Hello everyone! Today I wanted to take a moment to bring to you an interview I got to do with the creator and developer of the upcoming Indie JRPG called “She Dreams Elsewhere”. This caught my interest on Reddit and when I saw the style and read about the influences (Earthbound and Persona, 2 of my favorite JRPG series / games) I knew I had to take a shot at talking to the creator and pick their brain a bit. So without further ado, I present to you: TN Talks with the Creator of She Dreams Elsewhere. Also if you want to try the demo out for yourself you can grab it on the ItchIO page right here.
So let’s start this interview with an introduction! Why not tell the audience who you are and what you are all about.
Sup! I’m Davionne, I’m a 21 year old game dev, filmmaker, photographer and all-around bum ass nerd who has no clue what he’s doing. Graduated high school in 2016, went to DePaul University for film for one semester… and dropped out soon afterwards. Wasn’t for me, plus it was too expensive.
In addition to developing games, I’ve also written and directed (shitty) feature films, (better) short films, music videos, corporate videos, directed several short plays, done theatre / production management, all kinds of stuff… basically, I’m a guy who likes making creative shit. Especially if it’s weird creative shit. That’s my jam, yo.
Also (not kidding), I’ve seen the Bee Movie literally well over a hundred times. Fun fact. Don’t ask me how that happened. I don’t really know, either.
Now, is She Dreams Elsewhere your first video game project? If not, what was? Got any examples of your previous work?
I’ve been developing games since I was in 5th grade. I started by randomly downloading Game Maker and RPG Maker VX online one day, messed around in it a bunch, had NO clue what I was doing (some things never change), but decided I liked it enough to keep toying with it. Over the years, I’ve finished probably about a dozen or so games (not including grade school projects I did to flex) and released a handful of them on the internet. Most of them have been taken offline now, but a few are… somehow still up and I don’t really have the energy to take em down. (They’re all here, btw: https://rpgmaker.net/users/Lorenze/)
(Another sidenote – a few years back, I did mini-postmortems on the games I’ve created. Not sure how well it’s held up, though, since I was a high school sophomore when I wrote them. If you’re interested for yourself, you can check it out here: https://studiozevere.com/2014/01/20/super-post-mortem-blowout-part-i/)
So what, exactly, is She Dreams Elsewhere? How would you describe it to people who are curious about the game.
She Dreams Elsewhere is a surreal adventure RPG about dreams and how they can mirror our emotional state. You play as Thalia Sullivan, a snarky, chill, yet anxiety-ridden 20s something woman who’s found herself trapped in a coma. It’s up to her to face her own inner nightmares in order to wake up, all while slowly unraveling how she got there in the first place. It’s a deeply personal narrative dealing with themes of mental health, social anxiety, depression, and all that other fun stuff. Take that and add in some psychedelic, lo-fi visuals, a dreamy original soundtrack supplemented with chill indie and hip-hop tunes, and a challenging turn-based battle system and oooooooooooh, baby – you got a hearty surreal stew goin.
How long have you been actively working on She Dreams Elsewhere? How close is it to completion aka Going Gold as the game industry says?
Probably about three or four years now, with the past two years being all full-time dev. I think. I’m pretty sure. Honestly, I’ve lost track.
You mention that Earthbound and Persona are influences and for me, just looking at the battle system alone I can see both (the view, character info, and all out attacks). What other things inspired you during the creation of She Dreams Elsewhere?
Ha! How much time you got? I could go on all day. Pretty much every bit of art inspires me in some fashion, but the main influences (other than the above) are the works of Junji Ito, Hayao Miyazaki (ALL of them), Satoshi Kon (Paprika, Perfect Blue), Christopher Nolan (Inception, Memento), movies like Waking Life, Belle de Jour, Coraline, the TV shows Atlanta, BoJack Horseman, Insecure, musicians and rappers such as Tyler, the Creator, Kendrick Lamar, Hiatus Kaiyote, NERD, Flying Lotus, etc., and more games like OFF, Psychonauts, Dragon Quest VIII, Yume Nikki, Maniac Mansion, etc. Just to name a few.
Told ya I could go on all day.
The color palette of the game is striking to say the least, all dark blues and subdued colors. Why that? Was it mostly to show how it was otherworldly? Or is there a meaning to it?
Heh, believe it or not it actually came about as an accident at first. The original version of the game was in a more colorful, cartoony, EarthBound type of style. One day in the summer of 2016, I was working on some enemy designs in Photoshop and accidentally pressed the wrong button, making everything in a B&W style. I knew it was “wrong”, but I really liked how it looked, so I went along with it. At first just the enemies were B&W, but I experimented with making the tiles like that too, and not only did everything fall into place, but it reinvigorated my drive to complete the game. It was like “Damn, I got my own style and everything now. Dope.”
It really does compliment the game really well and gives it that surreal, psychedelic feel, especially with the bursts of color. Blue was chosen for both thematic reasons and because it’s my favorite color, though there are older screenshots that show both blue and yellow being used. The B&W also retroactively tied in really well with the themes of the color, as I eventually learned that people suffering from depression (myself included) often see colors in the world as a bit more dull than they would otherwise appear.
