6 January 2013

[SquareGo] First Impressions: Among the Sleep

Among the Sleep is an intriguing new survival horror game on its way in 2013 from Krillbite Studio. In it, the player plays as a two-year-old child exploring their home during the night, where strange events are taking place…

Read the full preview over at SquareGo, or click below to read more!

A gameplay video was released in May 2012, which shows the protagonist exploring their home at night. From the perspective of the child (the game is played in first-person, from the child's point-of-view), the architecture of the house seems imposing and gargantuan in size; it could well be that the antagonists of the game are much, much bigger than you, which would make for some truly terrifying encounters. The way the character moves seems intentionally clumsy and shaky – the first-person camera bobs a little as the protagonist clambers down a set of stairs, an interesting analogue to the “shaky camera” technique used in found-footage horror films like The Blair Witch Project. There's also hints of subtle camera distortion during strange encounters, similar to those found in Amnesia: the Dark Descent.

It's often said that a loss of control is one of the most significant factors in making horror truly horrific – the inability to hide, the inability to fight back, the inability to see your enemy, these all contribute to a feeling of terror and helplessness, and having a protagonist that's barely able to speak, let alone fight back, hide or run, is a really interesting way in playing with that idea.

The artistic direction in Among the Sleep seems to involve fairly realistic environments, but with hints of the fantastic and the supernatural - however, it's difficult to say if the game actually contains any supernatural elements at all; Krillbite Studio has teased that the unusual events experienced by the player may be non-literal, blending fantasy, metaphor and imagination; this makes sense, considering that they will be interpreted and filtered through the eyes of a two-year-old, who has yet to fully understand the world around them; it was stated elsewhere that “there are few things we adults we see through the eyes of a two year old and consider normal” This could easily pave the way for surreal, dreamy (or nightmarish) sequences where it's unclear as to whether the threats the player encounters are ever what they appear to be.

The potential controversy that could arise from their subject matter has been addressed by Krillbite studio in their blog: it's easy to see why a survival horror game featuring a child could contain controversial material. In an entry on the Krillbite blog, the developers were keen to stress that while the game features a child as a protagonist, the goal is (as one might expect) to avoid harm, that events in the game were metaphorical, and that the game itself is intended for adults, not for children. They also go on to discuss why games like Among the Sleep are often targeted by mainstream media using scaremongering tactics, providing an honest and reasoned analysis that heavily indicates the team have really done their research.

Among the Sleep shares something in common with the table-top role-playing game Little Fears, in that it focuses on horror with young children as the main protagonists. Similarly, the Binding of Isaac is another game with a pint-sized protagonist in dire circumstances, as the player guides young Isaac through nightmarish 2D landscapes in an attempt to escape his murderous mother. The fact that the threat in Among the Sleep may be skewed due to the protagonist's limited understanding of reality, though, is an interesting take.

Among the Sleep will be released sometime during 2013, for PC and Mac OS X; until then, there are some updates over on Krillbite Studio's development blog.

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