There are a handful of games that successfully play with your head, and Mindworld: Shattered Dreams could soon sit among them. The game follows a girl, Katherine Evans, who falls into depression after losing the most important person in her life. To break from this state, she looks for answers in her subconscious mind by venturing into lucid dreams. Yet as she does this, the surreal dreamworld she enters becomes one of nightmares.
“There’s a rich story behind Mindworld and I haven’t seen it done before. We are trying to avoid the typical pitfalls and creating a cliché horror game with cheap effects is definitely not what we are aiming at,” said Kjell Bunjes, lead game developer of Mindworld
He said the game “is really an experiment for us, too. We are concentrating on creating an attention-grabbing atmosphere.”
Going with this approach, they’ve been giving deep thought to a few questions: what would make gaming more interesting? What examples are there that show us what is interesting? “Psychology really is everywhere and also taught in Game Design,” Bunjes. “When creating games, we have to think about what the ultimate goal of the product should be and for us it is entertainment.”
Bunjes said that making the player bond with the protagonist will be a large focus. “It has to be easy to identify with the story,” he said, adding that rather than just jumping into the whole idea of depression, “In order to identify with a character, there has to be something shown, which we already know quite well.”
“Depression is an extreme version of being in front of a problem. It’s probably one of the toughest challenges to master alone, as you are your very own enemy,” he said. “I think it’s the perfect setting for a story to tell, as it’s unbelievably rich. When going through the full course of depression, you face many problems and have to overcome them. Your self-esteem raises in the course of events and you’re getting stronger, you’re making progress.”
“This can easily be portrayed in a story and it’s understandable for any person, we can relate to it, as we all have been in front of a problem, but found a way to get through it. The great feeling of personal growth or making progress is the most rewarding feeling there is and any human knows it quite well.”
“By identifying with the character and experiencing the story, we can actually feel a part of what Katherine would probably feel when she starts to grow. It makes the story believable and even real, even though the environment is clearly not the real world. In general, this would just be called good game design or game story development.”
“All those little principles behind the game are getting amplified visually, you can actually see that Katherine is making progress, she grows and gets stronger. This is mainly what makes many MMOs so rewarding, you can see the figure on the screen, which you have a relation with grow and look stronger and stronger over time. This has been done in many games already, not just MMOs, but a lot earlier already, as well. However, I’ve never clearly seen a tutorial or game design guide about just that single topic with in-depth detail.”
Mindworld is a Half-Life 2 mod, but with plenty of love put into it. The developers are releasing the game in three separate parts, the first being Shattered Dreams, which they state “will show how successful the concept is.”
And for the team behind Mindworld, the driving force is creativity. “In the industry money really is important, the more and the faster to reach, the better. However, for independent developers with no budget at all, we have to create something that’s out of the ordinary,” Bunjes said. “It’s really the well-known indie approach, we want to create something that hasn’t been done like that before and is somewhat creative, but still understandable. The goal is to take our place in a niche, while creating a game addressed to the masses.”
The game has an interesting graphical approach to the whole theme, reminiscent of cyberpunk, but with a unique touch. This will be amplified by music and sound design, which Bunjes notes is getting just as much attention. The goal of all this, he says, is to create emotion.
“The score of a game can really make or break a game,” Bunjes said. “It’s one of the most important factors when creating atmosphere, the background music can dramatize moments, make it relaxing or in other words: amplify or highlight certain emotions.”
“In order to feel like the game has been a really exciting journey, the player has to go through many different emotions and we are trying to trigger those mainly with music and story telling. It makes the game worth remembering,” he said. “The felt emotions while playing a game is exactly what makes games like Final Fantasy VIII so great. The player has been with certain characters and been through a lot with them, through good and bad times, just like with a real person. We are aiming to create such a bounding with the protagonist, although due to the set deadlines and our no-budget policy, it’s going to be a really minimalistic version of it, nowhere to compare with a game like Final Fantasy VIII.”
You’ll do the regular solving puzzles, collecting clues, and fighting enemies, but with a few twists along the way—particularly, in the spirit of Inception, you’ll begin to lose track of whether you’re awake or still dreaming.
Leiste, lead writer for Mindworld, said the majority of the game willl take place in the dream world, “However, it is planned to confuse the player sometimes, and trick them into thinking that the character is currently in the real world.”
“The dreams are mostly planned to be very surreal. Paired with false awakenings nobody can be sure if they’re awake or not when such signs are suddenly missing,” Leiste said, yet notes that the character may have done this to herself.
“It’s the story of a depressed girl who has lost the single most important person in her life and then resorts to lucid dreaming to be able to be still together with the person,” he said. “However over time she gets more and more lost in her dreams, builds herself an alternate reality and slowly starts to lose touch with the real world.”