We may earn a commission when you buy through links in our articles. Learn more.

Talking patience, puzzles, and purpose with While Waiting’s developer

In our While Waiting interview, we picked Optillusion founder Dong Zhou’s brain about the studio’s upcoming philosophical puzzle game.

While Waiting interview: Protagonist Adam, a cartoon white man wearing pink bunny ears on his brown hair, purple trousers, a blue jean jacket over a white and pink hoodie, and a pink cross-body bunny bag, outlined in white and pasted on a blurred snippet of the yellow comic-style key visual

Alongside things like eating and breathing, waiting is a universal part of the human experience. It’s something we don’t often take the time to think about, either taking it for granted or sometimes wishing that we didn’t have to wait. As someone with ADHD, I’m not exactly the best at waiting, which is why this game caught my attention at 2024’s Day of the Devs Summer Game Fest presentation.

While Waiting is a quirky puzzle game coming to mobile in 2025 that explores the concept of waiting and how it impacts our lives. It contains over 100 levels that span the entirety of the main character Adam’s life, putting him in different scenarios filled with idle time, like waiting for the bus to school, collecting his luggage at the airport, or queueing for the elevator at work.

You can, in theory, ‘win’ every level by doing nothing, but the devs at Optillusion encourage you to interact with the environment, to turn waiting “into an engaging and thoughtful experience.” After the game’s debut at this year’s SGF, we got the chance to chat with Dong Zhou, Optillusion’s founder, and developer on While Waiting, to learn more about this intriguing concept for a mobile game.

As the level scenarios suggest, Zhou told us that While Waiting is heavily inspired by daily life. He said, “When I am waiting for something – maybe because I am a game designer – I always try to find something to play. It could be a game in my mind to keep me busy, or just daydreaming. Nowadays, when people are waiting, they just play with their phones because there is nothing to do. But is that even true? I believe everyone hates waiting, but that’s just because they are not playful enough.”

YouTube Thumbnail

He’s absolutely right on both counts. In England, we’ve simultaneously made queueing and hating the act of queueing parts of our culture. As for there being ‘nothing to do’, older generations used to make fun of millennials and Gen Z for always being glued to their phones, but in 2024 you can almost guarantee that people of all ages will bring out their phones to scroll or play a game when given the chance between tasks.

He continued, “We want to create a game from every mundane moment, to help players find their own ways to kill time. That’s where the inspiration for the game comes from.” Yes, While Waiting is a game to pass the time, but the scenarios mirror things that happen in our day-to-day lives, so perhaps the levels can teach us how to wait more playfully.

While Waiting’s art style is immediately very distinct, using a limited color palette and cartoonish illustrations with minimal shading. The team took inspiration from comic books and cartoons like Snoopy and Yes, But by Antоn Gudim precisely because you can complete it without interacting with the level, instead watching the scene like a TV show. The color palette decision came about through trial and error, Zhou told us. “At first we tried to make it black and white, and the art style ended up looking more serious. But we felt that this serious art style would scare away a lot of players.

While Waiting interview: Adam riding a luggage belt at an airport

“So we made the game look funnier and more colorful, but in this case, the game ended up looking more like a silly child’s doodle game. The current art style is a mix of both of those styles.” Balancing the funny and whimsical tone with some of the story’s more serious moments key part of the dev team’s design philosophy, especially as While Waiting follows Adam from the cradle to the grave, literally.

“It is challenging to find the balance between funny and serious since you still need something to play in each level but you don’t want it to be too silly,” Zhou said. “So in the later stages, we weaken the funny elements and make the player’s interaction serve more narrative purpose.”

The main feature that stood out to me during While Waiting’s Day of the Devs showcase was the game’s in-build fidget button. I use fidget toys every day to help me concentrate on work or to alleviate my anxiety – in fact, I’m using one as I write this interview. Interestingly, we learned from Zhou that this feature actually came about by accident. It was initially a hint mechanism for finding every level’s sticker, optional collectibles that you can find throughout your journey with Adam.

While Waiting interview: A quote from Dong Zhou and an image of Adam on a mango background

He said, “But after the playtest, we felt that it didn’t feel quite right. It felt like everything in the game was designed for players to pursue stickers. We wanted the stickers only to serve the purpose of guidance to help you to kill time.” So, to avoid the game turning into a collect-a-thon, the hint system was reimagined but the fidget button remains, simply as something to do to pass the time. I’m particularly excited to see the evolution of the feature, as Zhou told me that more fidget toys like a fidget spinner and a sheet of bubble wrap are in the works.

Another aspect of my ADHD that informed my thoughts on this game is my impulsive nature. In the past, I have caused trouble for myself financially by spending too much money on microtransactions in mobile games. I get impatient or frustrated and need an instant dopamine release, and a lot of games these days actively take advantage of people like me by making it so easy and addictive to spend money on skips, extra lives, or loot boxes.

A mobile game specifically talking about learning to wait immediately made me think of the current industry landscape, so I asked Zhou if he intended to critique this model in While Waiting, and what he thought about microtransactions. He told me, “It is smart and definitely a good business model. Nowadays games become more and more fast-paced, and people want instant feedback, which triggers them to pay.

While Waiting interview: Adam waiting for the elevator at work

“But I do want players to have the patience to enjoy a slow-paced game like While Waiting… we do have a level which is about waiting for your AP to replenish when playing a mobile game.”

Following Adam throughout his entire life is bound to create an emotional link between him and the player, which is something I often look for in games. My final question for Zhou was simple – will While Waiting make me cry?

“It might make you cry. At least, it will make you feel emotional and think about the meaning of life. We put a lot of effort into the narrative of the game. I don’t want to spoil things but I am sure the ending will surprise you!”

While Waiting is coming to Android, iOS, and PC in 2025. You can visit Optillusion’s website to learn more about the game, as well as the studio’s previous mobile puzzle title, Moncage, and wishlist the game on Steam to show your support.

For more awesome upcoming games, check out our Summer Game Fest 2024 round-up, or catch up on the Nintendo Direct June 2024 presentation. Alternatively, save some money on gacha games with our Genshin Impact codes and Honkai Star Rail codes.