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Controller Freak

Chad Sapieha leads you deep into the world of games, covering gaming trends

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A screenshot from Sleep Is Death. (Jason Rohrer)
A screenshot from Sleep Is Death. (Jason Rohrer)

A tale for two Add to ...

Joystiq's Justin McElroy wrote a great post Monday night about a provocative new independent game for Macs and Windows PCs called Sleep Is Death.

Designed by Jason Rohrer, the same fellow who created the lovely and poetic Passage , which explored a person's accomplishments between birth and death and what they mean, Sleep Is Death is meant for two people: a player and a "narrator." The player moves around the world, interacts with objects, and types speech bubble messages while the narrator controls all non-player characters, the environment, and types messages of his own. Where it goes from there is up to the people at the controls.

In his post, McElroy recounts his experience playing the game with its maker. His game began with a family in the midst of a drought, and a daughter looking to her father, played by McElroy, to somehow slake her thirst. The setting and premise were dreamt up by Rohrer, the narrator.

What took place between them-the entirety of their game is viewable via 111 screenshots attached to the post-is unlike anything found in a traditional game. The game's conversations were freeform, organic, and without any of the inherent awkwardness that comes with speaking to an artificial intelligence. McElroy asked questions, Rohrer answered them and asked a few of his own. And unlike a computer, Rohrer was able to roll with McElroy's often unpredictable punches. At one point McElroy guilts a neighbour for not sharing his water even though he gave him one of his kidneys, and Rohrer not only responds with authentic shame, but also seamlessly works the kidney angle back into the game's dialogue a little later on.

As McElroy eloquently puts it, "Rohrer was, with a few keystrokes and mouse clicks, obviating the entire problem of artificial intelligence with the most obvious solution in the world: Have a person do it."

Like Passage, Sleep Is Death is decidedly lo-fi. But it's not about the visuals. The game seems to have been designed as a platform to free its players' imaginations, which is where the real action takes place.

Of course, I haven't even experienced it yet myself. But I feel like I have. The screens McElroy posted play out like a web comic. There are scenes of horror, humour, and sadness. Clicking through all of them takes only a few minutes, but they tell a surprisingly complete and affecting story. I can imagine a community springing up that collects and shares their Sleep Is Death stories with one another.

As for McElroy's story, it's made me want to experience a Sleep Is Death tale of my own.

Sleep Is Death available for pre-order right now on the game's official website. You'll save $5 off the $14 purchase price if you place an order by Thursday. It will be released Friday, April 16th.

Follow me on Twitter: @ chadsapieha

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