My Favourite Art Style: Neverending Nightmares

As far as horror games go, Neverending Nightmares’ [official site] grainy, monochromatic animations set the perfect scene. The sketchy, hand-drawn shadows that guard its borders create an enduring sense of confinement, and the splashes of colour which dance their way into certain frames – stained glass windows, orange candlelight, radiant pink pocket flowers, and, of course, streams of crimson blood – serve to accentuate the perpetual darkness beyond, and the evils that often lie within.

Yet it’s the message that lies beneath this obvious visual veneer that makes Neverending Nightmares’ art style most interesting. The game’s creator, Matt Gilgenbach, has long suffered from obsessive compulsive disorder and has spoken quite openly in the past about how his own personal depressive tendencies are reflected in its aesthetics. Neverending Nightmares is a game that holds a mirror to mental illness by creating demonic manifestations of Gilgenbach’s innermost feelings, and as the player delves deeper into its narrative, the metaphorical monsters that protagonist Thomas Smith must face get progressively more terrifying.

Smith is eventually seen self-harming and, while portrayed in the game’s animated style, it is harrowing. When I spoke to Gilgenbach not long after Neverending Nightmares’ release in 2014, he told me this approach was taken to both create something true to his experiences – he often suffered graphic visions of a similar nature – and also to capture a bleak, oppressive mood within a world that’s forever closing in on the player.

Neverending Nightmares’ art style can be enjoyed without this prior knowledge on a superficial level – for it is wonderful – but knowing this allows for appreciation on a deeper level; it reflects the creator’s personal struggles up until this particular stage in his life. Equally, approaching the game’s art style with such little restraint has not only helped Gilgenbach address his own feelings, but has also helped initiate a discourse around issues of mental health and how well placed videogames are as a persuasive medium in tackling such important, complex themes. This is undoubtedly a good thing.

This post was originally published to the RPS Supporter Program.

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8 Comments

  1. unraveler says:

    This game have one of the most creepiest soundtracks I ever heard!

  2. Tmoore says:

    If anyone is interested in this art style, themes or general vibe – they really need to explore ‘s body of work. Not to denigrate Gilgenbach’s work and ideas, which are excellent, but he does borrow heavily from Gorey.

    • Tmoore says:

      obviously I don’t know how to use the markup here… but the above reference is to Edward Gorey.

  3. laotze says:

    Beautiful game. The first 30 minutes were some of the most haunting and memorable horror I’ve ever experienced. It’s a shame it kind of falls to pieces after that – the last hour and a half or so are a tedious slog through what feel like filler pieces (especially the terrible stealth bits) attempting to stretch the concept out to a “feature length” title. The game didn’t really need more than half an hour to tell its story and let the player fully experience its aesthetic anyway.

  4. Collieuk says:

    I played this for the first time a few nights back. Once you get past the opening half hour of fantastically creepy atmosphere and the great art style, you end up with a slightly tedious stealth-like game which betrays the otherwise great and unique setting. Still a game worth playing, just a shame it’s not more fun (plus the ending I got was abrupt and unsatisfying).

  5. Buggery says:

    As other people have said: neat art style, shame the game is tedious and pointless.

  6. Unsheep says:

    It’s definitely a unique style, which is very important if you want your game to stand out. There’s always something special with hand-drawn designs like that.

    Personally I don’t find it appealing though, my favourite art style is the isometric 2D style.

  7. milligna says:

    It’s great stuff, but none of those illustrations are grainy. Not quite the word you were looking for!