What is life like behind the screen? What does it take to make an indie game? In One Dreamer, the developer Gareth Ffoulkes tells us the struggles and hardships of making a game for others to enjoy. If you’re looking for a game with an impactful story and unique puzzle mechanics, One Dreamer is the game for you.
In One Dreamer you find yourself as a burnt out developer, struggling to make ends meet. The gameplay combines both the digital world in the on-game computer and the world your character lives in. Trying to make the next best social VR game, you sometimes find yourself blended between worlds, solving bugs in both the program and real life. One Dreamer will teach you some basics of programming, mainly true and false problems and copying and pasting. It’s interesting to see how some programming scripts interact with others in the world.
One Dreamer is split into stages, where we learn more about the backstory of our character. Through these scenes, One Dreamer gives us a peak at what it is like to create your own indie game. The game is lighthearted in places, purposefully spelling words wrong or making statements on the current state of society. The world design is interesting because even though the game is presented as a flat set of pixels, there is a level of depth. You can walk up platforms and stairs and explore the scene easily and naturally. The levels give proper pacing to the storyline, giving the game an ebb and flow to how it reveals new bits of information.
The story of One Dreamer is one I, along with many other aspiring game developers, have experienced. A team of two developers set their sights on making a big game that’s going to be famous and excite a large amount of people. While the main goal was to give those who had a hard life a second chance in games, the two lose sight of the dream once reality starts to hit. After the crunch they had to undertake for a festival coming up, the team faces terrible burnout. Too worn out to do normal work, and a spark of negativity ruining their game’s reputation, hopelessness sets in, and their dream of creating the best game ever is slowly crushed.
While my own story to do game development differs from others (all of our stories are different in one way or another), we’ve all faced the same steps. Getting excited about creating a new game, the rush of adrenaline when you first start seeing your game come together, then happiness tearing away as you doubt yourself and the efforts you put into the game. Soon, you question why anyone would play it, and you lose sight of why you were making the game in the first place.
The lesson One Dreamer teaches us is an important one. It’s that no matter how hard you’ve worked, how much you’ve lost; what you’ve done is most important. We can get clouded by following the wave of popularity, selling ourselves for one more like and Retweet. This mentality of pleasing a large crowd can leave us overwhelmed, overworked, stressed, and depressed. The goal of making a game shouldn’t be about making the most money, or how we can fit slot machines and loot boxes into our systems, it should be about making that one person happy, even if that one person is the one who is making it.
It all starts with learning programming or making some simple art. Making the ball move across the screen. Having a vague understanding on why things work the way they do. Soon you start entering game jams, rapid-firing tiny games for competitions. You can’t escape your initial thought, though: You wanna make the game. The game that defines you, what your whole life has built up to. You’ve made plenty of small games, so there shouldn’t be any problem making a slightly bigger one, right? I’ll be straight with you: the gaming industry is over-saturated. Turns out lots of people want to make games because people love playing games. There’s so many developers out there that being a part of a AAA studio is almost like being in Hollywood. We crave justification that we’re awesome developers from others, people we don’t know. Publishers and their arbitrary release dates have given consumers unrealistic expectations, driving developers to their wit’s end.
I’m not saying this to scare you, though the way some companies handle development is scary (don’t let corporations take you over using your passions), but in a way it’s enlightening. If you want to make a game, you can simply make it. Let others feel pressured, stressed, and overwhelmed. You make your game on your own time. Use the story in One Dreamer as a learning tool. Perhaps it was the art that struck you, so pursue that. Download Aseprite, Photoshop, or some other tool and start creating. If it’s the programming puzzles, start looking at Unity, Unreal Engine, or GameMaker. Which one should you use? Whatever program that is easiest for you to understand. Make silly games. Make stupid games. I’m making a game where you turn off lights in your house. I love designing games where you do mundane tasks. Your game could be about anything. What matters is that you made it. What matters is that you tried. Some people don’t even get that far.
Ahem. So back to the game. While One Dreamer is mostly pixel art, and some expertly crafted art to put at that, it mixes other art elements to give a dramatic effect. For subtitles it shows text that easily pops out from the game, allowing players to easily understand the story narrative. Some objects will glow here and there to bring attention to it, as well as create atmosphere to the scene. At major points the sky will open up and a gradient, syrupy texture is juxtaposed against the rigid blocks of pixel art.
One Dreamer’s audio captures the scenes with expertly placed ambient sounds, music, and sound effects. As soon as you open up the game you know that audio had an important part in its development. The pattering of rain on the window, the large swells of music, emptiness during tense moments. It’s all well balanced and well placed. While the important audio is subtitled, there’s still other auxiliary moments that give the game life.
In summary: The gameplay introduces a unique mix of programming and puzzles that break the fourth wall. The story sheds light on the difficult struggle developers have behind the scenes when creating their games. The art blends pixels and line drawings together, and takes notes on accessibility through its easy to read subtitles. The music and sound effects give positive feedback to the player’s actions and add to the emotional impact of the story that unfolds to the player.
Jordan reviewed One Dreamer on PC with a review code.