The developer tells us about what players can expect from his indie title and the reason as to why he decided to create it.
She Dreams Elsewhere became one of my most anticipated games after I played its prologue at PAX West last month. It stars a young woman named Thalia who deals with anxiety along with problems transitioning to deal with day to day life of adulthood. Outside of the music and character design, the game was developed by just one person. After going hands-on I wanted to know everything I could about the upcoming indie. After meeting with creator Davionne Gooden at the event I recently got to ask him questions about what players can expect from his game.
Cameron Hawkins: What is your motivation behind She Dreams Elsewhere? What made you decide that this would be the game you would create?
Davionne Gooden: I started development at the tail end of 2015. Before that, I had worked on multiple projects that had some progress, but I eventually lost interest in. She Dreams Elsewhere almost became that, but I realized it was too good of a concept to simply discard. While I do plan on creating more games in the future (in addition to film), I’ve been developing with the mindset that this could very well be the last game I create, so I might as well create my dream project (heh) and go all out with it, you know?
As far as the game itself, I’ve always been interested in dreams and how they reflect our own emotions and memories. Plus, I’ve always thought there were too many “save the world”-type plots in games, so I opted to go for a more intimate, personal story that could resonate deeper with both myself and other players.
CH: In She Dreams Elsewhere you play as Thalia. What is her background and what should we expect of her throughout her story?
DG: Thalia is a mid-20s, recently jobless woman who’s had a bit of a struggle adapting to the whole “adulting” thing, and feels like she’s wandering aimlessly through life. She’s spunky, witty, and fun to be around, but she doesn’t do very well in large groups and prefers to spend most of her time alone. Like many of us, she also struggles with her own mental health, the extent of which is unraveled throughout the game as she grows and learns to confront it directly. At least that’s what I can say without getting into heavy spoiler territory.
CH: There appears to be a lot of dogs in the game. What was the motivation behind that? What part do they play?
DG: I just… really love dogs. Like, a lot. Who doesn’t, right? I thought it’d be cute to have them act as save points rather than a static icon. They’re also all individually named with their own unique personalities, so each one is memorable and gives a player a moment to relax before moving on.
CH: From my perspective, I see inspirations from titles like Undertale and Persona 5. Are these actually the games that inspired She Dreams Elsewhere? If so, are there any other titles as well?
DG: *Laughs* yeah I get those a lot. Persona for sure is a huge influence, both in terms of gameplay and overall atmosphere (though I’ve yet to play 5, weirdly enough). Undertale definitely inspired me from a development standpoint – like the fact that this one guy (plus whatever help he had) made such a standout, impressionable game was just so inspiring. As far as its influence on the game itself, though, it’s practically nonexistent and I don’t really refer back to it; that would go to its own influence, the Mother series which I absolutely adore.
Other gaming inspirations include Psychonauts, Kingdom Hearts, OFF, Yume Nikki, Life is Strange, Blank Dream, Space Funeral, Maniac Mansion, the list goes on…but honestly, I take more from other mediums and personal experiences than I do games. Stuff like Atlanta, Bojack Horseman, Seinfeld, Waking Life, Paprika, anything and everything Studio Ghibli, hip-hop (shoutout the homie Tyler, the Creator!), vaporwave, Japanese citypop… again, I could go on for days.
CH: The prologue is primarily set in a place called Oblivion where Thalia is in a coma. Is Oblivion the main location for the game or will there be numerous places for us to explore?
DG: There’s a bunch of different areas in the game, each one reflecting Thalia’s inner fears and anxieties, as well as some of her safer, relaxing spaces.
CH: The music in the game is incredible. It immediately got its hooks in me wanting me to keep playing. What is the direction you’re trying to go with it?
DG: Thanks for the compliments! The music is easily one of my favorite aspects of the whole thing. It’s split into two elements – the original soundtrack composed by Mimi Page, which represents the more dreamy, ethereal vibe of the game, and the other which consists of licensed tracks from indie artists, mostly hip-hop and bedroom pop, which reps the more grounded, real-world vibe of it all.
CH: In the prologue, we meet Thalia’s friends Amia and Oliver. Will the three of them be the full party or can we expect other characters to join as the game progresses?
DG: It’s just the three of them for the full party, though other characters will occasionally help out in certain moments.
CH: With Thalia being the main character naturally the story is ultimately going to revolve around her, but can we expect segments of the game that focus on other party members and develop their character as well?
DG: Absolutely! Not only are they developed through the main story, but you can discover their own side stories through the “Connection” system, which is basically a combo of Persona’s Social Links and Mass Effect 2’s Loyalty Missions. I talked about it more in-depth in a previous devlog, but essentially you’ll be hanging out one-on-one with a specific character and getting into various shenanigans with them, all while learning about their struggles and stories along the way. Not only do you get to discover more about said characters, but it also allows me to explore other genres and gameplay styles too, so that’s all really exciting.
I’m using RPG Maker to build it, and it’s a really great tool for hitting the ground running when it comes to building an RPG since it provides you with all the basics upfront. I’ve also been using the program for nearly a decade now, so I’m pretty comfortable with the ins and outs of it all, and it’s pretty easy to customize to fit your needs… most of the time.
CH: What was the process of creating the game? You made the entire game yourself. How did you build it from the ground up?
The writing process is definitely the hardest but most rewarding part of it all. I don’t see gameplay and story as two separate things, it’s all combined into one for me. Everything in the game centers around Thalia and her own emotions, so I always remind myself of a few questions whenever I sit down to write/design: What is Thalia feeling at this moment? What’s the worst that could happen (Then, make the worst happen). How can she/the player grow from this moment? What is the truth in this? That last one is particularly important to everything I do, both in She Dreams Elsewhere and all of my other creative projects. Authenticity and vulnerability are key to my whole process, so I always strive for that no matter how goofy or surreal the situation I get.
She Dreams Elsewhere has a release window of early 2020 and will come to Xbox One, Steam, Linux, and Mac. If you are interested in playing the prologue for the game, you can download it for free on Steam. For updates on She Dreams Elsewhere you can follow Davionne as well as his development studio, Studio Zevere, on Twitter.