Kickstarter Hands-On: Neverending Nightmares

Sometimes it’s hard to remember how nice it is to have a chemically-balanced brain. Being a bit moody and impatient at the world is the worst of my worries, and actual mental illness is terra incognita. I know it exists but and can try my best to be accommodating, but I’ll never have the proper tools to truly understand what’s happening. That may be why it’s so fascinating when those who have had to fight to live with it create something to explain what the world feels like inside their heads. Sometimes, if I’m lucky, something like the Depression 2 post from Allie Brosh’s Hyperbole and a Half comes along. Sometimes it’s Matt Gilgenbach’s Neverending Nightmares.

As the Kickstarter campaign explains from the very first line, Neverending Nightmares is created from Matt Gilgenbach’s ongoing struggles with OCD and depression. He’s been dealing with it for years, and the fallout from Retro/Grade selling rather poorly (to put it kindly) didn’t help much. Years of work sunk into a game that took a huge loss, drawn directly from the two-man developer team’s savings, brought back many of his mental illness’s symptoms that had previously been under control. So he did the logical thing and channeled them into a new game that’s as completely different from Retro/Grade as a game is possible to be.

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Neverending Nightmares is the story of a man who can’t wake up. One horrible thing leads to another, and even death ends up with him safely back in bed, ready to face the horrors of the next area. Current plans for the full game call for branching paths leading to multiple endings, almost no combat to speak of, a focus on hiding from the terrible things lurking in the nightmare worlds, and levels where everything from the wallpaper to the monsters reveals something about the nameless dreamer.

The demo available from the Kickstarter page doesn’t have much of that in there quite yet, being more a proof of concept than anything else, but what it does have is a truly fantastic style that forces the player to look at and think about everything in a scene. Mostly this is due to the dreamer’s slow walking pace, but seeing as the atmosphere is oppressive and even properly scary in many places, that’s fine. There are games about rushing through as a living hyperactive reaction, but Neverending Nightmares is about soaking in the details. The rich black and white and red art style is modeled after the artwork of Edward Gorey, except far bloodier, and the rich linework and background detail need to be absorbed by the player. Add in the excellent audio, which completely justifies the demo’s recommendation of headphones, and you’ve got an experience that’s disturbing and even scary in places.

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The demo is almost completely linear, but as a playable proof of concept it’s very effective in making you want more. You walk through the halls of the mansion, find a few items that can be interacted with (as indicated by them being in full color), and finally wake up in a new area, but the attention to detail in everything from the paintings to arrangement of toys work towards generating a feeling of unease, and the occasional corpse doesn’t lessen the sensation. Something terrible has happened to someone, possibly in reality or maybe just in nightmares, but until you’ve slogged through the darkest pits of the dreamer’s mind it’s going to be very hard to figure out what’s real.

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Neverending Nightmares is the result of a lifetime spent fighting mental illness, with imagery taken directly from the unwanted visions that intrude on Matt Gilgenbach’s life. The demo is a fantastically effective, albeit short, tour of the game’s style, and is well worth seeing in motion. There’s a lot more to come as the nightmare gets far worse, as evidenced by the preview video below, but the Kickstarter is almost a quarter of the way to completion and moving at a steady pace. Head on over and grab the demo, and get a taste of the terrible things that drawn from a years-long struggle with depression, OCD, and intrusive thoughts. As horrible as it sounds to live with, the results promise to be absolutely fascinating.