Dreams in Digital

Dreams have powerful impact on many things from our real life to mediums we used to play with as entertainment. From psychological drama to mindful refresh and relax, lucid stories while dreaming, we barely remember them in the morning.

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Dreams have powerful impact on many things from our real life to mediums we used to play with as entertainment. From psychological drama to mindful refresh and relax, lucid stories while dreaming, we barely remember them in the morning. That terrible loss and potential hidden meanings were inspiring philosophers, psychologists and entertainers for many years, if not centuries.

Books, movies and games go into dreamworld occasionally and as in first two examples its mostly another art form hard to perform well and so easy to ignore in games I perceive the biggest power of dreams for interactive usage.

I am not the first one who observed that. In fact, I have found many interesting examples of dreams in games already developed, mostly in two scenarios:


Dreams by its nature are perfect to give hints and formulate breaks between acts with some important summary and new points in plot yet not revealed fully to give us a reason to stay and ask questions when awaken. In this example role-playing games seemed to be perfect to put dreams in game as specific cut scene in most cases rather to read than watch. Take a look at good&old Baldur’s Gate where without any interaction we were given some clues about the story going forward:

[movie: Baldur's Gate - "between chapters" dream]

Not so impressive even those times of its origin. Main reason: dreams in BG were only a summary of current achievements. Told well by an intriguing voice of narrator, but completely non-interactive and without any mystery dreams should have.

It is little bit better in quite a new (comparing to BG) Lost Odyssey, but still has the same flaws even though presentation, including visuals and sound effects, is really well balanced:

[movie: Lost Odyssey - dream with memories from the past]

In Lost Odyssey, through dreams, we can try to discover some hidden memories from the past. Stories are really well written, but confusing not valuable for the main story at all. After a couple of dreams, I stopped reading them because of schizophrenic lack of useful content. In jRPG I really respect my gaming time. Dreams in their formula inspired me personally only to dwell for new techniques how to present text on screen (as a programmer).

Role-playing games have no monopoly for dreams and fuzzy memories presented in quite a somnolent way. Action games also presented them in many examples. Take Max Payne and its comic book heritage.

[picture: comic book from Max Payne]

Different approach but still passive, unfortunately. Action game like above is really good to show much more interactive usage.


How about utilizing dreams not to cut scenes or acts and summarize something with blurred memories and reality hardly real? From previous examples and Max Payne as a bridge take a look at Darkness. Main character is dead, undead, not dead, hard to say. Monsters helping him, all strange things bound to the story and especially alternative worlds in different time and dimensions. That’s all what we could easily call dreams, not an idyllic one. Darkness has them, one of the reasons I love to come back to this game:

[movie: Darkness - trailer]

Game mood like from famous The Crow movie, but with much more dark magic and horror – dreamworld in Darkness is closer to terrors of Lovecraft’s prose than sissy stories full of banality told us literally in Baldur’s Gate and Lost Odyssey.

Writing so, I may sound ignorant, no point in that. Dreams may vary from joyful sex dreams through, “I don’t need to wake up” and “I won a lottery” relaxations, to “My grandma visited me and warned me” and “I died in accident” or “Somebody killed me”. These different settings and atmosphere of dreams can be used in games, but by its interactive nature it’s much easier to expose fear, drama, regret and other not so clear and positive feelings for which as players we rather like to dwell deeper and ask more questions than stay and relax doing nothing. Sometimes as in the best up to date Call of Cthulhu game, we not only didn’t want to wake up, we hadn’t wanted to fall asleep first place. (WARNING FOR BELOW MOVIE: IF YOU DIDN”T FINISH THE GAME, IT HAS OBVIOUS SPOILERS, WATCHING IS SPOILER FREE UNTIL 1:40)

[movie: Call of Cthulhu - Dark Corners of the Earth]

Great escapes full of drama and not possible in real world I found also in one of my favorite games – Fahrenheit (Project Indigo in US). This game and interactive storytelling offer it has, is one of the best usage of dramatic dreamworld as a game-play medium.

[movie: Project Indigo vel. Fahrenheit - Escape from the Police]

All these examples show, that for this medium visuals and music have to get married fast and furious. I’m waiting for tomorrow’s launch date of Heavy Rain. I presume I’ll have more examples from Quantic Dreams, who named themselves perfectly for this article.

But narration shown in Fahrenheit and Heavy Rain with atmosphere where music, visuals and story come together is not Quantic Dream’s invention. They put a lot of innovation in their games for sure, still I find their precursor from mid 90-ties. I mean game called Dream Web. Take a look at intro where setting is already established:

[movie: Dreamweb - intro]

All above examples remind me only one last thing – my dream. I wish to see more games with interactive dreams blended into game-play. I’m also glad for games that have already showed these dreams coming true.

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