My fourth blog as theeclecticparadise was an 889 word piece arguing that it was time for another video game based on the works of 20s horror author HP Lovecraft. In that blog (which you can find here), I answer some basic questions about format and a potential developer for such a hypothetical game but today, 6 and a half months since that entry, I want to pitch to you my Lovecraftian horror game.

  1. The format- Open world: Lovecraft’s tales of cosmic horror see his protagonists travel into darkest Africa to the misty New England coast to the frozen wastes of Antarctica. While Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth did well with a more enclosed setting, I can see a Lovecraftian horror game working with an open world format, with the player character travelling the world, taking on seemingly mundane tasks and slowly discovering their link to mind-shattering cosmic horror. Even if the game was limited to a single continent, such as America, the variety of terrain and culture could certainly still work for a Lovecraftian game. Imagine Skyrim but set on Earth- a sprawling, dynamic open world with plenty to see and do.
  2. The format II- RPG: Open world and RPG go hand in hand. In my mind, there would be skills that you could funnel points into as your progress through the game. More perceptive characters have higher track and spot hidden skills while more dialogue oriented characters have extra dialogue options from putting points into academic skills such as law and history. While it wouldn’t possess the sprawling skill trees of other RPGs, but it would allow players to personalize their characters.
  3. The developer- Visceral GamesVisceral Games are the team behind the sci-fi horror Dead Space trilogy, first person shooter Battlefield Hardline and open world games based on The Godfather. Their experience in creating cosmic, incomprehensible horror and dealing with the theme of induced madness, as well as a history of well received open worlds games would make them a perfect fit. Furthermore, the Dead Space trilogy masterfully combined a variety of interior and exterior locations, meaning that Visceral would be well-equipped to build the grandiose open world I described in point one.
  4. The mechanics- Sanity, mythos & death: The incomprehensible nature of the cosmic horror humanity occasionally experiences is a key component of Lovecraft’s work. Changes in the gameplay based on what you witness over the course of a playthrough bring both originality and replayability to the sprawling open-world format I have in mind. The more horror your character witness, the more warped your gameplay becomes until you reach a point of ‘unplayablity’ when you will be given the option to ‘retire’ your character (I’ll come back to that in a moment). Similarly, the more you witness, the more aware you become of the world around you. In the tabletop RPG, Call of Cthulhu, this is known as ‘Cthulhu Mythos’ and reflects how much a character knows about the cosmic horror of the universe. This would equate to new avenues in subsequent missions, similar to how games such as Fallout 3 and Skyrim based dialogue options off speech and charisma stats. Now, both of these mechanics could lead to a character being ‘unplayable’- either the sanity penalties are just too much to contend with or you feel that your character knows too much about the world for there to be any intrigue left. This, combined with if your character dies or is incapacitated (such as being sent to prison) would form part of a retirement/permadeath system. You would have the option to retire a character and create a new one, possibly with a legacy, like in Sunless Sea. Perhaps your new character was a student or correspondent of your previous character and starts off with an increased mythos rating or maybe they were a dependent and start off with a percentage of the last character’s wealth. There would be options to go in completely fresh and create a character with no links to your previous one.
  5. The soundtrack: Depending on the time period the game was set in, a licensed soundtrack could be used in a variety of ways. Maybe there are radios that the player can switch on and listen to licensed music as well as orchestral scores and instrumentals at key points in the game. In a more modern setting, a Fallout radio system of an iPod or Walkman could allow the players to collect songs and tracks and listen to them as they complete questions. This would add another interest element as while music is comforting, it could also attract enemies or inhibit stealth skills, with music coming from headphones making it harder to track footsteps.
  6. The tools: While it may sound odd for an open-world RPG, weapons would be scarce or at least, they would affect your gameplay. Gun laws around the world are different and so while carrying a pistol in the US would not be a major problem, you may lose your tools when you travel to Europe. Equipment such as torches and forensic kits can be brought at shops and it would also allow the exploration of melee, improvised and magical weaponry.
  7. The inspiration: While there would not be a main plotline per say, the main/major quests could follow the larger Lovecraft works- At the Mountains of Madness, Call of Cthulhu, and Shadow over Innsmouth while side-quests are substantial and add meat to the game. Taking an accidental trip to the Dreamlands perhaps or running smaller interactions, rather than a plethora of fetch quests and dungeon crawls. Smaller side quests would allow for a gentler progress and give player characters a better footing when it came to the larger quests.

