Homegrown, acclaimed talent

DREAMFEEL is an Irish-based studio headed up by Llaura McGee, who is a multi-award-winning artist, designer, and video game creator.

In addition to the multi-talented Llaura, the team is composed of a talented group of people including Liadh Young, Tim Sabo, Eve Golden Woods, and Brianna Chew. DREAMFEEL excels in creating human, affecting stories, so much so that the team has won several awards for its work.

CURTAIN, one of DREAMFEEL’s most notable works won A Maze Berlin’s Grand Prize and the Writers Guild of Ireland’s Best Game Script. If Found… has been acclaimed for its excellent narrative, receiving praise from the likes of GameSpot and USgamer. This title has also won numerous awards, further solidifying DREAMFEEL’s reputation as a studio on the rise, not just in the Irish context, but on an international level.

I came across the team by happenstance while researching what has been going on in the Irish game development space, and I couldn’t have been more delighted to come across this team of talented individuals.

I reached out to them for a chat and promptly received a courteous reply, and from there I had the pleasure to speak with the studio head, Llaura McGee.

Thanks so much for your time! First and foremost, I'd love to ask—how did DREAMFEEL come together?

It started as a pseudonym for my solo work. I released games like Curtain which won awards, and I learned a lot, but I was still quite niche and unknown. Then in 2015, I met Liadh Young through zine and art fairs in Dublin and she became the illustrator for DREAMFEEL. I wanted to work with someone from totally outside games and someone who could give us a very fresh identity. If Found... was one of our early projects and the team developed around that for the most part.

Being an Irish studio, what's your take on the current face of Irish game development?

It's nice! We're by and large a tight-knit group. I've been in Ireland making games since I returned from Scotland in 2013 so I've seen it change a lot and go through many phases. And while there's always been a pocket of game development in Ireland, it's never been really sustainable and so by and large people had to leave the country to find work in games. It's better now, many of the folks who were solo in 2013 run small studios now. At the same time, there's not a lot of recognition and support of the industry yet compared to most countries, and we still lose so many talented folks to emigration.

Personally, I would love to see more Irish representation in the game development world. Would you have any advice for Irish, would-be developers out there?

Specifically for anyone who wants to go indie, I think it's almost always vital to work in the industry first as an employee. And even outside your work keep connecting locally and internationally with other developers. You'll learn so much, it will change you, and you will build up connections and friends you'll lean on. I think also to connect with people who are roughly at the same point in their careers as you, as you'll make more meaningful friendships.

DREAMFEEL’s debut work was CURTAIN, an affecting and relatable personal story. Where did the concept for this work come from?

"Serious" games were fairly common and prevalent at the time, but I felt like these games with their obvious metaphors and neat advice and clean endings were very hollow and unreal. So the game started as a reaction to that. At the same time, I was inspired by the early alt-game stuff like Lilith/Cicada Marionette, making spooky first-person spaces.

Serious games, as noted by Llaura above, were quite commonplace in the 2010s. Large portions of gaming critics see the 2010s as a significant period for the evolution of narrative-driven titles. The likes of Telltale’s The Walking Dead, The Last of Us, and Her Story are widely regarded as champions of the strong, story-led games from the period.

Lilith/Cicada Marionette is a game creator whose style is firmly steeped in the world of the surreal. Titles such as Symbol and apartment from Lilith proved to be big sources of inspiration for Llaura’s distinctive style and help DREAMFEEL forge its own unique identity.

The art style used in CURTAIN is really distinctive, colourful, and certainly surreal. Was this a purposeful decision from the beginning to go this direction, or was it more of a happy accident of sorts?

Yes. I was always making something lo-fi and lurid colour is possibly my signature. I knew I couldn't make something super realistic, and it was gonna take huge amounts of effort to attempt that and fail, or at best succeed and look like everything else. The specific look was a case of experimenting until happy though. There was a happy accident in the kind of dripping line effect, which is achieved with a few effects playing together in a cool way, but I was intentionally trying to create something like that.

Moving on to your lauded work, If Found..., what was it like receiving critical acclaim from major publications such as GameSpot and USgamer?

Very strange but exciting and nice having Gamespot, etc review it. And love it!

I was expecting, like Curtain, that the game would be too out there for such places and indeed one major website specifically did turn down reviewing it (although their Japanese wing loved it xD).

That was maybe the exception that proves the rule, that games media, in general, is moving away from just product reviews, and it was specifically all the very personal and thoughtful reviews that meant the most.

If Found… has been praised by critics on a global scale for its exceptionally expressive and emotional style and characters. GameSpot, one of the gaming communities’ largest publications, praised it to no end, which is a huge boon for an independent Irish studio such as DREAMFEEL.

If Found... is described as a story about going home, coming out, and erasing everything. Was there some real-life inspiration behind the story of the game?

For sure. I think when writing really original material some element must come from your own life. And me and Eve both took experiences and people and details and transformed it all into the final story. At the same time I set it in Achill, Mayo rather than Donegal where I grew up because fiction makes it easier to be a little more raw and brave with what you write.

Sticking with If Found... for a moment, it really seemed to resonate with your audience as an emotional experience. Was it intentional to create such an affecting piece of work?

Yes, definitely! xD I didn't possibly expect that people would cry when I started or was making the game, but I really wanted to tell the most powerful story we could.

The game was initially designed around a feeling, that of erasure and wanting to erase yourself. Only later did I realize that Kasio was trans, and I realized the beauty of her surviving and coming through that (THANK GOD). And damn, that's REALLY emotional.

Writing a story is going on an adventure and you don't know where it's going to lead, but you gotta be curious and you gotta be brave.

I remember as a kid reverently reading about "can games make you cry" in magazines and it was this big serious question. Now no one even thinks about that, it's silly to think otherwise. I'm just glad we have happy tears as well as the sad ones!

I couldn't help but notice that DREAMFEEL is looking for a 3D artist and a writer for your next project. Are there any details you're able to share regarding this new project and what's next for dreamfeel?

It will have 3D art?? Can I say that?! haha, I would love to but it's always best to share when we're ready. When you have cool ideas you want to share them immediately, but I found doing that sometimes robs you of the excitement of executing the ideas. So we will hold it close a little longer. It's coming together so quickly though, it's exciting. It's changed a LOT even since you sent these questions.

We are going to keep making experimental games with deep stories. That's what we're most driven to make but at the same time, we consciously want to stretch ourselves in a new direction.

As time goes on and the dreamfeel catalog is fleshed out, what do you hope the legacy of the studio is? What would you want it to be remembered for?

Meaningful and unique stories. Stories that bring people together. Stories that help us the world in a different way. <3

With two award-winning titles already in the books, the future is bright for DREAMFEEL and its future projects. The Irish game development scene may not be the most populated in the world, but with studios like this rightly receiving praise for their work, there is hope that the landscape will only continue to improve.

With gaming being considered a premier platform for storytelling more and more, it’s studios like DREAMFEEL that will hopefully see major success as masters of creating gripping and affecting narratives. With an ambitious-sounding new project in the works, this is a developer that gamers all over the world should expect to see more of.

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All images were provided by DREAMFEEL for the express purpose of this article

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