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Oneiric Gardens - Windows, Linux, Mac OS (2014)

by Sam Derboo - October 10, 2014

Maybe one of the toughest challenges for interactive programs that seek to bend and extend our concept of what constitutes a "game" is the problem of managing expectations. Even back when text adventures where the hot new thing in interactive storytelling, they were faced with an audience that didn't intuitively understand why they couldn't just type anything to make it happen. Now it is the other way round - these programs are born into a world that understands games. This new audience sees a mechanic and immediately jumps to assumptions, conclusions and guesses what might be done with it. The new genre of "just walking" games needs to find a way to avoid utter disappointment when the answer is "nothing". That's where visual novels might be ahead of them: In a textbox-driven visual novel, it becomes clear immediately what can and what cannot be done (the question over the amount of choices for the player notwithstanding), but the more a purely presentational game makes use of the tools of a world simulation, the more it is confronted with these questions.

Oneiric Gardens seems like an ideal reference to exemplify the issue: Exploring a set of dreamlike rooms from a first person perspective, you encounter many objects that can be interacted with. Some spit out cryptic text messages - am I here to decipher them? What do I do when I do? In a video store the "horror movie" image that runs on a TV can be changed by interacting with the shelves - is there a way to somehow make it match to the image on the other TV in a nearby room? Does that mean anything? The player avatar can jump, but outside of that one room full of bouncing cubes, the jumping height is just barely too low to jump onto the many objects that look like they might be platforms - there lies something deeply unsatisfactory within these hints of interactivity.

Oneiric Gardens (Windows)

And yet there are the lingering thoughts about the possibility that it might all be part of the plan - Lilith Zone introduces Oneiric Gardens as a "series of chambers drawing from half-remembered spaces, feelings" the game appears to be meant as a dreamlike experience. Dreams in themselves are rarely satisfying and often defined by a feeling of lacking agency, after all. Its closest relative is LSD: Dream Emulator, although there is certainly more going on in the PlayStation cult classic.

The reference point for much of the game's imagery is likewise mid-1990s low definition 3D graphics. Textures are monotonous and pixelated. Many objects and characters are static 2D stand-up displays, only a lonely giant slug crawls along a cave as animated 3D model. The technology is used just as dreamlike-incoherently as the sudden changes in scenery as the player traverses from room to room - eventually one happens upon a teleporter that leads to an open archipelago, with stunning reflections on the ocean surface. The player can mount a surfboard, whereupon the game switches to a third person view, with a little black pixel man as player avatar. At that point any kind of immersion that might have taken place is gone. But since Oneiric Gardens can be downloaded for free, it can afford to be just an awkward little unpolished experiment.

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Quick Info:

Developer:

  • Lilith Zone

Designer:

  • Lilith

Genre:

Theme:

Type:

  • Free

Oneiric Gardens (Windows)

Oneiric Gardens (Windows)

Oneiric Gardens (Windows)




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