March 4, 2013 3:10 PM | John Polson
Back to Bed places a narcoleptic, sleep-walking boy in an M.C. Escher-inspired isometric puzzler, where the player must nudge the boy safely to his bed using a creature from his subconsciousness. Here, the visuals and mechanics appear only limited by the limbo world in which the player is caught.
The title won the Guts & Glory award in the 2012 Dutch Game Awards, was nominated for the Unity and Nordic Game Awards, and is a finalist in the student category for the 2013 Independent Games Festival.
As part of Gamasutra's Road to the IGF series, project manager and DADIU (National Academy of Digital, Interactive Entertainment) student Klaus Pedersen discusses the inspiration for and research behind Back to Bed, the considerations of designing puzzles around a sleep walker, and the changes players can expect in the upcoming iPad (and later, multiplatform) version.
What development tools did you use?
The game is developed in Unity. 3D modeling and animation are done in 3ds Max and Blender.
How long did you work on your game, and what were your target platforms?
The game took 6 weeks to produce in total with a team of 16 people. Some of the team, however, have now come together afterwards, and are expanding the game. We are planning to release the game in Spring 2013 on the App store for the iPad. Right now we are in the middle of [running] a Kickstarter campaign, in order to cover the financial part of launching the game.
How did you come up with the concept?
The game concept was developed from the idea of making a game about sleepwalking. Our art director was quick to capture the mood of being in a dream, with the inspiration of surrealistic art. This was paired with the idea of helping a sleepwalker get back to his bed. And from that, we just iterated the design until we got to the point we are now.
Did you research sleepwalking in real life? If so, how did that influence the game?
We researched a little about the medical term narcolepsy. But most of the inspiration about sleepwalking and dreams in general came from other works of fiction. For example, the part about being able to walk on walls came from this old Disney cartoon.
How did you choose the dream state over the reality in which the sleepwalker actually moves, or even a mixture of the two states?
Actually it is a mixture between the two states. The real life environment influences the dream world and vice versa. How we see it is that since you control the subconsciousness of a sleepwalker, the world you see is influenced by his mind and dreams. So, a train in real life might be a whale in the dreamworld: so you see a train-whale.
What were some of the unique considerations of designing puzzles with a sleep walker?
We tried to give the feeling that anything could happen in the game, since anything can happen in a dream. But puzzles have to be based on logic in order to be solvable. So one of the big challenges was to [be] weird, but still keep the game's internal logic, if that makes sense. Also it can be tricky sometimes with making puzzles with Escher elements. Our level designers really had to stay focused when dealing with those elements
Having seen the game played and received by everyone online, what would you change?
We already changed it a lot! We are currently running a Kickstarter campaign to help finance it. We also discovered that people died way too much in the old version, one badly placed apple, and Bob walked right off the edge and died.
In the new version Bob doesn't die from walking of the edge, he falls down from the sky, where he started. This way the player can keep trying to solve the puzzles and not constantly worry about Bob. But sometimes we throw in a little danger element, like an alarm clock so you have to stay on you feet.
Furthermore we are porting the game to iPad, which just suits the game's style and temper. Besides that, we're making all sorts of improvements like a hard mode, new environments, and a better learning curve.
How does your school prepare students for independent game development (compared to grooming for AAA work)?
I don't think DADIU tries to point us in one direction compared to another. But they encourage and supports their students to start their own independent game companies. They have the DADIU Greenhouse program, which is sort of a Master Class for students who want to start their own thing.
What made you decide to get into making games?
For me personally, I guess game development is just one of those things, that when you try it, you just fall in love with it. It challenges you on so many levels, both creatively and technically. There is just so much passion and open-mindedness in the industry, that you just can't help wanting to be a part of it. And it seems like we are just scraping the surface of what games can be, so the possibilities seem endless.