The trailer for an upcoming iOS game called dream:scape hit the internet only yesterday, and it’s already racked up nearly 60,000 views. One reason for the video’s viral popularity is that it’s gorgeous: The game uses the Unreal Engine 3 to create vast picaresque landscapes. Another reason is that the game looks creepy and unsettling, making viewers want to find out more.
So that’s exactly what we did. We chatted about dream:scape over e-mail with developer George Lippert, the head honcho of Speedbump Studios. So read our discussion below, watch the trailer, and click on the thumbnails to the right to see the screenshots in high resolution.
What kind of game is dream:scape?
It’s really a bit of a gamble since it’s unlike pretty much anything else on the App Store– it’s more of an interactive narrative experience, guided by the user. The goal was to create a completely immersive world and unfolding story that the user becomes enmeshed in, hopefully to the point that the experience truly becomes their own.
What’s the basic storyline of the game?
The user takes on the role of a coma patient, Wilson, as he unravels his past by exploring the dreamscape of his memories. Unlike conscious memories, however, the dreamscape provides a level of unusual lucidity, shedding light on a decades-old mystery. As the experience unravels, the dreamscape environment expands and changes, eventually turning dark, stormy, and foreboding, reflecting the mood of the main character. The climax is a surreal trip of revelation and revenge that takes the user out of Wilson’s dreamscape and into a Dali-esque netherworld.
The trailer shows mostly deserted areas. Will there be enemies or other characters in the game? If so, what kind?
This is an old-school Myst-style exploration experience, and in that vein I aimed to maintain a sense of eerie solitude. Memories are represented by audible voices and diary entries, but I knew that players would respond best to an actual character. Thus, I introduced the scarecrow guide, who leads the user through the experience. The dream:scape enemy is a bit of a secret, and while we do not meet him face to face, we interact with him very personally.
Is this a point-and-click adventure like Myst, or can your character move freely through the 3-D world?
I am happy to say that this is an entirely user-directed experience. I know why some developers stick with point-and-click games (restricting movement means exerting total control over what the player sees, arguably resulting in better graphics). The problem I have with that is that the game world becomes basically a series of polygonal matte paintings. What’s the point of a beautiful game environment if you can’t explore it freely? I may have taken a risk by making dream:scape fully explorable (some textures inevitably get a bit blurry when the player bumps their head against them, etc) but I’m hoping that the immersiveness of the overall experience more than makes up for it.
In the trailer’s YouTube description, you say that there will be over 30 acres of open-world environments. What types of locations are in the game?
Dream:scape is set in a sort of generic 40s-era countryside, providing huge swaths of rolling hills, farmland, trees and country roads. Alongside that, and seamlessly integrated into it, are a small town, an abandoned cabin, a large barn, a church, an airfield with runway and hangar, a woodland path, a lake with shore, a wade-able river, a covered bridge, and more. Most of the building locations offer fully realized and accessible interiors. And of course, there is the final climactic location, which is completely unlike all the rest.
How many people worked on making dream:scape?
I know it’s a bit sketchy to admit it, but it was pretty much just me. I did have help with the writing and the voice acting, as well as the original score, but the basic concept, design, build and programming was pretty much my baby. The Unreal Game Engine makes it fairly manageable for someone with enough inspiration and motivation.
Have you made other games before? If so, which ones?
I’ve dabbled in every aspect of game creation without ever actually creating a game. As a computer animator, I am adept with model creation, texturing, animation and camera direction. As a writer, I have created quite a few stories. As a long-time dabbler in realtime rendering, I’ve worked with several web3D applications, including the short-lived Adobe Atmosphere, with which I was able to make some cool movie tie-in content for Twentieth Century Fox. This is the first time I’ve chosen to put all of my skills together on a gaming project of my own design, but I am already working on the next one.
Can you give us any info on your next game?
There are several ideas on the table, but the main concept is tentatively titled “Escape From Atlantis”. It’s a huge undertaking– another exploration-based game, but this one with interactive characters and creatures, a combination of strategy, story and puzzle elements. The unique twist of this game is that it will not have lives– a feature that I have always found to be one of the fatal flaws of a truly immersive game environment. The concept for “Atlantis” is that the player has a limited amount of time to complete the game experience before they die. The game progresses in real time, with a HUD gauge ticking off their remaining time (the air in their diving tank). Visually, it is inspired by games like Bioshock and Fallout, if you can imagine that.
When do you expect the dream:scape to come out?
As soon as humanly possible, I hope. It is currently in review with Apple, and while I’d love to say I expect no glitches or slow-downs, reality may rear its ugly head.
How much will it cost?
I’m not quite ballsy enough (can I say that?) to charge what I think it’s really worth, but I’ll edge close to it. The regular price will be $2.99, but like most apps it’ll launch at a sale price of $0.99.
Will it be a universal app, or will there be separate downloads for the iPhone and iPad?
I’m still factoring out all the possibilities with iPad and iPad 2, so for now it will be a universal app. Look for a more full-tilt version for iPad sometime in the (hopefully) near-future.