A Comforting Chat With the Developer of Solace Dreams
One of the greatest things about the world of horror gaming is the amount of passion it elicits from its devotees. From mods to whole games, time and again you only need to dig a little bit to find inspiring examples of horror fans putting in hours of dedication to create something unique.
One such example is Solace Dreams; a game made on the GZDoom engine that combines survival horror with Souslike boss battles and retro-style graphics, all wrapped in an utterly bonkers story about a katana-wielding high school student attempting to free her classmates from dreamscapes Persona-style. An unabashed send-up of the games that inspired its creator, Solace Dreams takes players across a plethora of uniquely-themed levels, from creepy hospitals and carnivals all the way up to deadly chess boards and pulse-pounding synth discos.
The game and a prototype remake are both available completely free and can be found at https://www.moddb.com/mods/solace-dreams. Being so bizarrely unique, we decided to reach out to the maker of this reality-hopping madness to get the lowdown on its creation.
Hi! Can you introduce yourself?
Sure! My name is Erminio Lucente; as of this interview I’m 30 years old; my family is originally from Italy, but I was born and raised in the UK. My hobbies are playing games, 3D modeling, and, on rare occasions, producing music and drawing 2D illustrations.
What was your experience prior to making Solace Dreams? Were you a professional game developer, or just a hobbyist?
There was no real previous experience; I dabbled in the arts before, but never took it seriously. Solace Dreams was my first real attempt at game development, using everything I studied prior to my advantage. Before then I was making basic Doom mods.
What were some of your inspirations for Solace Dreams? Where did the idea for making the game first come from?
Around the time of the game’s conception, I had just finished playing both Silent Hill 3 and Resident Evil 1 (two of my favorite games) and had just started playing Dark Souls for the first time. And I thought, ‘wow, wouldn’t it be cool to mix all these games together?’ So I tried to combine the atmosphere from the Silent Hill series with the survival aspects of Resident Evil and included the difficult boss battles from Dark Souls. Keep in mind, I had not planned out the game prior to making it; I mostly just improvised as I went along, incorporating ideas on the fly. That’s why a lot of aspects seem either rushed or unpolished. The game was extremely buggy on release but thankfully bug reports from players helped fix a lot of things.
What were some of the biggest challenges in making the game?
The hardest part was making the voxels. Every voxel – this includes enemies, props, items, and so on – in the game was made first as a 3D model and then converted using Ken Silverman’s POLY2VOX converter. Every frame from that 3D model had to be exported separately and sized correctly in the engine. This took hours, as some of the enemies and bosses could have up to 200 frames each. There were probably faster methods, but at the time this was the only way I knew of doing it. The second biggest challenge was optimization. Having millions of voxels in GZDoom tanked the frame rate badly, again partly due to my inexperience with the engine.
You also made a few levels for a remake of Solace Dreams: can you talk a bit about that?
Those levels were mostly the same as the original Solace Dreams, but just elaborated on more. The switch from voxels to actual 3D models allowed for areas to be much bigger now without worrying too much about lag. Again, a lot of the game was improvised; things changed and a prototype was released. With all the feedback I’ve now received from both games, I know exactly which direction to take the official remake in.
What parts of the games are you most pleased with? What do you think you could have improved?
Every aspect of both games could be improved on! Every day I’m becoming a better artist, and there are always things to improve on as you grow. I have never been entirely pleased with the outcome of both games; I went into it blind with no planning and rushed a lot of the development. In the future I plan to bring on a team of people – professional artists and musicians alike – to help produce the official remake. But if I had to pick my favorite section from both games? For the first Solace Dreams, I would choose the hospital section, because to some it would induce discomfort and that’s what I was aiming for. It also had the best boss battle in the entire game in my opinion. For the prototype remake, I would say my favorite section is the nightclub’s boss battle with Victoria; it was so fun to make and just watch people play.
Are you working on anything at the moment?
Yes! I’m currently working on a commercial title called Possest, a Hexen-inspired class-based FPS boomer shooter also made in the GZDoom engine. And another project for another team I’m working with now is called Bronze Dungeons, which borrows a lot from games like Daggerfall and the Ultima series. I someday hope to get back to Solace Dreams, but right now other commitments have pushed it aside.