At PAX East 2020, OnlySP had the chance to sit down with Davionne Gooden, the sole developer of She Dreams Elsewhere. We discussed his sound and art direction of the game, as well as his past experiences that inspired it.
OnlySP: So what I think helps the game stand out is the setting. It’s very psychedelic and I think you definitely leaned into the wackiness of the imagery. What made you want to take this approach?
Gooden: Originally, the game was in a full color aesthetic. I messed around in PhotoShop and I made everything black and white. From there, I thought it looked amazing! It had the perfect vibe of what I wanted. I went a little deeper with it, went with a limited color palette. I wanted that psychedelic and surreal atmosphere to go along with the mental health aspect of the game.
OnlySP: I want to ask about the soundtrack of the game. When I watched the trailer, the music felt like a mix of psychedelic music and hip hop. It gave me Billie Eilish vibes. Can you discuss the inspirations behind the kind of music that you included in this game?
Gooden: There are two sides to this: the dreamy part, which is composed by Mimi Page. She’s amazing! Then there is the grounded part, which has the hip hop, pop, and vocal elements. That fits with the dreams aspect, as well as the realistic characters. I just like doing the whole magical realism vibe.
OnlySP: I also want to talk about the art direction of this game. The environment of this game is very surreal, so of course, all of the enemies look very whacky. Can you describe your thought process in designing these creatures?
Gooden: It really depends on the enemies. I start with their attacks, first and foremost. I have a really weird dream with a cool enemy, so how do I incorporate that? More than anything else, how does it tie into mental health? What does this represent to the main character, Thalia and her life? Is it personal with other people, or is it a random memory from childhood?
OnlySP: So She Dreams Elsewhere is a solo venture for you. Can you describe some of the challenges you’ve had so far in making this game as a solo developer?
Gooden: I have to keep up the discipline and motivation. I’m bad at time management, especially. I’m also a huge procrastinator. It’s also hard to stay motivated because I work on it alone. I get into my head a lot, “Hey, I know you’re feeling like shit right now, but you have to keep going and pushing and put something out there!” Those are the two main things.
OnlySP: I do want to touch on Thalia and the other characters. As you can tell, they are distinctly black characters. You don’t often see black characters composed as a majority of a playable cast in most games. You’re a black creator, so was it a deliberate choice to make sure to include characters that represented yourself?
Gooden: It was just natural to me. First, I was making the game, then I was just like, “ok here’s the cast!” There wasn’t a discussion or debate. Well, I wasn’t discussing anything, it’s just me! There wasn’t a point where I said, “should [Thalia] be white or black? The development of the game went on, and more people saw the game. [Representation] was a thing that people were looking for in this game, so it was pretty motivating!
OnlySP: Kind of bouncing off the last question, do the characters’ racial identity or experience have any bearing on the story of the game at all? Or do these characters just happen to be black?
Gooden: It’s a bit of both. If you’re a person of color, it’s never truly separate. For me in this game, being black is very much a natural thing. It’s also not a throwaway, “oh hey, you’re black, ok, we’ll toss you aside.” [These characters] are natural people.
OnlySP: Now for you personally, are there any experiences throughout your life that helped shape this game the way it is now?
Gooden: Probably my time in college a little bit. “College sucks, I’m out! After one semester!” That was a big one, in terms of social life and working on the game itself. I was balancing school too.
OnlySP: So She Dreams Elsewhere is slated for release on PC and Xbox One. Are there any other platforms planned?
Gooden: Most definitely! Which ones, you’ll find out eventually, so stay tuned!
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