It begins with a Nietzsche quote. Next, you're eased into a Deep Sleep, a time of peace, rejuvenation, a chance to dream and to escape from the stress and workaday world of reality. Or, so you thought before the dream dissolves away and a nightmare intrudes, trapping you in. You are not alone here in your dreams, something lurks in the darkness... Something in the depths of your own mind wants to pull you even deeper and now the only escape is to wake up. But how?
Explore the dark, mysterious world of sleep in this escape-themed adventure created by Scriptwelder for Casual Gameplay Design Competition #10. Here you must do two things. One, move from room to room, seeking out answers to the riddles and puzzles set before you. Two, literally escaping by "acting fast and running away" as you're "chased by your own nightmare." Along the way, use keen observation to obtain the needed clues and tools discovered in the surreal, pixel art settings. You succeed when you've defeated the nightmare and wake up safely but here's also another, less-than-optimal way to end Deep Sleep: lose the chase.
In any case, use the click everywhere method of navigating through numerous locations, clicking the sides or bottom of the screen, a doorway, stairwell or window to continue into the next scene. Anything that can be picked up will automatically be stored at the top of the game screen when you click it. Hold and drag an item from this inventory to where you want it used; you can combine some items this way as well. An unchangeable cursor creates part of the difficulty as certain items are hiding in shadows. You can improve visibility by playing at night, in a darkened room. Or utilize the brightness adjustments and sound controls through the options menu; access it by clicking the tool icon in the top right corner.
Along with the talented artwork, subtle music and eerie sounds complete the mood. Exploration also reveals easter eggs and other interesting discoveries which build up the creep factor and make the story more dynamic. The game automatically saves your progress, which is a nice feature since it's slightly more lengthy than most escape games. The auto-save is also handy if you need to exit before you're done, say, taking off in fright or some such thing.
Analysis: Scriptwelder based Deep Sleep on the concept of lucid dreaming and asks, "What if something goes wrong and instead of full controll, the dreamer gets a terrible nightmare?" Although little within the game's context suggests lucid dreaming as an intention of the player character, Deep Sleep is incredibly effective at convincing us we belong to this dream state. Awake, we experience and interact with it as lucidly as possible while the impressive ambiance—visuals, sounds, and game actions—takes hold of our senses and convinces us we're actually inside a dream. Even players who usually avoid horror games couldn't help but enjoy this effect, a good indication of remarkable game design and why Deep Sleep garnered so much positive attention during the competition. Making an escape from reality that you must then again escape through waking is an effective and clever interpretation of the theme as well.
There are some trade offs to creating a potent ambiance in a smaller scaled, pixel art game. The world of deep sleep is a dark one. A dark world is one in which exploration is stymied by, well, darkness. That it is too hard to see the objects requisite in puzzle solutions is a reasonable complaint here. Some of this is mitigated by turning the brightness all the way up, but that workaround could lessen the heady thrill of delving into murky shadows. The limited time puzzles help meet the innovation criteria and do a great job of leaving you out of breath, heart racing, yet they're unexpected in this genre (which is good) and can lead to some frustration (not as good). Yet even while the lack of a changing cursor is often a drawback in escape games, maybe this one time pixel hunting has been forgiven because it melds so well with a sense of insecurity and helplessness that are normally found in nightmares.
However it affects you, Deep Sleep will impress anyone who appreciates the art and craft of a game as much as the fun of playing it. Deep Sleep stands out amongst its competition, compensating for occasional straining to see clearly, by providing artistic visual effects as well as a truly enjoyable, thrilling ride. Even with its rough edges, it's beautiful how a collection of tiny pixels can provoke such strong feelings, and there's empathic poignancy in the concept of escaping sleep. It hits home. Because we all have to sleep sometime.
Edit: The author has updated the game to add a changing cursor and other improvements based on Pastel Games' feedback, making Deep Sleep now even more effective and remarkable.
Author's Theme interpretation:
"Dreams - an escape from the reality. Some want to escape from the reality so much that they desire to control their dreams. It is possible - lucid dreaming is a known phenomenon. But what if something goes wrong and instead of full control, the dreamer gets a terrible nightmare...? What if the dreamer can't wake up?"
"In Deep Sleep the player faces this situation. Trapped in their own dream, the player has to escape the nightmare his mind has created. And as he or she explores the dark, mysterious world of sleep, it slowly turns out to be something more than just a nightmare. Something lives there. Something that also wants to escape to the real world - and it needs a lost lucid dreamer like the player to do it."
"The player has to escape: sometimes figuratively - by solving riddles and progressing from one room to another... and sometimes literally - by acting fast and running away, chased by their own nightmare."
"Someone will escape this dream for sure. The question is - who is that going to be?" -Scriptwelder.
Pastel Games' feedback:
"Yes, I got the initial joke. While most of point-and-click escape games begin with "I woke up in a room" this one actually takes place inside a dream."
"I'm not a fan of games that don't have hand cursor over active areas. I know most of pnc gamers hate that as well. Searching and finding stuff is fun, clicking everywhere to find it - is not."
"Great graphics, great ambient and sounds - hence great atmosphere. It's not annoying at all, and makes me WANT to spend more time here, good job. I also love the smallest touches, like the sound of footsteps is changing depending on the surface."
"When I pick up item from my inventory - I want to hold it in my hand - it shouldn't go back to inventory after one click on stage. I should be able to click it around all I wanted and then put it back to inventory by myself."
"So I'm at the "close the door before the monster gets through" and it's practically impossible to do on a laptop touchpad. I have to get the mouse from my PC. Did it really have to be 14 clicks? I understand the premise, but too much of a skill puzzle might throw some players off."
*goes gets the mouse*
"Alrighty, it's not better with the mouse. Did you really throw in an annoying out of the context and out of the genre skill puzzle in the middle of the otherwise flawless escape game? Sure looks like it.... Let me try again...."
"Making me open that damn door again and again after each death is sooo annoying. You should have the save point by the door with the axe. I click the axe, monster appears - that's a good checkpoint."
"The hitTest areas are crazy in this game. Too small, and probably done by the actual outline of the objects. You should widen that margin of error, players want to fly through the game, items be used, levers switched and buttons pushed. No one wants to sit there and TRY to click a pixel."
"So, all in all - very good game. If not for the skill annoyance in the middle this would be a strong winner contender."
"And yes - I got all the submachine shoutouts. Thanks! Unfortunately I'm not the judge in this competition..." -Mateusz Skutnik.
"Great Atmosphere, great plot with some really wonderful puzzles. It reminds of Subbmachine but it's not a copy! Honestly I was scared! I really love the mixture of great plot, appropriate graphics, and tension. It's not something you often find in point-and-click games. Only one thing I can complain about: The darkness sometimes made it hard to see things." -Karol Konwerski.