By Nate Leese
“Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn
In his house at R’lyeh, dead Cthulu waits dreaming”
-H.P. Lovecraft, “The Call of Cthulhu”
H.P. Lovecraft was an early 20th century fiction writer known for his horror, “weird fiction,” and sci-fi/fantasy stories as well as the literary philosophy “Cosmic Horror.” Although relatively unknown during his time, today his work has influenced many fiction writers such as Neil Gaiman, Stephen King and Alan Moore (naming a few among many), along with different forms of artistic expression and niche culture.
A new art form has arisen from this digital age that has been shaping youth culture and pushing the boundaries of how we interact with digital content for several decades. Sunday afternoon I met with Old-Ones Studios, a team of digital wizards from Seattle Central to discuss a journey that began several months ago to create “Taken,” a rogue-like indie video game influenced by Lovecraftian literature.
We arrived at Westlake plaza food court and sat down while a light jazz melody of piano and flute set the scene, surrounded by too many of the same American-Chinese food stalls. Chris, the studio owner and creative producer preached his passion for the project while I listened and hoped he wouldn’t go too far down the rabbit hole of complex digital jargon. To say the least, the environment was quite strange, in true Lovecraftian fashion.
Chris spoke throughout most of the interview while Cody, assistant art director and Bonn, Lead programmer, were also with us sharing their view and background. Those not with us were Xena-Lead Art Director, Ethan-assistant producer/programmer, Joe-administration/public relations and Nick-classical soundtrack composer.
After years of brainstorming with his long time friend and group member Ethan, Chris began to write it all down and search for group members to begin early development. “One day I sat down and started writing everything out and got in touch with a bunch of friends.” He continued, “Everyone is working on something that is not necessarily there primary talent, but its related so everyone is stretching their knowledge and growing as technical professionals on this project, this is good for work experience in general.”
Chris pulls out the Necronomicon-The best weird tales of HP Lovecraft, a giant leather bound with sketches and maps embedded amongst the stories. “Stuff like this really helps because if there is ever a question in design, what does it say in the book. In the Lord of the Rings Behind the making, Ian McKellen says anytime Peter Jackson argued with him, ‘its in the fucking novel,’ and that’s how it is. So we do stuff like that, I can incorporate a geographical detail, and that just gives us a stronger universe and a stronger fiction, people who are into Lovecraft like that…In Lovecraft there is this idea that the things that normally exist become corrupted and twisted and evil and eventually monstrous. Lovecraft is all about the mutation of what you know. That is a huge driving force in how you level up in the story, that actually plays into the game play.”
“What are Rogue-likes?” I asked. Chris replied, “The game type was invented in the 70’s and it hasn’t been very modernized at all with the exception of a couple of titles that no one knows about. So what we are really doing is making a modernized almost art-house version of a game from the 80’s.” The game from the 80’s that built the genre “rogue-like” is called Rogue, its ranked number six printed in an article of “Ten Greatest PC Games ever,” via PC World. The piece states, “Nearly every dungeon hack-and-slash and every overhead dungeon crawl RPG ultimately derives from Rogue.” Recent commercial games such as Diablo are not Rogue-Likes but rather RPG’s (or a similar genre) that were influenced by Rogue. Rogue-likes are generally characterized by restarting the game when you die, complete randomization of everything and turn-based movement. Chris continued, “Most rogue-likes don’t have a story and that’s where we are bringing it forward, our game is very heavily story driven. So that’s why it’s almost not a rogue-like, it’s very untraditional. Also rogue-likes are very hard because its random, your not guaranteed to be able to make it through. If I were to make you restart the story and before you beat it you played it 100 times would you care how it ended?”
I answered with a simple, “No.”
“We don’t make you start the whole game over, so that’s where we are bringing it forward. Instead of that there are experience penalties, you start the level you are on over, minus some experience…here its more of a controlled experience.”
One avenue they plan to explore is Steam, a company that dominates the digital distribution market (basically a company that sells digital copies of games and software products) and any hardcore gamer out there has Steam products on their “play regularly” list. Created by Valve Corporation in 2003, a company that brought us masterpiece franchises such as Counter-Strike, Half-Life, and Portal. “There’s all sorts of interesting charts that if you have a ten dollar game and you sell it for three dollars, you might only be making a third of the money but your selling 15 times the games you normally would. That’s why the app stores are a race to the bottom. With the rare exception the only games that sell on mobile these days are free with in-game currency or two dollars or less. So that’s why we like the digital distribution model.”
What really makes Steam so useful for independent developers is the recently initiated Steam Greenlight. After a 100-dollar fee you can upload a game as early access to sell before it’s actually a Steam product, then the public community votes. Steam works hard to support its well-selected products and interact with users in a progressive fashion, this approach has provided them with a loyal following of gamers and creators alike.
“I remember one time I had a ten email chain conversation with Gabe Newell (Co-founder of Valve) about when a chicken paddy changes from a piece of fried chicken to a chicken paddy and we determined it was the shape in the sandwich. The guy who invented half-life, left for dead, all that good stuff, had a ten-email chain with me about the difference between fried chicken and a chicken paddy. He’s a cool guy, he answers his emails no matter what.”
Gaining recognition in the Indie gaming scene is a tough shell to crack especially in a world that releases a bazillion games and even more game apps for phones each year, but it’s refreshing to see young faces jumping into the deep end with an established passion that drives their unique concept.
You can find contacts, game info/release dates and a preview of the soundtrack also Facebook and twitter links at their Indie go-go (kickstarter-ish) site.