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IGF 2011: Impressions of The Dream Machine

I started playing The Dream Machine about a day ago. I've only just put it down; all I can say about Cockroach's point-and-click adventure is that its bite could probably make minced titanium burgers. The Dream Machine, in short, blows my mind.

[Crossposted from TK-Nation. TK-Nation's a South-East Asian gaming site that plays home to news about quality underdogs from the gaming world, indie cosplay and video game collectibles.]

I like pretty things. I'm sure you guys can agree with that sentiment. Regardless of whether they're attractive people or well-polished graphics, there's just this something about glitzy packaging that makes the heart beat a little faster. It doesn't matter if the contents are bargain-bin material; we're all conditioned to want the most attractive thing on the self. 

As a columnist for a site that is often openly disdainful of mainstream propaganda, I feel slightly guilty for this affectation. It's that same nagging discomfort I experience whenever I catch myself checking out someone that's probably a decade my junior; I know I shouldn't but I do it anyway. Having said all that, I swear I didn't start out wanting to like The Dream Machine. I mean, the game's a finalist in the 'Excellence in Visual Arts' category for the Independent Games Festival 2011 - would it be all bark and no bite? An exquisitely-wrapped Christmas present that opens up to reveal a lifetime's supply of gym socks inside? 

I started playing The Dream Machine about a day ago. I've only just put it down; all I can say about Cockroach's point-and-click adventure is that its bite could probably make minced titanium burgers. 

The Dream Machine, in short, blows my mind. 

What's funny is,perhaps, the fact that it isn't the game itself that elicited such a response. So far, we've only two chapters into the five episodes planned; there's only so much exposition anyone is allowed to sanely execute during an introductory phase. The Dream Machine is one of those few titles that can genuinely floor you with its visual presentation and the best part is, it isn't pretty.

Gritty? Yes. Eerie? Most definitely. Artistic and bohemian and somewhat off-kilter? Beyond the shadow of a doubt. But 'pretty' isn't a word I would associate with the game; no amount of alcohol in the world would ever get me to put it in the same league as things like Final Fantasy. Of course, that's also also what this indie title such a strong contender in the competition. The Dream Machine looks dirty and run-down with streaks of water along the walls, a hundred mis-asligned floor boards and characters that look like well-fed, Tiki-fied versions of the people from the Nightmare Before Christmas. It is unnerving without being overwhelming, as disturbing as your first few days in a new home, when each shadow represents a possible bogeyman and every innocent noise is an intruder on your roof. 

Taken at face value, those qualities alone make The Dream Machine a memorable piece of work. However, if you throw in the fact that each and every detail in the game was rendered in the real world, that every frame was a photograph transposed into some esoteric program, the Dream Machine becomes something more. It becomes art: creepy, highly-specialized, time-consuming yet enormously relevant art. 

But even that isn't normally enough to win glowing accolades from me. What makes The Dream Machine such a stunning affair is the simple fact that all these fine details work in perfect tandem with the story itself. The music is simplistic, the story relatively pedestrian (though this might change in subsequent chapters), the characters just the slightest bit cliched - all this would work against the Dream Machine were it not for the techniques utilized in the presentation. For once, the visuals aren't the icing on the cake but the thread that holds the story together, that reinforces every other element to make it a disconcertingly perfect game. 

Now that I've gushed shamelessly about The Dream Machine for one too many paragraphs, I urge skeptics to at least take a gander at the first chapter of the game. It's free and it might completely rock your world the way it has done mine: http://www.thedreammachine.se

 

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