I Am Dead is about the minutiae of everyday objects. Literally. Some games have you uncovering objects and turning them over, examining them inch by inch with your invisible digital hands (think the recent Tomb Raider games, for example). I Am Dead is a little different, though, focusing on cutting apart items like they're on an operating table.
This is the basic crux of I Am Dead: take an object, a building, or even a person, and zoom in on the subject until the outer layers are peeled away, revealing the garbled mess of parts and trinkets that went into its creation. It's like a look at how the sausage is made, but the sausage in question can be anything from a toaster to an entire lighthouse, with the former revealing intricate layers of wiring and circuitry inside its metallic shell, and the latter unveiling its multiple floors, inhabitants, and furniture hidden behind its outer walls.
It's a concept equal parts wacky and inviting. In my 30-minute demo over Discord recently, designers Ricky Haggett and Richard Hogg walked me through the basic premise of the game. I Am Dead revolves around Morris, a person who—you guessed it—is recently deceased, accompanied by his dog Sparky (also dead) in exploring an island and interacting with the other ghostly spirits who, up until very recently, also lived on the island.
But there's a catch. In order for Sparky to sniff out the ghostly residents of the island, you need to find five key objects that mattered to them while they were still alive. To pinpoint said objects, you need to zoom in on the heads of living residents within a specified location—say, the lighthouse—and examine their memories of the recently deceased, scrubbing through their thoughts until you're provided with one complete image.
This image will show an object that the ghostly spirit had some attachment to while they were alive. The lighthouse keeper liked launching golf balls off the roof of the lighthouse, so it's his golf tee you're after, for example (which was conveniently hidden within the nearby golf bag). It all feels like a treasure hunt, but the treasure is everyday objects that you wouldn't normally spare a second thought to.
I'm honestly surprised how I Am Dead makes simple objects incredibly enticing with just one gameplay mechanic. Cutting away at objects is entertaining in the moment—you could be slicing up food like cabbages to reveal an adorably cartoonish worm chomping away at it—and it makes every cupboard or container a potential treasure trove of hidden goods. Peeling away the cushion on a sofa reveals a TV remote and potato chips buried within, for example, despite the fact that the sofa is situated in an old- fashioned lighthouse with not a TV in sight (a mystery for another day, perhaps).
Haggett and Hogg designed this basic premise well before they had the story concept of ghostly residents pinned down. The beginnings of I Am Dead came through the desire to peel back the covering flaps of objects like cupboards and drawers. Then the pair took it all a step further by pulling off the literal outer casings of objects to show the flesh hidden underneath. Thus came the premise of I Am Dead: the exploration of a brightly-colored island and delving into the minds of its residents and tourists, the latter of which are bird people visiting from far-off nations.
The appeal of I Am Dead is also in its comedic nature. The island might be home to your basic humans, but fish people have just started venturing out of the sea onto land for the first time over the past few years, adopting human habits like wearing clothes and eating food like toast (they bloody love toast since they can't make it underwater, naturally). It's completely silly, and I kind of love I Am Dead's for having an unapologetically crazy sense of humor.
You might know Hogg and Haggett's previous project: Wilmot's Warehouse. The lovely, weirdly fulfilling game about sorting through and arranging objects was developed during a break in I Am Dead's development, while the pair of developers were waiting to secure funding. It's not really a surprise then that both games are obsessed with making everyday, decidedly normal objects entertaining and appealing in new ways: Wilmot's Warehouse with organization, and I Am Dead with pulling back the curtain on how basic objects are constructed.
I Am Dead releases for PC and Nintendo Switch this September under the Annapurna Interactive publishing label (and it feels right at home alongside striking and outlandish games like Sayonara Wild Hearts and If Found). I Am Dead feels like it's perfectly positioning itself as an entertaining, charming adventure in the afterlife, finding fun in the everyday and normal objects you or I might take for granted.