She Dreams Elsewhere: looking ahead to a creative, surreal RPG-adventure

We all want a bit more sleep, but lead character Thalia’s situation in She Dreams Elsewhere is taking things to a bit of an extreme. She’s trapped, comatose in a world of nightmares that prevent her from waking up, and looking for any way she can to confront and overcome this state of headridden bedridden-ness. In less powerfully technical terms: She Dreams Elsewhere is an adventure-RPG set in a surreal dream world, and it looks fantastically imaginative.

The initial idea came about during senior year in high school for She Dreams Elsewhere’s creator Davionne Gooden, with that idea brewing over time into the game we see today. “I’d gone through a bunch of neat, but not very interesting prototypes,” Gooden explains. “Eventually, I landed on the concept of being stuck in a dream because I thought it had a ton of potential. I’ve always been fascinated by dreams and what they can reflect about yourself and your environment, plus it allows for virtually endless creative possibilities – so I figured, why not give it a shot?”

Probably the most relatable sentiment in any game ever made, anywhere, ever

The dreamscapes represented in the game jump swiftly from dreary to exquisitely surreal; while at a glance it could well look like a case of style standing tall over substance, the fact is this distinctive visual style came about pretty much by accident. “The original art style was a lot more cartoony, but early on in development, I pressed the wrong button while making some art and it turned everything black and white – which was something that I was immediately attracted to,” Gooden says. “I kept developing it further, playing around with visual ideas, selective colours, completely butchering/Frankenstein-ing asset packs to my liking, and the rest is history.”

The move wasn’t some bold experiment by a seasoned artist – Gooden admits to having zero artistic training outside of high school classes – but it has worked out very favourably for the game, making it, at times, a striking visual assault. “The fact that people like the art so much is a huge compliment,” Gooden says. “Granted, I can’t take all the credit – my character designer Yanina [Nesterova] has done an absolutely phenomenal job with the full illustrations and even inspired some of my direction with the game, so I’m truly blessed to be able to collaborate with her.”

Graphically, She Dreams Elsewhere is stylish and striking; all the better to lure you into its surrealist delights

Collaboration hasn’t just been with the character art – She Dreams Elsewhere’s soundtrack was composed by Mimi Page. But when it comes to the game proper, it’s practically a one-dev show, and that personal aspect to things has led to a much more personal story being told as Thalia confronts the dreams – and nightmares – in her way. “I take inspiration from anything and everything,” Gooden says. “Dreams, emotions, real-life experiences, other media, conversations on the street, random shower thoughts, the list goes on. My mind is always in a creative, brainstorming mode, for better or worse.”

Gooden continues: “I pretty much just do whatever. If anything, the hardest part has been trying to put some type of logic or structure in an environment – in a dream – that inherently has none. With the vision I’m trying to go for, though, it’s not too bad and leads to a lot of fun ideas. It does make for a relatively slow writing process, though.”

The game’s distinctive style is thanks to artist Yanina Nesterova

That writing process, of course, covers many of the surreal events taking place in Thalia’s nightmares. With the game presenting such a personal tale of mental health and self-identity, isn’t there a risk it could alienate those looking for a broader focus to their game stories? “Nah, I don’t really care,” Gooden says. “I’m making this game for me, myself, and I first and foremost, so any worries of putting so much of myself into it hasn’t really occurred. I think that’s why so many people are into the game – it feels so authentic because it is 100% authentic to myself, y’know?“

It’s this focus and single-mindedness that has helped She Dreams Elsewhere get to the point it has – we’re mere months from release by the time you read this, and it’s fair to say development has been… a process. On asking Gooden what the most challenging aspect of development has been, the reply came: “Literally everything. Nah, I’m kidding. But only kind of. Video games are hard and it’s a miracle that any game is shipped at all. For me personally, though, it’s just hard to keep focus a lot of the time, especially during these days where everything just sucks, and there’s new bullshit to deal with on a daily basis. It’s exhausting. But you’ve just got to be easier on yourself and take it one day at a time, right?”

Once the nose is finally away from the grindstone and She Dreams Elsewhere releases, what does Gooden hope for? What does she want to come out of a world where the game is out there, ready to be played and enjoyed by any and all? Well, it should be pretty obvious what Gooden’s hope is: “To finally get some bloody rest for once.”

Genre: Adventure-RPG | Format: PC  /  XBO  /  Switch   /  Mac  /  Linux | Developer: Studio Zevere | Publisher: Studio Zevere | Release: Summer 2021 | Social: @studiozevere

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