The Dreaming Lake - Design Blog 1

Hello! My name is Beren Franklin. It is my privilege to be lead designer on The Dreaming Lake, with Derek Ledgrady as producer. Together we're leading a wonderful team of 9 developers. It’s a new and different role for me, but I am ready to meet this challenge. I am very excited and hopeful for what this team can create. Honestly, they seem to read my mind with how close their work matches my vision.

The Dreaming Lake is a first-person exploration game about memory and the passage of time. Explore this mysterious lake and attempt to understand its larger story through the memories that others left behind. In this dream-like world, certain memories have a way of lingering on objects, and can be accessed and viewed. The player accesses a memory using a mechanic called "focus" which is their basic means of interaction. Objects that have memories attached have this strange, somehow blurry appearance, and can be brought back into focus simply by holding the mouse buttons a certain way.

Small stories are told between different memories, and everything is open to interpretation. There is no large overarching story, but the various smaller arcs and fragments may imply a chaotic meaning by the context in which the player finds them. There is no beginning or end, and no correct interpretation of what it all means.

Wander around this lake through four different seasons, while trying to piece together fragmented stories as you make your way through an environment that frequently changes before you can discover what’s out there. 


I originally thought of this idea in early December, while lying awake at 5 AM. I grabbed a sketchbook and scribbled down an outline for what would become The Dreaming Lake. Before that morning, I already had this title floating around in my head and I knew I wanted to do something explorative.

The core gameplay mechanics are simplistic by design. The idea is that by keeping that core simple and effective, we will be able to deliver the best final experience to the players.


Mel Madamba is one of our 2d artists, and also our animator. One of her first tasks was to draw up some potential logos and UI designs for the game. I am particularly happy with the image of a gnarled tree in front of the lake, and I'm pretty sure our final logo is going to look something like that. She came up with some inventive, bubbly designs for the menu that would not have occurred to me, and I am actually very fond of.

We don’t have any character models or rigs made just yet, but we do have an animator who’s already proved to be skilled at visual storytelling. Mel has been drawing storyboards for memories. This means that when it comes time to animate, we will already have a plan for how memories will play out. I also asked her to use storyboards as a way to generate ideas for more memories.

Here are a few of the storyboards Mel has drawn so far. She's drawn quite a few more, and I really appreciate the subtlety and little elements of strangeness she introduces.

I have a list of memories written out, and when it came time to pick which would be the first to go in-game, I went for the one that had the most vivid image in my head. The prompt I gave the team was “two girls wearing flannels, holding cigarettes, sitting in the back of a pick-up truck”

Patrick Tambunting, our 3d artist focused on characters, delivered exactly the characters I was looking for. I seriously could not be happier with these designs. Designs 2 & 3 are my favorite, and those are two we are going with. I loved these designs right away, and I can't wait to see them fully realized!

Patrick has previously demonstrated a great ability to develop characters from concept art to 3d, so he is also handling the concept art for his characters. It is important that our characters are identifiable and have a good sense of identity, so the player can relate to them and also keep track of their lives when they appear in multiple memories.


Alex Celeste and Matthew Montalvo are our two level designers. In our first sprint, Alex showed a knack for conceptualizing levels in 2d with clean and readable maps, while Matthew has been getting more and more comfortable with sculpting terrain and blocking out in 3d. I gave them access to a build of the prototype so they could walk around, told them what I wanted from the environment, then asked them to start imagining what else they wanted to do with it. They came up with some ideas I wouldn’t have thought of, and the lake is going to provide some very enticing exploration as a result.


Our 3d artists have been hard at work creating assets and getting them ready to go in-game. I specifically asked them to create basic blockout versions of their models first, so we could get those into the hands of our level designers. This is a workflow I've used in games before, and its proven to be powerfully efficient. You don't need textured and detailed models to start composing a scene, so why wait?

Justin Wagner's first task was a set of gnarly, otherworldly trees. These things are so bizarre, and I can't wait to see them finished with branches, leaves, and textures. To accommodate our season transition system, many of the models will be made with four variants of the mesh that change depending on the season. For now, we're using simple material colors to show the differences.

Brie Parr made a set of 6 rocks in a variety of shapes, that can be rotated all sorts of ways to create quite a lot of different looks. And she followed it up with this very well done modular fence prop that gives the level designer so many options. These are complete with LODs, and are all around wonderful game assets to work with.

Patrick also got started in 3d, creating a human base mesh to use for our characters going forward. It may not look like much for now, but these will be very good to have on hand once Patrick dives into character modelling.

Mari Fong, our 2d artist, has been creating terrain textures. Here you can see a basic dirt material. Many of the colors in this environment are going to be more dreamy and imaginative, so think pink grass and leaves. But the base layer of the ground, like dirt and rock, will be more natural in appearance. Part of her work involved re-learning Substance Designer, which I know can be a bit of a beast when coming back to it after a while.


Justin Donato & Hunter Lawrence-Emmanuel are our programming squad. Justin is handling our Github and some of the major systems in the game, like season transitions and memories, while Hunter has so far worked on the player controller and a tutorial UI. Hunter provided the player controller pretty much immediately when the project started.

Memories & the focus mechanic are implemented in a very basic way at the moment, as their current forms are really the foundations of systems that will grow more complicated. Right now it's a simple matter of turning game objects on/off once the player successfully focuses on them. Later on, implementation of animation, shaders, and visual and audio effects will be involved. But for now, this is the base that we needed to get things moving.

And that wraps up our first sprint! I am truly impressed with the potential I see in our team, and their enthusiasm to make this game is refreshing.

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