We spoke with the creators of Sinfeld Chronicles to figure out what the hell is going on with this game, which is basically Silent Hill in the Seinfeld universe. Sinfeld’s rendering of Jerry’s apartment. Somehow, from this angle, with no one inside, it’s actually really scary. by Dom Nero via Esquire Remember the early days of YouTube? Before all the ads and sponsored content, when you […]
We spoke with the creators of Sinfeld Chronicles to figure out what the hell is going on with this game, which is basically Silent Hill in the Seinfeld universe.
Sinfeld’s rendering of Jerry’s apartment. Somehow, from this angle, with no one inside, it’s actually really scary.
by Dom Nero via Esquire
Remember the early days of YouTube? Before all the ads and sponsored content, when you could start on a video of a dude falling off a trampoline and end up on something brilliant (and insane) like “Yummy Yummy Pizza” by Tonetta? Today, because of streaming television, there’s really no need for me to go cave diving on YouTube anymore. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss that novel joy of exploring uncharted—and strange—frontiers on the internet with friends. A few weeks ago, I got to recapture that old feeling, thanks to a game called Sinfeld Chronicles on Dreams for PS4.
Sinfeld Chronicles is a horror game set in the Seinfeld universe. You play as Donathan, an original character who claims to be Jerry Seinfeld’s nephew. He’s trapped in his uncle’s apartment building, alone—and he’s very scared. Something bad is happening in the Upper West Side. There’s a demon floating in the hallway. Kramer’s apartment has a haunted little doll inside it with a knife (Mr. Marbles!). Dead FBI agents lie in Jerry’s bathroom, and the world outside Jerry’s apartment near Monk’s diner is, well…I won’t ruin it for you.
Sinfeld was built completely on Dreams for PS4. Released in mid-February, Dreams is a video game that gives players the tools to create their own video games and then share them for anyone to play for free (if you own Dreams and an internet-connected PS4). Unlike make-your-own-game games like Rollercoaster Tycoon or Super Mario Maker, Media Molecule’s new title doesn’t do the work for you. If you want to build a house, you can’t just pick from a few templates. You have to make the walls yourself, texture them, paint them, and find a place for a door. This degree of control is unprecedented. And because you can really do anything—and everything—we’re finally seeing what video games look like when they’re made by players, not development studios.
Of course, like Sinfeld, the games on Dreams are every bit as forward-thinking and rambunctious as you’d expect. The Dreamiverse is full of mischievous little shit posts like Wario Dies in a Car Accident (legitimately funny), but I’ve found some stunning experiments like Sonic Dreams Adventure Zero, an unauthorized Sonic platformer that actually manages to get the 3D speed thing right in a way that Sega hasn’t really achieved yet.
But for my money, Sinfeld is the game to play on Dreams. I tracked down the creators of Sinfeld because, honestly, I just wanted to know why this thing exists. Turns out, the game is being developed by Austin and Colton Stock, the two brothers behind Rare Bird Interactive. They’re the outfit who made Lil’ Stevie Wanders, a bizarre animated web show that came out of the Channel 101 network (co-founded by Dan Harmon of Rick and Morty fame). “People always ask us, ‘how did you come up with this?’” Austin, the L.A.-based director and animator who voices Donathan, told me (fun fact: this guy was the video editor on Titanic 2). “We watched Seinfeld pretty much all the time. Since we’re Canadian, we’d have to drive up in an RV to Edmonton, and we would collect box sets of the DVDs, and we would watch the same episode over and over again.” He says Seinfeld is ingrained in their D.N.A.
The outside world in Sinfeld is like something out of The Shining.
But just being fans of a snarky ‘90s sitcom doesn’t really explain how a game like Sinfeld came to be. Like that Tonetta video I mentioned earlier, there’s something strikingly dark about it. In one sequence, you’re forced to perform stand up for a vacant studio audience, and if you tell the wrong jokes, you die. In another, a disembodied voice guides you through the halls from the speaker on your controller. It also implies that Kramer went on a murderous rampage in the apartment building. (As of now, there’s no real “point” to the game other than exploration, but the guys told me there’s a lot more to come.)
“We’re huge fans of Hideo Kojima,” Austin says. The game is obviously influenced by Kojima’s Silent Hill spinoff title, P.T., where players wander around haunted passageways in the first person with a flashlight. “When [Kojima] made P.T., my first thought was, ‘Oh, this would be perfect for Seinfeld.’ There’s an apartment, there’s a hallway, it’s an entire playground.” Austin says the built-in awareness—and curiosity—we have for this place makes for a perfect video game setting. He’s right. I’ve always wanted to know what the inside of Kramer’s apartment looks like. What the hell is he hiding in there? A haunted doll, apparently. I almost wish I hadn’t looked.
Colton, the other half of Rare Bird, studied game design and programming along with film at USC. Working mainly in the Unreal Engine, a pretty ubiquitous tool for game developers these days, Colton said the Dreams toolkit came easy to him. Both of the guys have backgrounds in game development, animation, and film—they’re currently working with folks at Adult Swim on a full-fledged Lil’ Stevie series. But you don’t need a degree in game design, a background in visual storytelling, or anything, really, to build stuff on Dreams. “I think that companies need to look at what Dreams is doing and see that if you make a user interface that’s easy to use and fun to use, people will gravitate around it and they’ll actually want to use it,” Colton says.
I would not recommend going into the bathroom at Monk’s diner.
When I first tried out some Dream Creation of my own, I found the process a little overwhelming—especially because it’s all done on a PS4 controller, no keyboard or mouse allowed. But Colton says, once you customize your settings a bit, things are smooth sailing. “At first I thought it’d be insane to work a program like that with a controller,” he told me. “But what’s really cool is I can go from flying around the level to clicking and typing things in without using my hands and thumbs too much. I can do a lot with the controller.” And most importantly, he says Dreams unlocks game development tools for players at less than a tenth of the normal price. “If you want to get a decent computer [for game design] that will last you the next five to 10 years, it’s about $3,000 when it’s all said and done.” Dreams isn’t even a full price video game. It’s $40.
The guys behind Sinfeld said they realized the potential for Dreams very early on. “It’s going to be a great stepping stone for people who are getting into programming or learning logic,” Austin told me. “The idea of opening a door was so daunting to me. But when I cracked open the logic it was like, ‘Oh, I get it. Player walks into trigger zone, presses square, and this happens.’ It teaches you the basic language of programming. If you start with Dreams as a kid, you could easily transition into Unreal Engine.” Apparently, the feeling of the early days of YouTube isn’t just experienced by the audience. Austin said Dreams reminds him of the “ground floor of YouTube,” those blissful few years when creators were flocking to the site to share their creativity just for the love of it. “Now,” Austin says, “we have a way for us to express our love for games.”
In the case of Rare Bird, that love manifests as the truly deranged Sinfeld Chronicles. I mean it when I say the game, which Austin and Colton told me will be periodically updated indefinitely (they’re adding combat! a story line! Ghostbusters stuff!) is already a Game of the Year contender for me. And Rare Bird is fundraising for a full-on interactive horror comedy game made on the Unreal Engine called “New York Simulator The Game: 1994 Edition.” Who knew wandering the halls of Jerry Seinfeld’s apartment could make for such a horrifying video game. And we haven’t even gotten the chance to visit Newman’s place yet.
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