Life is but a dream..
I’ve really been sinking my teeth into some great Indie games over the last couple of months. There’s some truly amazing things going on out there thanks to some really talented individuals. One of those little gems is The Dream Machine by Cockroach Incorporated, with its creators Erik Zaring and Anders Gustafsson at the helm.
The Dream Machine is a traditional point-and-click adventure game, hand-crafted using a combination of clay, 3D graphics, Photoshop wizardry and the all important creative flair. It follows the story of Victor Neff, a young man who’s just moved to a new city with his pregnant wife, Alicia. Awaking from a strange dream, the early part of the game sees Victor and Alicia settling in to their new apartment, surrounded by as yet unpacked moving boxes. It’s not long before you meet the other residents of the apartment building and discover a shocking secret that tugs at your curiosity in a way you can’t resist.
The game looks absolutely gorgeous. All the sets and the characters have been hand crafted from materials like clay and cardboard, giving the game a distinctive tactile feel. Everything in the game looks solid, like you can just reach out and touch it, instead of some digital 3D mirage. You can literally spend ages just poring over the incredible attention to detail. From the dust mites floating in the shafts of sunlight from the apartment windows, to the shadow of the fishes swimming around the island. Or from Victor’s Blade Runner-inspired shirt, to the peeling paint on the apartment’s radiators and the chipped tiles in the bathroom. The game is a joyous feast for the eyes. Watch closely and you will even see Victor blinking, such is the care and attention that has gone into creating this game.
Great visuals alone don’t make a game, and luckily no expense has been spared crafting the other elements of the game to a similarly high standard. The soundtrack to the game is outstanding. An elegant, understated score opens the game, suggesting both playfulness and intrigue in equal amounts, before giving way to only the sound of waves crashing on the beach of the deserted island where Victor starts the game. You can really feel the isolation. When Victor wakes up, you find yourself in the apartment where the soundtrack becomes darker, moody, foreboding, but not overly so. It encourages exploration while suggesting that you may not like what you find. The sound effects in the game are of a similarly professional quality, each distinctive and realistic, nothing feels out of place. My current studies have highlighted the importance of audio in bringing environments to life, and it shows here. Again, it’s all in the little details: Victor’s footsteps change depending on the surface he’s walking on, be it the soft thud of the floorboards in the bedroom, or the click-clack on the tiled kitchen floor. Cross the rug in the hallway and his footsteps become even more dulled. This is obsessive attention to detail, and the game really benefits. I should also mention that the developers have included a Hearing aid option for important sound effects, so this game is definitely deaf-friendly. There’s also a greyscale option to make the game more accessible to people with colour blindness.
I haven’t even described the gameplay yet, such is the lavish spectacle the environments alone place before you. As a relative newcomer to the adventure game genre, The Dream Machine is very newcomer friendly. The controls are standard point-and-click fare, with an unobtrusive inventory that pops down when you mouse near the top of the screen. You can drag and drop items from your inventory onto Victor or onto objects in the environment to interact with them. It’s simple but very intuitive. The early puzzles on show also make use of drag and drop, but again, whether it’s sorting through objects in a cardboard box, or piecing together a letter, the feeling is tactile and believable.
Where the gameplay really shines is the interaction with other characters. There’s a ton of dialogue options in the game if you want to explore them. You can race through conversations if you prefer, but the storyline in this game is one to be savoured. And it’s worth it: The different personalities of the character’s really come across in the way they talk and draw you in. I could feel Victor’s uncertainty about their new life in the city, and I also learned a little of his hopes and dreams for the future. Similarly, conversations with Alicia were a joy rather than a necessity. The way she speaks to Victor – loving but at times like a mother entertaining a child – is a recipe for comedy gold. Later on, when we find Alicia standing by the window in (what will be) the living room, you can tell she’s deep in thought, trying to understand her unsettling dream, and all before she utters a word. You soon meet other characters with their own stories to tell, and each is unique, memorable for their own little quirks. You really get a sense of being a part of the world of The Dream Machine.
Anders, one of the developers, was kind enough to invite me to take part in beta testing the game so i’ve seen a little more than is on show in the demo. The game has been in development for over a year already, but for a game still in beta, the production quality is very very high. Even parts of a game typically polished up late in the day, such as the main menu and splash screens, are really polished and work beautifully. I’m completely enraptured by this game, it’s easily one of my all time favourite games based solely on what i’ve seen so far. The first chapter has left me on a tantalising cliffhanger and I can’t wait to play the end result.
If this little preview has you tempted – I hope so! – you can play a demo of the game right now on the official website and sign up for the beta. The game runs in all web browsers supporting Flash 8 or later. You can also keep up with the game’s development on the blog where the developers have been more than forth-coming about their production process. I’ve already sent a few emails back and forth to Anders regarding the game and he really is a friendly and approachable guy so please pass on your thoughts. You can also join the Facebook group to keep up with current developments. They’ve recently been showing the game off at the Nordic Games Conference so expect more news soon.