Matt Gilgenbach, the mind behind Neverending Nightmares, is now bringing us Devastated Dreams. I’m already drawn in with its unique watercolor style presented in a haunting grayscale, dynamic lighting system converting light and shadows into inky layered effects, and binaural audio to realistically simulate sounds piped into my headphones. We follow Angel, exploring very relateable demons for any expectant parent through a series of night terrors. These anxieties manifest in the form of monsters, peculiar to Filipino folklore in the remote region where her story unfolds.
I pounced on the opportunity to talk with Matt about this new experience from his company, Infinitap Games.
Dirge Magazine: Thank you for granting us a peek behind the curtain at Infinitap! With Neverending Nightmares and now Devastated Dreams, you’re tapping into your own neurosis. Is that cathartic to you personally, and to the game development process?
Matt Gilgenbach: It is cathartic on a personal level because it feels good to express my feelings, especially ones that are hard to put into words. Sometimes it can be challenging to bring the personal elements into the actual game, because I try to remain true to my vision. That can mean extra work for the artists to try and match what I have in my head, which I often can’t quite explain.
Will you elaborate on some of your personal history that has contributed to Angel’s journey in Devastated Dreams?
My wife is Filipino, and I first learned about aswang from her and her friends as we waited in line for a haunted house in 2009. I was fascinated with them – especially the manananggal. The idea that the upper half of a woman flies around attacking pregnant women to get at their fetuses was truly horrifying. As a horror enthusiast, I was amazed that I hadn’t heard of them before. I visited the Philippines for the first time in 2013. As a sheltered American who hadn’t seen much of the world, I was surprised to see that some people in the Philippines still live in nipa huts made out of bamboo with thatched roofs. Driving through a rural area at night, imagining myself in one of these huts, without electricity, listening to the noises of the jungle sent a huge chill down my spine.
Everything came together when my wife got pregnant, and I realized that the aswang preying on the unborn is a perfect metaphor for the vulnerability you feel when you are expecting a child. At the beginning of our pregnancy, it seemed like we were constantly at risk of losing our child for reasons beyond our control and comprehension. That is still something that weighs heavily on us. With Devastated Dreams we want to combine all those feelings into one terrifying package and hopefully give people some insight into the Philippines and its rich culture.
The setting of Devastated Dreams is born from actual locations in the Philippines, and features these aswang of Filipino folklore. Tell us about where reality and your imagination meet?
We want to be as true as possible to the Filipino legends and locations that appear in the game. However, we do have to take certain liberties to make a game that is entertaining, and also has the mood I’m trying to create. For the legends, we get a lot of leeway since every person has their own story of what an aswang is: how they look or behave. While we take liberties with the locations, we want to make sure it includes elements of both Asian and Spanish influence, so it has the unique feel of the Philippines.
How did you arrive at the art style for Neverending Nightmares, and how has that influenced or evolved in Devastated Dreams?
The art style for Neverending Nightmares was heavily influenced by Edward Gorey. As a child, I had an Edward Gorey book that both fascinated and disturbed me. I felt like that was a great match for what we set out to accomplish with Neverending Nightmares. For Devastated Dreams, I gave the artists time to try and come up with an art style with which they wanted to work. It still had to remain expressionistic to capture the mood of the game, but they really found an interesting style on their own.
Sound design is critical in establishing the desired mood for a game. What approach have you taken to give players the aural chills?
Fortunately, I have a really talented team, so I don’t have to do very much in that department. Eduardo Ortiz Frau handles the sound design, and besides making sounds for the different elements, he also makes a more abstract layer of ambience on top of all that to heighten the tension. Skyler McGlothlin (aka Nautilis) creates the haunting, droning score that fills out the atmosphere.
What creative game mechanics are you employing to elicit fear in gamers?
One of the new mechanics we’ve added in this game is a flashlight that the player can point in any direction to cut through the darkness. The limited visibility is important for creating the feeling that evil is lurking just out of your view. We haven’t developed this yet, but we also want to experiment with mechanics that help the character form a connection with her unborn child. The monsters from Filipino folklore prey on fetuses, so we want to amplify the fear the player feels when the baby is at risk.
Where is the line between satisfying storytelling, and stripping away immersion with too many details?
That is a very good question! I think it varies depending on the player and the game. For our horror games, we focus on immersion, trying to not leave you completely satisfied with the story. My hope is that stays in your brain, and continues to haunt you after the credits roll.
The tools to make video games are more accessible than ever. How does saturation in the market affect you as an indie games company specializing in horror?
The saturation means making a good game isn’t enough. There are so many brilliant indie games out there that don’t get enough attention. For Infinitap, we strive to make something completely unique that stands out in every way it possibly can. We work hard to make games that have a unique look, unlike all the other great games out there. We also want to create our own style of horror game that eschews the standard item hoarding mechanics, and focuses on immersing you into a totally terrifying world.
This isn’t your first rodeo with Kickstarter. What rewards – or early bird incentives – can backers expect to find available?
One of our favorite rewards we offered in Neverending Nightmares was alpha access. We gave backers a chance to play the levels as we made them, providing feedback and suggestions on how to improve them – basically directing our work. We are pleased to be offering that again as a reward. In addition to the standard early bird discounted copy of the game, we are offering a time limited discount on our alpha access. We think it’s a great experience for backers, as well as being helpful to the development team.
Can you give us a preview of your stretch goal ideas?
If our campaign reaches that point, our plan is to crowd source the decision-making process. We have some ideas like 4K graphics, VR, mod support, an alternate ending, and more, but we want to see what the backers are most interested in before committing to anything.