When i was playing One dreamer‘s demo back in June, I thought this might be something special. It looked like a game about a failing game developer, presented with a combination of point-and-click puzzles and coding, but in an accessible way. And that’s what it is! Hurrah! In fact, it is much more beautiful, engaging, and exquisitely complex than it seems.
Frank is a game developer who has a smash hit, a multiplayer VR MMO game called ProxyLife it was a big deal for the moment. But now he’s having problems, the number of players is declining, and the lack of a steady stream of new features is demoralizing the player base. At the same time, Frank works as a soulless freelancer (a situation known to almost all independent developers), helping AAA to implement more stringent DRM or reducing the statistical chances of players receiving in-game currency.
However, none of this is told simply. Instead, through what appear to be sequences of dreams, we learn the story and the motivations to create ProxyLife, in extensive sections where Frank can edit the code of objects in the world around him. Here, using the game’s pseudo-code (a simplified version of C # that even I understand), you can – say – reprogram a duck to meow like a cat, or, more usefully, drive a lever to open a distant closed gate.
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In the real-world scenes, where Frank works surrounded by outstanding bills and threats, such programming is confined to his computer. Here you are tasked with making these mercenary changes to the AAA game while trying to collect your own fragments. As someone who has never dealt with games asking me to learn and implement code, I am pleased to report that this is not the case. It’s so cleverly designed that it works like a puzzle while deceptively teaching me the basics of code structure. But on the other hand, brilliantly, it mostly teaches me how to bodge.
Is plot it’s wise One dreamerfrom narrative structure to ridiculously beautiful pixel art, but the way you have to solve puzzles with an encoder bodging is just great. Need to remove the feature that gives new players 100 coins? Change the value of the little CoinRewardTier from another section of the game code, then copy and paste it into NewPlayerData so that beginCoins = CoinRewardTier.Small. Sure, it’ll probably break something else elsewhere, but for now, it works.
This idea of doing things, taking shortcuts permeates all the puzzles in the game, making it so wonderfully honest, brilliantly teaching bad habits. So many coding games are so exhaustively valuable, acting as if they bring wonderful knowledge to the player – not here. Here in this exquisitely crafted game, even the coding puzzles bend down in a depressing tone, trying to stay afloat in a crash.
The story is told very messily. In the opening speech I gave at the top it seems like it all starts, but as you play the game you jump around the timeline in a way that is very intentionally unexplained. For the most part, this works very well, but there are times when I got confused. There is also one fairly pivotal moment that is a bit underrated in the cutscene, making me not sure what just happened. I mean, I figured it out, but it would have been nicer if it had been explained a little better.
My only problem with the game is how slowly Frank moves up and down stairs. This is something you often do with it as it traverses 2D side-scrolling scenes and allows for beautiful game moments where the location changes as you walk in a door or climb stairs. But he really he takes his time and begins to pull. But hell when this that’s my main complaint, you know you got a broken game here.
The graphics are simply spectacular, especially the lighting and blooming of these pixelated characters, which are made even better with an excellent voice play and a really cute soundtrack. This is fucking solid.
It’s also a lot longer than I expected. The moment I realized it was all over, I looked at the game on YouTube (to re-watch the confusing scene I mentioned above) and found out that I was barely halfway through. So I wasn’t finished at this point, but I was playing enough to know how much I would like you to too. This is something truly unique, a fascinating and moving exploration of the drives behind so much indie growth and how incredibly unhealthy and toxic it can become. At the same time, I feel full of hope, full of creative potential. And somehow he even has a fool like me to solve coding puzzles.
One dreamer is gone now on Steam and GOG.
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