So that’s my pitch for a Lovecraft game- what would you want to see? Let me know!



One thought on “Ben talks video games: My Lovecraftian video game

  1. Time for a Wall O’ Text from SF! I like blog posts that dissect things in detail, btw. My biggest sadness about facebook is that we bitesize things, and facebook moves so fast we don’t have time to sit and ruminate on a single idea. I miss big long LJ posts and would happily go back to blog-form social networking were facebook not so damn dominant. Fuck it, I should start a blog. Then I can waggle my fist at the tumblrs being all “reblog and add three words” and the facebooks being all “Mmm, like like, share this but add nothing.”

    One long topic for me. The problem I’d have with a big Lovecraftian game is that I already know a lot of the mythos, both Lovecraft’s own and the extended canon. It’s a lot less fun to delve into a mystery when you, the player, already have the knowledge required to say “Ah, Chaugnar Faugn cult. Got it.” ahead of the Protagonist even clocking that there *is* a cult behind this strange trail of disappearances.

    Yes, to some extent, the player knows they’re playing a game of investigative horror. Yes, to some extent you have to know that there’s going to be eldritch gribbling behind the disappearances. However, to be able to take a few clues and then put names and traits and knowledge to unknowable faces robs it of some of the horror.

    The mythos has a rich set of creatures and gods to choose from, but there are a few problems. One, there are going to be people (hi!) who know too much and who won’t be surprised even by Yig or the Lloigor. Two, if you set it explicitly in the Mythos, people expect Big Cthulhu or one of the other movie poster monsters. If Nyarlathotep is in it, the expectation will be that the Bloody Tongue manifestation will tower over our nightmares.

    If this game is set in a new mythos, something that keeps hold of the core themes that drove Lovecraft’s fear of just about everything, but don’t take any of the extant mythos, that lets it get rid of all those problems. I loved Dark Corners of the Earth, despite its flaws, and playing through a lovingly rendered game version of the Shadow over Innsmouth was a joy (but the caverns of the flying polyps were a lot less neat, and ray-gunning hydra was pants), but if a game were to be all of the mythos in a world I could slowly explore and die in over and over, rather than a well-made set piece, I’d like to not know what all the discoveries will be beforehand.

    I’m going to discuss the latest Star Wars movie and the fact that were was a major spoiler moment, but I am not going to give that spoiler, just in case anyone hasn’t seen it. I’m using Star Wars because it’s a good example of a fully-explored fandom.

    I went into The Force Awakens knowing that [spoiler moment] happens. You know the one I mean. However, I was not spoiled on the buildup to it, the character interactions, the new factions, the changes in technology or setting, etc. The First Order was interesting because they’re building on what came before. Kylo Ren is interesting to watch unfold as a *new* mask-wearing Sith villain whose psychology has not been fully explored by decades of people dissecting the movies and trying to make better of the bits we don’t like (see: lovecraft’s massive racism) while keeping the stuff we do. The movie did a good job of nodding to all the things that die-hard fans would squee over, and also nodding to things that those who just think they’re a nice movie to watch would go “Hey, I know that! It’s a cameo from that guy!”

    However, Old Gods do not just up and vanish. We can’t roll the clock forward thirty years and set a New Mythos Game in an era when Cthulhu and Hastur and Nyarlathotep and the Dagon Cult are no more, but human society is still one we recognise, because those gods are meant to outlive us, and probably end us. We can, however, nod to them.

    Hell, we can set a game in the modern day, or the 90s, or whatever, exactly as-is. The Mythos can be the product of a fragile man’s psyche spilling terror onto paper in-game. People can dismiss the ravings of our protagonist as simply the products of a slightly crazy lovecraft fan.


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