“The main character in Hyper Light Drifter suffers from a deadly illness, one he is desperately seeking a cure for. It haunts him, endlessly. That’s something I’m keenly familiar with.”
- Heart Machine lead developer Alex Preston, on the inspiration for his lead character's haunting visions.
If you've played Hyper Light Drifter, you likely wondered what the story was behind the title character's frequent hallucinations and coughing up spurts of blood. The game often implies the Drifter is near death, and it's not the scaling hordes of monsters that will push him over the edge.
While the Drifter's illness may remain in the murky mist of the game's deliberately vague backstory, lead developer Alex Preston recently explained the real-world inspiration for these moments in an interview with the Guardian. Speaking with writer Chris Priestman, Preston says these dark, terrifying moments come from his lifelong battle with heart disease.
"A plethora of digestive and immune system problems have left me hospitalised on numerous occasions, often near death," Preston explains. "This gives me a certain perspective on life, and plays into the stories I want to tell."
Preston says this condition has inspired much of his art career throughout his life, and working through it helped bring him to a point where he felt like he could make a game like Hyper Light Drifter. "I threw stuff at the walls to see what stuck, what resonated with me and my peers. It was incredibly helpful to make some trashy work that I eventually burned or gave away."
"It made me a better artist, brought me closer to defining what I actually wanted to say with any of my work moving forward.”
The Guardian's writeup says Preston's health issues contributed to the long development cycle for Hyper Light Drifter, though it's also clear this was because of the expanded scope Heart Machine could work towards thanks to a successful Kickstarter.
You can read more of Preston's account to learn how working with a community at Glitch City helped fuel his work as a developer, and some of his experiences sharing his health struggles with the game's fans.