[Sister site IndieGames.com's co-editor Michael Rose analyzes Passage and Between creator Jason Rohrer's latest: Sleep is Death, a two-person "story weaver" where almost anything's possible, from the poignant to the silly.]
I'm a little girl. A moment before, I made a bet with a boy (that I've kinda got the hots for) that I could pull a fish from a pond with my bare hands. The boy sounded a little taken aback by my absurb wager, but egged me on regardless.
True to my word I dived in, grabbed the nearest fish, and returned to the boy's side, prize in hand. Then we got naked and jumped in an open grave to talk about marriage.
An excerpt from my recent playthrough of Sleep Is Death (Geisterfahrer)
with creator Jason Rohrer at the reins. You can view the entire story we produced in flipbook form here
Before I continue, a quick recap on what Sleep Is Death
is about: Essentially, it's a storybook weaver in which two players develop stories together. Here's the catch - one player is telling the story, while the other player is IN the story.
Remember those old Looney Tunes episodes when the artist would start erasing the world around Daffy and Bugs, and they'd try furiously to stay in control? Perhaps they'd do something completely out of the ordinary to catch the artist off guard, or just play along with him to see where it led.
This pretty much encapsulates how I felt as 'the player', although I had a hunch this may simply have been to do with who my master was. This is Jason's baby, after all, and over time he's tuned his game so that he can keep his victim wrapped around his finger.
Not that I didn't try, of course. After the first few minutes, and with a clearer understanding of my role, I decided I did NOT want to go exploring. I wanted to grab a rock and throw it at my dog. Quite why, I have no idea, but with a 30 second time limit to make your move, a variety of strange ideas go through your head, and as the timer reaches 10, you make a snap decision.
Ah yes, that time limit. Opinions are many on the topic, and after release they will continue to be. Initially I found it difficult to read the situation presented to me, come up with a suitable follow-up, then present my scene all the space of 30 seconds.
Yet as the session progressed, I came to rather enjoy the frantic stop-start of it all. With only a short space of time to think, ideas get compressed and I found myself blurting out the most weird and, as I later discovered, most wonderful stuff. See, at the time I'd hammer a line in, then as the timer ran out, look at what I'd written and mind-slap myself for being so dumb, boring or tedious.
The end product, however, was far from it. The overall story Jason presented me with had a serious tone to it, yet my anxious and awkward off-the-cuff comebacks added a silly, sometimes dark tone to it all, creating a wonderfully confused yet charming tale.
Some of my mistakes even gave the story a moment of accidental hilarity - for example, as the scene changed to a time in the past, I assumed I was still in the role of the little boy. However, my control had now passed to that of the mother when she was younger, and so the girl spoke the line which the boy was meant to have said. Seemingly unfazed by this, Jason pulled the dialogue into the main script flawlessly.
An interesting point to consider - since the controller always has the 'first go', it falls to the player to end each scene. Jason explained that whenever he comes to the end of a set piece and wants to move on to the next screen, he throws in some dialogue which he hopes to move the story on with.
However, since the player then has their turn, it can lead to some odd moments if the player doesn't realise it's time to move on. Two such moments happened during my playthrough, the second time the most poignant - Jason attempted to end the story on a light note, and I misread this and proceeded to have a conversation with my dog, which was cut short by THE END.
What I've said up to now can be pretty much summed up as 'I like game'. Flaws, then. After playing a few more games through with my brother, it quickly became apparent that the whole thing relies heavily on the controller's imagination and quick-thinking. That's not to say my dear sibling is devoid of such things - his tale started off strong, putting me in the role of a policeman interrogating a suspected murderer.
But after just 10 minutes of play, his envisioning had been played out, and he then proceeded to fill the screen with cops and naked women, each exclaiming 'PARTIIIIE'. Like I said, the strangest stuff pops into your head when you've got that time limit hanging over you, but in this case the 'stuff' put quite a downer on a potentially interesting story.
What I'm saying is that the problem Sleep is Death
has is the exact thing the entire experience is based around - imagination. I had a fantastic time playing against (was it against? I'm really not sure) Jason, but I reckon if it had been the other way around and he'd played out something from the mind of Michael Rose, it may not have gone down so well, simply because I don't rate my story-telling abilities.
As previously mentioned, the entire storyboard for my session can be found here on Indiegames
. After each playthrough, your story is saved as png files, along with the necessary php files so you can upload any story to your own personal site with ease. You'll notice one of my flipbook pages is blank somewhere near the beginning - unfortunately, this was due to me minimizing the game. The dog gave me a puzzled look, in case you were wondering.
Enough about my role as the player - time to tinker with the inner workings of being the controller. I'm not going to explain in depth how every part of the scene editor works, as I don't want to spoil your inevitable fun, but I'll provide an overview and whether it's actually any good.
The action takes up a good portion of the screen,and the controller can select and drag any object anywhere on the playing grid. Objects can then be made to say something. One prop is different to all the rest, and that's the one which the player controls, marked with a big pointy arrow.
Objects and scenes are selected from the panels on the right, and are word-searchable. Type 'cop' into the search box and behold, a whole bunch of rozzer-related material appears. Once a scene has been put together, it can be saved and then recalled at any point, making transitions from scene-to-scene in-game quick and simple.
There's a whole bunch of other stuff you can do, too. Pretty much everything has its own special editor which can be pulled up at any time, ranging from drawing and editing objects on the fly to even editing and choosing music samples.
It's a really nice system. Simple enough for casual players to dabble with, but with enough underlying features for master storytellers to have a field day with. After playing around with it for around half an hour, I was able to present a short story and keep it going relatively well. There's definitely a sense that, with time and experience, some more patient souls will be able to do wonderful things with this equipment.
Sleep Is Death (Geisterfahrer)
is now available for pre-order and will set you back $9.00 and give you access starting from April 9th. After this date, the game will then cost $14.00, with the main release happening on April 16th. Remember as well that one purchase equals two copies of the game delivered to your inbox - one for you, and one for your unsuspecting victim.
If any of the above rambling sounded like your kind of thing, head over to SleepIsDeath.net
for more details.