LYRA SHILLABEER Level, World, Narrative and Graphic Designer

Dream Game

Explore the bedroom of a depressed student in this 3D environmental storytelling piece, which is part of a larger game design for a dream exploration game. While this prototype only consists of one room with basic movement controls, I was originally planning on creating several dream environments which would provide more opportunities for environmental storytelling. The project was inspired by other dream exploration games such as Yume Nikki, LSD Dream Emulator and 21: The World.

This project was made with Unreal Engine, and I made every asset on my own using Blender for modelling and a combination of Substance Painter and Clip Studio Paint for texturing.

Download Prototype

Pre Production

I figured that for me to tell a story with a dream, I needed something which was troubling the main chararacter which could be shown in the abstract and surreal dream worlds. I didn't want to go with death, rape or gender identity, since all of those ideas have been explored frequently in similar games, so I decided upon toxic friendships, an issue that was troubling me a lot around the start of this project.

I started this project by drawing concept art for an area of the dream world where the player must climb a staircase where every step of the staircase is a message in a conversation. To tie this in with the game's themes, the conversation would be the main character attempting and failing to confront their friend.

As the player climbed the staircase, the steps would start shaking more and more the further up they went, representing the character's anxiety, until the staircase collapses as they give up sending the final message. The player would then fall into a black void, where the ground is an inch-deep lake filled with half buried messages bubbles, each of which representing a failed confrontation attempt.

A dream world containing a staircase where each step represents a message in a toxic conversation, and a lake where every failed message has fallen

I figured that a key theme I wanted to portray in the dream worlds was "Instability", since the main character feels emotionally unstable. With this in mind, I drew up concept art for another area: A world made of rolling hills made of checkerboard tiles. Underneath each hill would be a writhing mass of tentacles, and some areas would have mini platforming segments with tiles held up by the tentacles. Instability would come into play with the fact that the tiles would sway back and forth or up and down as the tentacles move.

The sky would also have a large red outline of an eye watching down on the player. I decided I wanted to utilise eye motifs to try and represent the main character's anxiety, and fear of being judged by other people

Another idea I drew concept art for was a transition space between two areas. The player would pass through a freestanding door and come out onto a rickity, unstable bridge across a chasm. Despite the door being freestanding on one side, on this side of the door there would be a large concrete wall surrounding it. I wasn't sure how I would be able to program this, but I figured I could research the technology behind the portals in Portal and Antichamber.

Concept art for the tentacle world and a transition space

As well as these areas, which I had concepted, there were some other areas which I didn't have the time to concept: A subway train filled with looming figures, each one with a scribbled out face, to represent the main character's social anxiety. A beach with a playset, representing an area where the main character and their toxic friend used to play and have fun before things went bad. And finally, the school that the two characters attended, which would have angry messages spraypainted onto the walls.

Bedroom Designs

I wanted the main character's bedroom to be cramped and depressing, and I wanted it to be messy to represent the main character's bad mental health. After modelling the scene, I realised that the bedroom felt way too spacious, and a lot of the furniture felt disproportionate when compared to the size of the room and the doors. Because of this, I decided to draw a new sketch and recreate the room using the assets I had made, with the intention of making it as cramped as possible.

The bedroom's original design, and the new design

Bedroom Creation

I started texturing the bedroom using a combination of Blender and Clip Studio Paint: I would start by drawing the rough outlines using Blender's texture painting tools, then used CSP to draw the finalised version. While I definitely miss the greater control over my art that CSP offered me, this took way too long and was incredibly tedious, since there was no live preview I could use to make sure everything lined up correctly.

I ended up texturing the majority of the scene using Substance Painter. As well as the added convenience that the live preview offered me, I figured it would be very useful as a designer to learn the pipelines and toolsets that other disciplines use, so I can have an easier time communicating with them. Because of this, I went outside of my comfort zone and learnt the basics of Substance Painter.

Environmental Storytelling

Below are my thoughts on the pieces of environmental storytelling within this environment, based on the labelled image on the right

1) Dirty Clothes: I felt like the easiest way to demonstrate the main character's depression was to have an incredibly messy room, so I wanted to have a pile of dirty clothes on the floor, but due to scope constraints I only ended up drawing a few clothes instead. If I end up expanding on this project I will add clothing piles.

2) Messy Desk: Another idea I had was for the main character's desk to be covered in dirty dishes, to show they doesn't have the mental energy to clean them up. To try and make this point more obvious I also drew mould growing in the mugs. I also added medication bottles to the desk as well to further imply that the character has bad mental health.

3) Cabinet: To demonstrate the toxic friendship between the two characters, I included a text converstation on the main character's phone, where they failed to confront their toxic friend, which I would have originally included in more depth in the staircase segment of the game if it was still within scope. The character's dream diary is also on top of the cabinet, which shows they are having nightmares.

4) Waste Bin: To further imply issues with the friendship, I included a photo of the two friends in a waste bin, with the face of the toxic friend ripped out of the photo.

In the bookshelf, I included 2 books "Dealing with Depression" and "Toxic Friendships and how to End Them", which were both placed in strategic positions to make the player more likely to notice them. These also cast a light into the main character's mental health and toxic friendship. I also used this as an opportunity to include a dead plant, which also shows the main character's lack of willpower to keep their room clean


I think this project was valuable for learning about some of the techniques game artists use, which will be helpful when communicating with them in future. Additionally, it also served as great practice for my environmental storytelling skills. I definitely wish I had had the time to create several dream worlds, but due to scope issues I had to leave them out in favour of polishing the bedroom.

If I was to expand upon this project I would add more clutter to the room, such as a bigger pile of clothes and food wrappers. I would then add the dream worlds that I wanted to originally add, starting with the message staircase.