Neverending Nightmares is horrific, repulsive and true

Caution: Some of the following content contains graphic descriptions of violent thoughts that Gilgenbach has experienced in real life. Those sensitive to such information should read with caution, and contact their nearest mental health care facilities if needed. In the US, the national suicide prevention hotline is 1-800-273-8255.

Neverending Nightmares is a "Trojan horse of sorts," independent developer Matt Gilgenbach told Joystiq at PAX Prime. At first glance, the game appears to be a stylized horror game full of genre tropes: creepy little girls, old dolls with dead eyes, haunting visions of gore and violence.

However, the truth is that Neverending Nightmares is actually an intensely personal exploration of Gilgenbach's own thoughts, intended to communicate the awful feelings someone with depression might experience. It has the potential to be a tool for empathy as much as it might elicit late-night scares.

It can be surprisingly difficult to pin down when development on a game starts. Some might consider it to be when the first line of code has been entered. Others might include pre-production planning stages and conceptualizing. For Gilgenbach, it could be said that Neverending Nightmares started when he sank into depression after his previous game, Retrograde, turned out to be "financially disastrous."

"Neverending Nightmares is, in a way, a direct reaction to Retrograde," Gilgenbach told Joystiq. He explained that when Retrograde failed to find an audience, he experienced a relapse of depression, which he had struggled with earlier in his life. "I fell back to old thought processes, and I needed to express what I was feeling. I wanted people to understand." Neverending Nightmares is meant to reflect those feelings and portray depression as the dark and awful thing Gilgenbach knew it to be.

A scene of horror from Neverending Nightmares you may be familiar with (it's shown briefly during several of the game's trailers) is one where the main character digs into his own forearm and pinches an artery between his thumb and forefinger before ripping it from his flesh and pulling on it like the loose thread off a sweater. This is an actual, intrusive thought Gilgenbach experienced during his depression.

Gilgenbach said that when he was depressed, he felt a strong need to express what he was going through and connect with others. Unfortunately, not many people can (or even want to) relate to the idea of ripping out your own veins. By framing his experiences as a horror game, Gilgenbach is connecting with people in a way that he couldn't before. "That's the amazing thing about horror, is that we can express these negative things," Gilgenbach explained.

The game itself will only take a couple of hours to beat, but there will be multiple endings and branching paths for replayability. Gilgenbach said the short playtime is because it's "tough to keep tension" for anything longer, and he doesn't want Neverending Nightmares to use the cycle of tension and release that he sees in other horror media.

Instead of making its players get to the edge of their seat and then letting them relax, Gilgenbach said Neverending Nightmares is "a continuous downward spiral" where things go from bad to worse. The situation may resolve well for the protagonist by the end, they may not. The ending, Gilgenbach said, doesn't matter as much as the journey.

He said he hopes that players will feel an incentive to "dig a little deeper" as they progress through the story, and analyze the horrific scenes that play out. "I want people to say, 'This was cool, what does it mean? What can I learn from the nightmares?'"

You'll be able to draw your conclusions later this month, when Neverending Nightmares releases simultaneously on Steam and Ouya.

[Image: Infinitap Games]