforded both Richard and Quynh the ability to spend an equal amount of time with Zoe. They were both able to be a part of her early months by bathing and putting her to bed together every night—a ritual, they add, that has stayed consistent over the past few years.
Zoe’s influence even stretches beyond her household—FRACT has certain elements inspired by her. Specifically, Quynh remembers seeing Zoe playing and worked with Richard to create an experience grounded in ideas of play and integration rather than rigidity and focus. And, those who listen carefully enough in-game can sometimes hear her heartbeats taken from ultrasounds conducted prior to her birth.
FRACT eventually released on the PC as an ethereal, music-driven fever dream that caught the attention of many within the gaming community. It’s a product both Richard and Quynh are very proud of. But it’s the lessons learned during the heat of a difficult time that have changed Richard and Quynh’s relationship dynamic for the better. Now expecting their second child, they feel like they have a better idea of what to expect; trade-offs, adjustments, chaos, and all.
“If there’s a lesson I’ve taken, it’s that I don’t really know what I’m doing,” she says, laughing. “It’s not like one day I’m going to know what I’m doing. Everything changes all the time.”
Despite their challenges, both Quynh and Richard continually reinforce how “worth it” it all was throughout our conversation; how much the struggle, the adjustment, and the learning curve was made up for by Zoe’s presence and the positive changes in their relationship.
So worth it, in fact, that they’re willing to do it all over again.