Among The Sleep: From Controversy To Kickstarter
How often does a game inspire a deluge of conjecture based on a single trailer? And how often does a game without a release date create swaths of unfounded controversy? If you are stumped by these quandaries, you’re now in fine company with the development team at Krillbite Studio.
Adrian Husby and his twelve-person team at Krillbite Studio have created a unique game called Among The Sleep, a first-person exploratory game with horror-movie undertones in which you play as a toddler. In a recent conversation, Husby handily dismisses the game’s critics while expounding on the game’s vision and the future of our beloved medium.
While the concept of using a child protagonist is inventive and interesting, the choice hasn’t come without problems. The ensuing conversation from that single trailer was so irksome that the team published an extraordinary blog post defending their use of a toddler protagonist by citing works in television and cinema that ostensibly do the same:
“…provoking a reaction in the audience is very often a noble goal. Games are no different. The way it’s presented should be our gauge of quality and integrity, not just the category of the content alone.”
Having launched a brand new Kickstarter campaign to fuel the home stretch of development, its obvious the criticism never made the studio want to change course on development. But that’s partly because the team doesn’t find the game controversial in the least.
“We’ve always had a strong vision of the final product,” said Husby.”It’s been both entertaining and interesting to read around the web, on forums and comments, etc. Because we’ve revealed so little of the game until now, there are many different expectations about what the game will be.”
The next question ultimately becomes one of inspiration. Their idea to use a toddler was a simple design choice, but how do you make it believable? It’s not like there are generations of games where the first-person point of view is only inches off the ground.
“We’ve done quite a bit of research by reading books and consulting people of competence within the field of child psychology and development,” Husby said. “But what’s given me, personally, the most relevant insight into a child’s mind was the book The Baby In The Mirror, where psychologist Charles Fernyhough warmly describes the first three years of his daughter’s life. It really changed how I viewed Among The Sleep by really placing me in the head of a child.”
“But even though all this research provides inspiration and context,” Husby added, “we have to remember that we’re making a game for adults, so we have to deal with adult interest, motivations, and fear as well.”
Husby also noted that Among The Sleep has “very little in common” with other horror titles, but understands players will still make the comparison. Whereas some of the more genre-defining horror titles have relied on gore and cheap scare tactics, Among The Sleep relies instead on atmosphere and exploration to drive immersion.
Getting the right feel in a game like this takes no small amount of iteration, and when asked about some of the different detours the development has taken, Husby relayed a remarkable story about the effort to give the game action and role-playing elements. He said that several months passed while they tried to include things like magic spells “before we remembered we were actually making a passive horror game.”
Detours aside, the overall development of Among The Sleep has been rich in milestones and triumphs. Husby identified one breakthrough moment when both the sound and visuals finally came together.
“Because atmosphere and immersion are so crucial for the experience and so easily broken,” Husby said, “it has been challenging to envision the end product before we reached this late stage in development.”
The team at Krillbite has also been bolstered by the support of fans eager to try something new. Husby said, “A recent experience that was incredibly rewarding was when we presented the game at an expo in November. It turned out people had travelled there and bought tickets – exclusively to try Among The Sleep for a few minutes! It became very clear that we could really reach out and provide something to people.”
Some see Among The Sleep’s use of a child protagonist and question the motive of essentially placing a child in harm’s way. The aforementioned blog post rebuts these ideas, and again, makes several salient points about the use of children in similar ways (and to similar effect) in television and movies. Perhaps people are drawing a line in the sand over the interactive nature of the medium, but Husby sees it all as a matter of perspective.
“I think this is a question about time, and then equally about the people and the games,” Husby said. “For example, everyone alive today has a personal and life-lasting relationship with movies, so even though content in one movie might be reprehensible, people know better than to criticize the medium as a whole.
“The day when all of us have grown up with video games, everyone will know that there is more to them than Call of Duty.”
“The games are also relevant,” Husby continued, “because when a medium gradually becomes more defined with time, what is important shifts. I think in the youth of a medium, things revolve much more around form and technique. But when all that has been widely covered in the next fifty years, we’ll direct our attention more towards the content.
“Today, many people would not accept ‘it’s a game about grief and letting go’ as an adequate description of a game. Replace that game with a movie, and it suddenly sounds very familiar.”