The Dream Self – Postmortem


I submitted a game to the Interactive Fiction Competition for the first time this year! If you haven’t played The Dream Self, I recommend that you try it out now if you like interactive fiction, as spoilers abound below (the game is free and takes just over an hour to play).

I was toying with the idea of entering the Comp, and at some point came up with a game I thought the IF audience might enjoy. I spent about two weeks making the game with Inky, then a month using Unity to add images, features like saving and text logs, and reacting to tester feedback (Dustin, the other half of Tea-Powered Games, helped me with the Unity part). I didn’t expect to rank very high, but also not very low. I was hoping that, short of someone personally not being into the story or mood, it would be considered a good quality game, given the feedback I had from testers.

In the end, 49 out of 79 is closer to ‘ranking low’ than I would have liked.

 

The Good

Creating what I set out to do – I wanted to make a game that asked questions of the player as they progressed through an initially mundane story that becomes more interesting and introspective (and, depending on the reading, even a bit supernatural). Personality tests often have a lot of repeated and contrived questions, and games create their own scales on which they measure the player, so I thought calculating an open-source personality test in the background of a game would create something interesting.

The Polish – The visual side was very well received. I knew adding art would help set the scene, give a feel of time passing and change the mood in the dream sections. The writing quality was also generally praised. The one thing people felt was missing in terms of presentation was music. It was a conscious decision given the Comp’s 25MB limit, and the hoops I was already jumping through to get some art in at all, although getting even a simple song in might have been worth it.

People who ‘got’ it – The feedback some people left showed that the game resonated with them, which makes me really happy. From enjoying the mix of uplifting and melancholy tone, to the dreams feeling very dream-like, to the realisation that the game can be as much about the shrouded figure as yourself. Honestly, these comments (in person or via reviews/feedback) are what stop me from feeling that I completely missed the mark in terms of creating something people enjoyed. 

 

The Bad

Dreams – I didn’t know this when I set out, but dreams are a bit of a strange subject for people. From not being a fan of stories about dreams in a broad sense, to having personal issues with dreams, I found that I was probably putting more people off than attracting them to the game. It’s not something I thought about before, and when Birdland comparisons came up, I didn’t think the dreams themselves would be a problem – Birdland did pretty well, after all! If I make another game about dreams (this isn’t the first) I’ll have to figure out what I can do – is it the loss of control people don’t like, or would there be fewer problems if the dreams resonated with them more?

The story and pace – Many people thought the middle of the game dragged out. This is something I was really hoping wouldn’t happen, because I had a lot of trouble fitting in enough questions to make the personality test viable (just barely viable, mind you), but I guess it was still a bit too long. It’s possible that if they found the story itself more interesting this wouldn’t be as much of a problem; some people said the writing lacked a bit of a spark. On the other hand, some people thought it was just a lot of words to go through, especially for the Comp. I thought people who like IF might be more interested in a ‘slow burn’ kind of game like this one, but I think I may have a skewed idea of what the IF crowd is like (no judgement, just lack of knowledge of my audience).

The ranking – As I said before, I was hoping to do a bit better than I did (49th place). I only had 34 votes, possibly because The Dream Self was an executable, another thing I didn’t think would be a problem, given how many interpreters I needed to play all the games. I had a lot of 1s that I was hoping would send me comments via the voting website, because I’d love to know what the problem was – did they not connect with the game, or did they have technical problems? Is it that my game’s not parser? The votes look a bit odd to me, with a majority of 6s followed by 7s and 3s, with way fewer 5s. The whole thing feels a bit scattered, so I’m not sure what conclusions I can draw from it – I’ll just stick to addressing people’s comments/reviews.


Overall, while I’m happy with the game I made, I don’t think it reached as many people as I had hoped. Whatever side project I do next might be a good chance to try appealing to more people from the get-go.

Get The Dream Self

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