Jason Rohrer’s Sleep Is Death Review
Jason Rohrer’s anticipated independent release Sleep Is Death provides a sterling interactive experience, often being able to reach lofty emotional input from players, while still maintaining an irrevocably genial portrayal of immersion and profundity through the abstraction of a video game. Also spasmodically referred to as Geisterfahrer, it is now available through PayPal at the price tag of $14, which provides two download codes for yourself and a friend.
After games like Passage and Gravitation, Rohrer decided to further advance the idea of cooperative achievement propositioned in his 2007 creation Between. This culminated in Sleep Is Death, blurring the lines between interactive storytelling and video games. With one person creating the world (known as the controller) and the other playing out said world via talking or object interaction (the player), the game takes on an almost limitless potential, mainly dependent on reflexive sprite editing skills and how imaginative two minds together become when working in tandem.
Gameplay in Sleep Is Death (5 out of 5)
As stated above, the two player aspect derives from the need for a controller of the action, with the player subsequently trying to navigate the created landscape. The role of controller is assigned to the host of a game, whether through local networking or IP address remote access, giving them the option to place the backgrounds, characters and opening speech into the game.
The connecting player will provide input in a limited yet engrossing fashion, being able to punch out speech or movement, while they can also place verbs next to an object in order to direct the controller towards their motives. For example, if the player wishes to pick up an empty water bottle, adding the verb “pick up” and pointing it towards the bottle will invariably make the controller follow the meta-game direction. If the controller is savvy enough, specifically at handling multiple quick sprite edits and some sadistic curvature thrown their way by the player, then a flowing and stream-like engagement will likely be bore.
With a set turn time limit (although it can be changed posthumously in the game folder) of only 30 seconds, it may seem too quickened or confusing in the beginning, however this frantic pace serves the game well. With the concentration on spontaneous and instinctive creativity, the offshoot nature of this stream of consciousness or branching gameplay style will often provide moments of subtle brilliance, whether intended or not.
Setting of The Sleep Is Death Game (5 out of 5)
Its seems poignant that the setting of Sleep Is Death comes from whatever the player makes within the tools provided. Not only do the tools play a part on where, when and how a story is interpreted, but the huge investment in player control and reaction makes for a unique experience or locale anytime a new game is started.
It would be disingenuous to say that the setting is found only within the pre-packaged backgrounds and character models, therefore it can candidly be stated that only imagination and some minimal editing effort can truly hold anyone back, even if the default church or farm are suitable jumping off points.
Do you want to recreate a hard boiled crime drama? Then go ahead and create a 2D office and some sleek detective sprites, play it with a friend or a random Internet entity, and experience the completely remarkable outcomes that are likely spawned. To note, a role-playing ethic is often definitively required, so stay sharp and get your game face on while playing. Although it can be said that playing with a meta-game knowledge and acceptance often creates a heightened satire also.
A great boon for Sleep Is Death is in its development through the game experience and often the outcomes of the stories being woven. Twisting through 30 seconds of turn time to edit, re-hash and completely baffle both players makes for some stunningly beautiful outcomes, even if the story ends up with the player standing in a dark room full of balls made from cheese.
Aesthetics of Sleep Is Death (4 out of 5)
Sleep Is Death is driven by necessity insofar as the aesthetics and look of the game. The graphics are directly reinforced by the gameplay. With a short time frame to work around, the need for expansive graphics is completely redundant, giving licensure to a small number of pixels representing the created scenes. This is perfectly reasonable, given the independent nature of development, with a reliance on instinctively creative skills from the controller coming into play also.
The average layman can access Sleep Is Death easily and start to pick it up within 2 or 3 experimental games as controller. If the game was packaged into a convoluted and insurmountably difficult to learn graphics engine, most likely of the 3D kind, the effect of the entire game would likely be lost. Hence Sleep Is Death isn’t too grandiose as to ward off newcomers and it can’t be easily mastered by veterans either.
Even if a creative wall is reached, specifically in creating new sprites, the burgeoning community has pioneered resource packs containing many new and innovative graphics that reinvigorate the original experience. This, coupled with the online storybooks a couple of websites are now showcasing, Sleep Is Death seems to have a rich independent culture behind it since the mid-April release.
With a simple interface for both controller and player, although the controller has a few objects, rooms and character sprites to sift through, the game takes advantage of its sprite based aesthetic. With a charming lack of detail, the game further propositions the player to arrest their imaginations, while further invoking a sense of immersion and brightening the storytelling aspects by comparison.
Overall Rating for Sleep Is Death (5 out of 5)
With no discernible plot points, mediocre or crude graphics, a small inbuilt library of default sprite options and a finicky IP address connection system, it could be assumed that Sleep Is Death is nothing more than a poorly budgeted art game with a smattering of depth and no real purpose. However, the player created onus on objectifying emotional engagement and profundity through experience, Sleep Is Death instigates a unique enactment of awe inspiring depth.
Not often will there be a game with nigh-limitless boundaries, hence the proposition that Rohrer has rubbed shoulders with that almost unreachable plateau, creating an experience nearly free from constraints and almost completely within the realm of imagination or wonder. To unequivocally tell readers that this is something remarkable and unmissable seems too tangible or rudimentary.
With modern day games taking a drastic turn into an emotionally impacting and hollow cul-de-sac, the gratifying relief that someone is creating art this special is beyond some shoe-horned and feeble verbiage, Sleep Is Death has demonstrated a revolutionary vision of how insightful and profound video games can truly be. It is a huge shame that our industry won’t catch up to the machinations of Jason Rohrer anytime soon…expect another Mario spinoff by the end of the year…