Meet The Person Who Hand-Painted a Video Game for Seven Years
Updated: Oct 12
Edited by Marian Mohamed
The player character in “The Master’s Pupil” is surrounded by vines. (Courtesy Image/Pat Naoum).
It took seven years for the indie game "The Master’s Pupil" to finally be released in July 2023. It’s due to the fact that the game was primarily hand-painted by Sydney-based developer Pat Naoum. With the game’s release two months behind us, Ground Zero Radio’s Antonio Nevarez shares the story of how Naoum worked endlessly for nearly a decade to bring us a one-of-a-kind game.
If you’re a fan of simple yet relaxing video games when you’re feeling mellow, down, or even a little stressed, then "The Master’s Pupil" might check off some boxes for you. This game is visually stunning, with music bound to make you feel carefree after just minutes of gameplay. "The Master’s Pupil" is entirely language-less, with no words in the game, making it accessible to many players. The art of the game was hand-painted by its developer over the course of many years.
The game’s sole developer, Pat Naoum, says the inspiration for the game started ten years ago after examining an image of a real human eyeball.
"So I saw these like close up images of an iris, like a human iris. This kind of colored like landscape that's what it looked like, to me, at least it looked like this kind of giant valley and then right in the middle was this pupil. For me, it just kind of looked like this fascinating area. I thought, wouldn't it be cool to have a game set in that space, you know in that world," said Naoum. "I basically started coming up with ideas that would fit in that world, and one of them was a story or a timeline over someone's lifetime, that would start on the edge, the white better bear eye and go towards the pupil. And it would be set, you know, from their birth to their death. And we'd have this kind of like overarching story."
While the idea for the game was initially vague, it began to take shape after considering what a video game set inside of an eyeball would be like. Eventually, Naoum focused his game on the life of his favorite painter, Claud Monet, hence the title “The Master’s Pupil.”
"Monet is like, he's he just made some, like very beautiful artwork, and that's kind of one of the justifications for using him was because nobody looks at a Monet and goes 'Yuck', you know like he's, it's fundamentally beautiful. They're landscapes, most often landscapes, you know, some people that kind of thing, and it's just really interesting and beautiful artwork, and I don't think you need an art degree to understand his artwork," said Naoum.
For completing puzzles, players are treated with an upscaled and close look at some of Monet’s work, with sound effects in the background such as glasses clinking, groups of people talking, and even babies crying to depict the sounds of human life.
Like most games, Naoum decided he wanted to include some sort of villain for "The Master’s Pupil". Since his game takes place in the eyeball of a famous painter, he decided it only made sense to create a villain that affects the human eye.
"Now, I did a Bachelor of Creative Art. So I kind of studied different artists and whatnot. I remember that Monet had cataracts. And so having this idea of that you, you climb through the kind of Iris through the whole story. Then towards the end, you climbed up into this kind of cataract castle kind of thing, you know, towards the end of this guy's life," said Naoum. "So that kind of like, gave me the the set, and the setting. But I didn't really have a style. So, you know, it just made sense to be able to paint again, and have it fit with Monet and his paintings and have it kind of all tied together in that way."
The player character in “The Master’s Pupil” leaps off a vine. (Courtesy Image/Pat Naoum)
With the work of Claude Monet as the inspiration for the game’s design, Naoum now had the task of faithfully re-envisioning Monet’s work. He realized that in order to do this, he couldn’t just draw the game digitally. Instead, he decided to create a system where he could paint by hand in the real world and then digitize his art to make adjustments.
"I wanted a system that would kind of keep up. And to create this kind of texture and make sure it worked for, you know, this whole kind of experience well experience of me making it you know, so basically, I would start with the shapes and make the design in the game engine and make these kinds of like vine like wiggles," said Naoum. "Trying to paint like him was really difficult. And so I had to kind of trick myself a lot to, you know, paint more interesting and painting with separating my colors rather than kind of bleeding them together and making these like nice, pretty gradients, I had to kind of just kind of ignore what I was doing and then just hit the paintbrush more often and make these kinds of interesting texture."
While Naoum was ambitious for this project from the start, the development of the game was consistently challenging. especially when you consider the fact that it ultimately took seven years for the game to be released.
You see, "The Master’s Pupil" for most of its development was a passion project for Naoum. He works as a freelance graphic designer, meaning he couldn’t dedicate all of his time to the game. Still, his ambition didn’t stop him from finding ways to make time for development, even if it meant having to stop working earlier in the day.
"I basically just reduced my hours down to the point where I would stop at like, you know, maybe four every day, and then do an hour of work. And then I that time kind of went lower and lower and lower, you know, started and stop looking at three and then two, and then eventually, at like lunch, I would stop, and then stop my graphic design work and then start doing this game stuff," said Naoum.
Throughout those seven years developing the game, it wasn’t uncommon for people to remind Naoum that the game may not make much money in return. However, his love for creating things is what continued to drive his passion for "The Master’s Pupil". His ambition to create has always been a part of him, even when he was a child.
"[As a] little kid, I've always just started, I was always drawing, and I was always like, crafting things, and just making stuff all the time," said Naoum. "And so that's what kind of led me to, you know, being involved in music and art, and all sorts of stuff during high school. Then, wanting to branch and do that, you know, at some point, I was even considering becoming a carpenter, because I just, I liked making stuff and there was like, a way of doing that. But I think it's also coming from a brain where I'm obsessed with working out how things work."
Eventually, with the support of a grant from Screen Australia, a Federal government agency that helps support Australian film, TV, and game production, Naoum was able to fund the game even further. By July, the game was available for purchase on Steam and Nintendo Switch. So far, the response to "The Master’s Pupil" has been more positive than Naoum could have imagined. Much of the attention the game has garnered is thanks to a few TikToks that have since gone viral.
"They got to about a million views on both Instagram and TikTok. And then the last post, the third one, got to like five, six million views on both TikTok and Instagram. And so I went from, you know, 150 followers on Tiktok to like, nearly 80,000 And this similar on Instagram was a little higher was like 2,000 or something," said Naoum.
As of the time of recording this, "The Master’s Pupil" has been out for over two months. With seven years of game development finally paying off, I asked Naoum what it feels like to have his passion project completed.
"To be honest, it feels really surreal. It's weird, it's like something that you sit with for really a really long time. And then a certain time, you know, like about a month or so ago, that's when my post, a couple of my posts went really viral. But having the kind of game be released to this much larger audience than I ever anticipated. is really weird," said Naoum. "It's really odd, because you just kind of know, that moseying along in your life doing this little game and then it kind of exploded and became this way bigger than I ever expected. So yeah, it's this surreal moment, I think more than anything, but you know, I'm really proud of it and I'm really grateful and appreciative to fit you for him for you know, saying hi and reaching out and for all the people playing it and all the people you know, wishing me the best and it's just really heartwarming more than anything."