Inside the secret ‘The Sandman’ video game that no one has ever heard of

Image via TGS’s The Electric Monk

Neil Gaiman’s Beloved The sand man comedy series have a moment in the sun. Ever since the first issue came out in January 1989, comic book fans have known The sand man was something special, the years that followed saw the fandom grow as more and more people bought the Collected Editions. But, with the premiere of the critically acclaimed Netflix show, the story of infinity is now loved by millions around the world.

But although The sand man encompassed comics, audiobooks, TV shows, and various spinoffs, it never ventured into the world of video games. That’s not to say there haven’t been attempts, with WadjetEyeGames’ Dave Gilbert revealing in 2015 that he had submitted a concept and test image:

But nothing ever came of it and there was never a game based on The sand man. Where is there?

The Sandman: Love and Magic

Image via TGS’s The Electric Monk

In 1984, Amstrad released the 8-bit Color Personal Computer (CPC), which was popular in European markets as an alternative to the Sinclair Spectrum and Commodore 64. By 1995, the thing was all but obsolete, with console gamers already familiarizing themselves with Sony PlayStation and PC players gear up for iD Software’s groundbreaking launch earthquake.

But even in the mid-90s, some coders were still working on the old 8-bit microcomputers. And so, in 1995 on Amstrad CPC, we had the first and so far only video game set in The Dreaming: The Sandman: Love and Magic, created in its entirety by 19-year-old Ulrich Schreitmueller (aka The Electric Monk of TGS). In this graphic text adventure, Dream and Desire clash over the stability of the dream world.

You travel through the dreams of humanity, on Earth and through the Dream to gather the knowledge necessary to put Desire in their place. Along the way, you interact with many notable characters from The sand manincluding the Endless, Hob Gadling, Fiddler’s Green, Cain, Abel, Eve and Matthew the Raven.

Love and Magic is not for everyone: even in 1995 it would have been considered archaic, playing it today requires patience, and a walkthrough is a necessity. But come with the right frame of mind and that’s about as good Sand seller game as one would hope given the circumstances of its creation. Almost all of the characters (especially Dream) sound like their comic book counterparts, despite the four-color palette, the locations are instantly recognizable, and there are some really cool Easter eggs hidden inside (you can visit the Batman dream!)

How did it happen

Image via TGS’s The Electric Monk

We spoke to Love and Magicthe creator to ask him what he thinks about discovering his game 27 years after its original release, how he came to be, what he would have done differently and his feelings about how the Netflix show adapted the books by Gayman.

Schreitmuller says The sand man the comics blew him away, praising Gaiman’s gothic aesthetic, varied art style, and writing:

“I’ve always been a fan of mythology and the wealth of references overwhelmed me. For all I recognized, there were three other things I didn’t recognize. As I said, there was no internet readily available at the time, let alone Wikipedia, so I found myself in my spare time at school reading the latest trade paperback and stopping every few pages to run to the big encyclopedia in our school library to research who Azazel or Geryon were. And it’s not just the references, it’s the whole style of writing.

There are lines that resonate with me to this day. I can recite Etrigan’s nursery rhyme “Return to your door and your duty, Squatterbloat” in its entirety. Abel’s “It’s Only Blood, Little Brother” always brings tears to my eyes, and “She…She’s Decided She Doesn’t Love Me Anymore” is simply beautiful in its grim acceptance.

Unfortunately, no one else had even heard of The sand man in his small rural town, but inspiration struck and he turned to the only computer he had access to, the Amstrad CPC (or as it was called in Germany, the Schneider CPC). He goes on to explain that:

“The game was written when I was 19. I was a shy, reclusive shut-in. I had a very close friend at school, I had a crush on a girl I actually called ‘milady I wore a long coat, a black turtleneck sweater and an Ankh necklace, and I thought I was incredibly deep, intelligent and mysterious.”

Image via TGS’s The Electric Monk

In our books, that makes Schreitmueller the perfect person to develop a Sand seller game, although the end result of his labor seems to have been primarily the simple satisfaction of creation:

“Indeed, I had produced a game in an unpopular genre, on an obsolete computer, on a marginal segment of an already shunned type of literature, in another language.”

When Love and Magic was over, he gave some copies away to some friends (at least one of them even played it!) and that could have been the end of the story. But once the Internet appeared, it was uploaded to a few Amstrad FTP sites and recognized as a late homebrew release in a system history book.

Now the game reaches a wider audience. Schreitmueller published an article about the game on The sand manand received an “overwhelming” response from fans happy and surprised that there was even a Sand seller game at all.

Adaptation The sand man like a video game

Image via TGS’s The Electric Monk

We wanted to know what it was like to tackle such a large property, especially since the characters don’t tend to engage in conflict in the traditional sense. Schreitmueller’s workaround was to not prevent the player from doing anything, just to explain why Dream wouldn’t do it at the time:

“You have to keep in mind that any time you play a being that’s essentially omnipotent, you basically have to do two things: one, you have to limit the player’s powers in some way or else you’ll have to write a sandbox-like god simulator, so instead of the game telling you “you can’t take the table” when the player tries to do so, it just talks you out of it with messages like “you don’t need to rearrange the furniture yet”.

Most contemporary developers would still struggle to develop a game with a figure as powerful as Morpheus as a player character. We asked how a Sand seller game on modern hardware might look like:

“I can’t really imagine Sand seller as something other than an interactive story. Sand seller was never action-oriented, so those genres wouldn’t fit. It might work as a roleplaying game, but since so much of Morpheus’ character is defined by the fact that he doesn’t change, I don’t really see him locked into a system where he can buff hit points, spells, and armor.

Perhaps a more realistic way to proceed would be to play the game on a character who is not Morpheus but just interacts with Infinity, but I guess part of the appeal for players is actually stepping into the shoes of the Dream Lord himself. An open-world multiplayer game where you line up with one of the Endless and do tasks for them? »

Perhaps an interactive story really is the best way to go, potentially in the style of the defunct Telltale Games or Supermassive Games. Dark Images Anthology.

The Netflix show

To wrap things up, we asked for Schreitmueller’s take on Netflix The sand man. Unsurprisingly, he’s “very, very impressed”, having followed the adaptation live as it journeyed through development hell. Would he have done something different?

“Definitely. I think all the fans would. Would the show have been better? I doubt it. For example, I was adamant before the show that Dream needs those dark eyes with stars, as well as chalk white skin. Now that I’ve seen some pictures of (incredibly good) Dream cosplayers, I realize that would have made the character way too outlandish. What works on a comic book page doesn’t work not necessarily on screen.

The same with the level of violence. Sandman started out as a horror comic, and a lot of the elements that were raw and edgy now feel like shock for shock’s sake. Yeah, I wish they’d kept the Alex Burgess “Eternal Waking” punishment sequence, but I’m glad some of the more gratuitous elements of “24 Hours” were toned down.

If you want to play The Sandman: Love and Magic this can be downloaded for Windows machines here (right click, save as) in a relatively easy to use format. We strongly recommend that you read the “Readme 2022” before starting, because if you are not used to this style of play, things will quickly become confusing.

The sand man is available to watch on Netflix now.

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