We’ll Sleep When We’re Dead

Once upon a time, when the world was still made up of pixels, a cowboy, a priest and a judge met in the desert… This would be a good opening to a story told on Sleep is Death, a weird hybrid yarn spinning game developed by Jason Rohrer and currently attracting a lot of attention on the net (not least a score of 90/100 and an editor’s choice from PC Gamer). I was intrigued, so calling on the services of a fellow geek I set about to discover its secrets.

Our first story: Brokeback Redemption

Basically two players take it in turns to adopt the roles of a player or controller. The latter is like a D’n’D Dungeon Master; setting up the world, a narrative skeleton and controlling its various characters. Meanwhile the player inhabits the world and drives the story forward, forcing the controller to respond to his actions. Collaboratively you create a story, which is saved forever in the form of a flip book.

Sleep is Death is a bizarre hybrid. In one respect it’s about as old school as they come, with an interface that’s a throwback to the DOS era (players have to link to each other via an IP address and god help you if you have a firewall) and gameplay inspired by early text based fantasy RPGs, but on the other hand the community elements of the game (the fact that you can create and share content) are reminiscent of Little Big Planet and the notion that anything is possible is somehow very modern.

I can't remember this scene in Whistle Down the Wind…

Whilst the player’s simple interface is something like a point and click adventure – with options to speak, act and move – the controller’s looks a little like photoshop if it were designed by Clive Sinclair after a massive bender. The game’s German name is Geisterfahrer, which basically means ‘ghost driver’ and refers to those thrill seekers or nut jobs who drive into oncoming traffic on the autobahn with headlights doused. This is an apt analogy for someone playing the game for the first time.  It’s all a little daunting, with options to control any object in the scene, and even zoom in and edit individual pixels. The 30 second time limit (which can be altered in a system file for those with a bit of tech savvy) along with an unfamiliarity with the controls means that hilarity will ensue as players struggle to keep up and characters are accidentally erased, duplicated or set on fire. Trying to flip my gun toting gangster to face his enemy I accidentally managed to rotate his head 180 degrees. Of course I made out that it was supposed to happen, after all it’s not every day that you can mash up the narratives of The Godfather and The Exorcist in such glorious fashion.

Things can quickly get out of hand…

Part of the fun of it all is that when you log in to the server you never know where you’ll end up. Being invited to a game set up by my friend I found myself in a western scene being grilled by a sheriff and his deputy. It quickly transpired that I was re-enacting part of Red Dead Redemption as a Brokeback Mountain inspired gay drama. But who was the love interest? Who else but Seth the gravedigger! Next it was my turn to tell a story. As usual it started off with serious intentions and quickly toppled into the realm of the ludicrous. I set the scene: a little girl finds a man stuck down a hole claiming to be Jesus Christ, like the classic film Whistle Down the Wind. Not long after, a priest turns up to see what’s the matter. It’s at about that time that I discovered that if you zoomed into most of the game’s characters their clothes appear as separate layers, easily deleted with the touch of a button. So of course the priest took his trousers off. The little girl jumps down the hole and Jesus takes his trousers off. A cop turns up and takes his trousers off and then her mum responds to her anguished cries for help and, you guessed it… There’s a moral in there somewhere. But unfortunately I was too driven by the same impulse that led me to perform naked pelvic thrusts in the middle of the town square in Fable 2 to fish it out.

After discovering that clothes come as seperate layers, I'm ashamed to say my perverted streak got the better of me.

And so there is Sleep is Death’s charm. As a tool it’s only as good as the ideas the players can throw at it, but what it does do so well is encourage people to tell crazy, wonderful stories and laugh till their bollocks hurt. The sample flip books on the site demonstrate the full breadth of storytelling possible – two lovers meeting in a futuristic world in which the human race has become sterile, or a grandmother telling her granddaughter a story on her death bed before asking for her life support machine to be switched off – but my stories always seem to end with the characters taking all of their clothes off. But then, that’s just me.







12 responses to “We’ll Sleep When We’re Dead”

  1. Lauren avatar

    Lol XD Pants just falling off everywhere. It has to be one of the most random games Ive ever come across. Interesting, perverse and different, every gamers dream lol. Get some beers and load that game up, it’ll be great!

  2. Dean avatar

    Yah my first blog piece! Thought i’d start as i meant to go on with some frankly bizarre subject matter. Yes Lauren this game is very strange, i’d be interested to hear what you thought.

  3. Mark P avatar

    I want to play this game forever. Awesome bloggage. 😀

  4. Spike avatar

    I buy the game for you – and am only credited as a ‘fellow geek’? Shame on you Deano!

  5. Ninja avatar

    “As usual it started off with serious intentions and quickly toppled into the realm of the ludicrous…”

    The rest of that paragraph is just utter genius. I almost choked on a piece of toast because of it.

    I must play this!

  6. Spike avatar

    Worth pointing out – the game is available to buy ‘Radiohead’ style, where you can pay what you want for it, and you get two codes, one for you and one for a friend. Pretty much essential as you’d be hard pressed to get a game otherwise.

  7. Dean avatar

    Hello everyone – i’d like to introduce my friend and fellow geek Spike, who i apologise to thoroughly for not giving the proper mention he deserved in my blog piece. But truth be told I simply wouldn’t have heard of this game if it wasn’t for him – in fact if the fickle nature of the tides of fate had gone awry i may not even be here myself. So i think its fair to say that i owe this beautiful man my life, my freedom and my dignity (well maybe not that). Are you happy now:)

  8. Dean avatar

    Also Ninja i’m so happy i made you choke on a piece of toast – i think that’s the best compliment i have ever gotten on my writing:)

  9. Ninja avatar

    Heh! Good start eh? The irony is I was pretty much asleep and… well, you get the idea with that 😉

  10. Simon avatar

    What genius idea! This sounds so far up my street it’s knocked my recycling bin over.

  11. Alex avatar

    When I tried to play Sleep is Death I couldn’t find anyone to play with! the entire game-matching section of various forums were dead as the proverbial. :/ Long story short – Dean, nice article but you still owe me a game!

  12. Dean avatar

    OK – i now owe Alex and Simon a game – sigh, perhaps i shouldn’t have said anything!

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