It’s nice to have so many platformers at our fingertips today, but it’s rare to find one that feels fresh in your hands, so I was pleasantly surprised when I downloaded the demo for Alway the Same Nightmare (ATSN) and started mastering its hair-trigger control system. Unlike most of its predecessors and contemporaries, ATSN, with its clutch acrobatics and expectation-breaking game mechanics, allows you to go beyond the typical obstacle-clearing, run-and-gun experience found in the genre. To find out more about how they came up with such a nuanced platformer, I reached out to DreamVeloper Games — a small team of aspiring designers and programmers trying to break into the industry. Here’s what their lead designer, Abasse Fidlay, had to say.
Why did you choose to make ATSN a platformer?
We really love the genre, and ATSN is our first big project and commercial game, so we chose to make what we know best. Besides, we think platformers are the most enjoyable for us as creators and many other players because the games tend to be really fast and dynamic, which is something we appreciate. We want the player to be able to enjoy the game even if they only play 10 minutes, an hour, or the entire day!
What are some of the biggest inspirations behind ATSN?
We drew inspiration from a lot of other memorable games, both retro and recent. We borrowed aspects like run-and-gun from the Mega Man series, die-and-retry from Super Meat Boy, which is the sub-genre that best defines ATSN, and a touch of “what kills you makes you stronger” from roguelites like Rogue Legacy. On top of that, there will be a lot of references to older video games. For example, in level seven (which is available on the demo right now), we made a reference to the first Donkey Kong game on NES, and there will be a lot of easter eggs like this in the future zones.
How do you think the game sets itself apart from others in the genre?
The game is mostly a combination of a lot of elements we love from other games like those we already mentioned. Of course, we have to admit, in reality, we didn’t reinvent the wheel. However, we added a lot of different things to it, like an RPG dimension with a leveling system, a big story we want the player to sink their teeth into, and above all else, we want the player to never take anything for granted.
The game is engineered to constantly disrupt the player’s sense of ease. First, they discover the basic controls of the main character, and then the game turns everything they’ve learned on its head. There are levels which invert right and left, levels that turn black and white so the player has to memorize everything, and boss fights where the camera rotates so that it all becomes reversed. Those are just a few features and there are even more to come.
How did you come up with such fresh feeling gameplay?
Thanks for the compliment! In short, we made a simple character, Number 42, who can just sprint, jump, shoot, and dash. With these basic controls established, we are building around them to offer gameplay that feels new, tweaking what the player already knows by adding in variations to the controls and obstacles that make you use them in inventive ways. The key is to constantly break the linearity of the game.
Can you tell us a little about the backstory of ATSN?
We can’t say too much without spoiling things, but here are a few details to whet your appetite: Number 42 didn’t end up in his situation by chance, and the setting where he finds himself is so isolated from the rest of the world that not even sunlight enters it. Also, ATSN can be considered as a just one side story in a larger universe we want to create. We plan for every other game we will make in the years to come to be, either directly or indirectly, linked to it.
Who exactly is Number 42 and what happened to 1-41?
The dungeon of the game is the ultimate prison, one which no one would like to be in, and only the worst creatures (humans, monsters, etc.) are sent there. When they arrive they are assigned a number according to their order of arrival. Everything is set up to prevent them from escaping. Number 42 has a true identity, but upon entering this living hell, he loses his memory. Through the game, everything will become more clear. But will his past and what happened to the other 41 prisoners be revealed? Is it death? You’ll just have to play it and find out.
How far into the development process are you and when do you expect the game to be released?
If we had to give a percentage, we would say 35% of the development is complete. We work in the same order a player would progress through the game. Just as I write these words, we are working on the second zone of the game. What we have to do now is mostly level design since we are satisfied with the controls and main mechanics of the game. We would love it if the game gets released next year, but we can’t say a precise date because it’s still too early. Being die-and-retry, ATSN is a hard game to finetune. For instance, we’ve found ourselves having to revisit little aspects of the beginning to adjust the difficulty. Sometimes, we (or players) simply don’t like a level, so we make some changes. Every time we do things like that, it ups the delay a little bit, but we want the game to be the best it can be.
Anything else you’d like to relate to our readers?
Yes. We are all students, and our goal is to live out our passion: making video games! We started this ambitious platformer project because we really believe in it, even if we are completely new in the indie game world. We really want to add our stone to the immense structure of video game media. ATSN is our very first big project, so we are paying attention to the reviews of every player, and we intend to make the best experience we can.
ATSN’s release may be a ways off, but from what I played, it’s more than worth the wait. Watch the game’s trailer below to get a better idea of what the gameplay is like, or better yet, download the demo and try it yourself. DreamVeloper is very active on Twitter, so follow them to keep up with the game’s progress. I personally can’t wait until ATSN comes out, which is going to be sometime next year on both PC and Switch if all goes well. Keep an eye out for a review when it does.