Sleep is Death

So, there's this hardcore indie video game developer called Jason Rohrer who makes what some would call "art games" - games that instead of focusing on graphics or gameplay focus on imparting a theme or idea to a player. Like a short film, perhaps. It's all super experimental stuff, and in many ways the opposite of what the games industry (emphasis in industry) is doing. In Rohrer's latest game, Sleep is Death, it's less of a game and more of a ... story/game creation tool. One person creates a world, and another person becomes a player or entity in that world. The player has thirty seconds to navigate around the screen, talk, and interact, and then control is passed to the creator of the world, who then has to re-arrange the world to respond to the players input.

The game creates a storybook of the game the player sees at the end of each turn. Here are two example stories. This one, I was the player, and a guy I know off the internet was the host of the world:
In this story, I created the world (caves) and also spoke to the player via the narrator (box at top of screen), while my friend played:

The player sees the screens you see above, while the host or controller sees something like this:
Using this screen they're able to change scenes, manipulate the environment, create speech, and so forth.

Each person gets only 30s to either choose what to do or react to the player's interaction, so things can get slightly hectic. In the game I tried to create sort of an adventure game, with puzzles to figure out - like needing the boot to walk across the piranha pool. However, sometimes the player doesn't do what you intend and you have to compensate for that. In one game I played, the player poured his bottle of gasoline into the pool - I thought he was trying to poison the fish so I told him they now thrashed more violently. However, on the next turn he put his lit torch to the pool. I realised what he was trying to do and suddenly had to quickly draw up some flames, put them on the water, and then killed the fish. This was a solution to the puzzle I'd never thought of, but in hindsight was a perfectly reasonable way to get across the pool.

The game just came out last week so it's super early in terms of people figuring out what they can do with it. I sort of cheated by having an omnipotent narrator, in a very linear style to make the game easier for me to play (as controller). Where the game really shines is freedom of choice for the player (because it's actually a human being arranging the game world in response) and in interaction with other computer-controlled characters in the world (again, because it's actually a human being creating them and speaking for them).

There are already databases up online of stories people have upload, and of resources (like pre-created objects and environments) people are uploading to make stories even easier. Pretty excited to see what people turn out, it's a really cool idea and a completely unique experience.