You mention the game deals with adult themes and topics like Mental Illness. Why those topics in particular? Is there any personal meaning to the game for you?
They’re things I’ve dealt with and still continue to deal with today, both personally and through close friends of mine. Plus, I’ve never been a huge fan of the whole “save the world” type of plots that are prevalent in games, RPGs especially – I usually prefer something more intimate and psychological.
If you had to estimate, about how long do you think the game will take a person to complete? How replayable is the game going to be? Any plans on some staple JRPG tropes like hidden bosses or New Game Plus content?
Estimating about 7-10 hours for the main story, 10-15 for 100% completion. There will definitely be hidden bosses, secret areas, New Game Plus, and even a Developer Commentary! I think certain players will get a lot out of NG+ in particular, as the story is definitely ripe to be experienced again to see all the foreshadowing and missed details in the first playthrough.
Are you the single developer on the game, a la Concerned Ape of Stardew Valley fame? Or do you have a team that works with you? I noticed you mentioned a specific person in regards to the soundtrack so I am curious if you hire freelancers or if you have a dedicated team.
Other than the music and character art, I’ve been working on it solo. Occasionally I’ll also ask some friends for some help, like playtesting or looping songs. But other than that, if I wasn’t working on this, literally nothing would get done.
Now you seem to have indicated you made this game using a version of RPG Maker, and that is impressive. How much of that software did you have to modify to get it the way you wanted? Hell, which version did you use? VX Ace? MV? 2003?
I’m using RPG Maker MV, though the game originally started in VX Ace. MV is a really great tool, it’s got a lot more functionality and durability compared to previous versions, and there are some really amazing community plugins and creator tools that I’d definitely be lost without.
How easy or hard is RPG Maker to learn in your opinion? Is it good software for someone wanting to dabble in game dev?
It’s definitely a lot easier than most engines, but make no mistake – it will not make your game for you. It’s still got it’s own learning curve, especially if you dive into the more advanced functionalities. Thankfully, it’s got a great community with plenty of tutorials to get you started.
For some folks, there is a stigma associated with RPG Maker games due to how stock many games that flood steam appear. Do you think that stigma will effect She Dreams Elsewhere?
Not at all. Most of my audience A) Don’t know what RPG Maker is, B) Don’t know it’s made in RPG Maker or C) Are blown away by the fact that it’s made in RPG Maker once they do find out (seriously, you should’ve seen some of the reactions at GDC). So I’m not worried at all. Besides, like I said before – the engine (nor any engine) will not make your game for you, nor does it define your success or lack thereof. It’s a tool, not an artist.
What has been your greatest challenge in developing She Dreams Elsewhere? Any particular issues that stand out that you had to address? Any funny stories or bugs you ran into during development that you fixed?
The writing process for sure. While I’ve enjoyed it immensely, it takes me a ton of time to write and finalize what I want. I wouldn’t call myself a perfectionist, but I definitely do have a high standard of quality for myself (so basically a perfectionist). Adding onto that, I don’t see gameplay and story as two different things – I see them as one and the same, and combine them as much as possible… which can lead to a lot of rewrites, playtesting, scrapping content, etc. To give you an example, “Oblivion”, the first level of the game, was redone about 3-4 times before I was finally satisfied (not even counting the little details). For an even more drastic example, the second level, “Serenity”, was redone about a dozen times, if not more, over the course of development. (Not to worry, it’s all finalized now!)
Another issue is time management and motivation, which is especially difficult due to being solo.
This question really is for me mostly, how much longer do we have to wait for the release so we can sink our teeth into this surreal and wild looking adventure! I know you have a demo (available here) that people can play, but I am one of those who prefers to wait for the full course meal as it were. Also any idea on what price point you are targeting? I know you are releasing on PS4, Xbox One, and PC / Steam.
Soon, my friend, soon! I’m shooting for either summer or fall – definitely before the end of the year, for sure. Price will be $20, and it’ll be launching on PC, Mac and Linux (consoles are still iffy, but I’m working on it!)
Any plans for the future of either She Dreams Elsewhere or just projects in general?
I’ll most likely be focusing again on the film side of things. I’m currently writing what looks to be my next feature-length project, which coincidentally also focuses on dreams – that’s really all I can give away for now. I also wanna keep doing smaller film projects, like more short films and music videos, which I’ve only recently gotten back into these past few weeks.
As for She Dreams Elsewhere, I definitely want to port it to consoles (YES I WISH IT WAS ON SWITCH TOO I’M WORKING ON IT GODDAMMIT), maybe even mobile too. I’d also be dope to have it localized, though there are several challenges facing that, mainly when it comes to the dialect and the sheer amount of text in the game.
But I dunno. We’ll see. The future is pretty open, but first I’ve got a game to finish. 😉
Finally, I want to thank you for your time in answering these questions, and also give you a chance to say, well, whatever you want to as a closer! Leave the audience with some words of wisdom, if you like!
Thank you so much for interviewing me! It truly, truly means a lot.
As for words of wisdom, well… I don’t know if it’s “wisdom” per se, but a quote from a Vice show I was watching really stuck out to me and pretty much sums up my whole creative process:
“I don’t know if that’s the best idea, but we’re doing it.”
Fuckin’ A to that, man.
Also, drink more water, y’all.