“I can’t say for sure what it is, but something isn’t right here. I can’t turn back now, not knowing what it is that puts me off so, but I fear that its discovery will undoubtedly end in tragedy.”
What is Project Dunwich?
Project Dunwich is the new game in development by Electric Horse Software. Inspired by the works of H. P. Lovecraft, Project Dunwich is a horror game in the metroidvania style, with elements of stealth filling the role of conflict resolution, instead of the traditional forms of combat. You will take on the role of an investigative reporter, hired to look into the disappearance of a small child last seen near a remote town just outside of city limits. While its inhabitants swear they’ve never seen the child, there is much more going on in the desolate town than meets the eye. Explore a town filled with hostile inhabitants, sneak past mobs of unsettling villagers and try to discover what happened to the lost child, without succumbing to the same fate yourself. Project Dunwich will not be the final name of the game, it’s simply a placeholder to reference the project until a suitable name is selected.
How Will it Play?
The core idea of the game comes from the chase scene in The Shadow Over Innsmouth. I wanted to recreate the feeling of running for your life from a horde of terrifying inhuman creatures bent on apprehending you for some unknown yet undoubtedly sinister purpose. Running for your life makes for a great story, but is hardly as compelling as a game. I want to create the feeling of terror and helplessness that story conveys, but to do so in a game that is also fun to play requires some adjustments. A single chase scene doesn’t provide enough engagement to make an entire game. Instead, you will be running headlong into danger and then attempting to escape again. The best way to do this while retaining the feeling of being lost and alone, is with lots of exploration and backtracking. This is where the metroidvania style comes in.
With most metroidvania games, your progress is hindered by countless minor enemies. You can happily mow these creatures down, providing a bit of challenge to add engagement to the act of exploring, without turning the focus toward combat. Since this is a horror game, feeling powerful and slaughtering countless easy-to-kill enemies doesn’t fit. This is where the stealth aspect comes in. Instead of blasting your way through screen after screen of bats that go down in one hit, you will be sneaking and dodging your way through a town filled with creatures that don’t want you around. To keep this interesting you will have a slew of abilities that increase your stealth capability, but defeating your antagonists is not on the table.
Running away seems to fit pretty nicely as the main mechanic in a horror game, and while you will get better at it as you progress through the story, the threat around you will never diminish. As you backtrack, things will be easier, but only in that you can move through the map a bit better, or you may have some new tools to distract or mislead your enemies. The penalty for being caught will never diminish. Death would be too harsh, and would really break the feeling of the game, so with another nod to The Shadow Over Innsmouth you will instead be dumped on the outskirts of the town (or somewhere else equally inconvenient depending on where you were caught). This may be disorienting at times, as you won’t always know where you are when you wake, and it may not always be somewhere you’ve been, but that only adds to the feel.
Where Will it Take Place?
One of the biggest pitfalls of the horror genre, and of exploration games, is that there is very little replay value. Once you know what creepy things are around what corners, they lose much of their impact. Similarly, once you know all of the hidden nooks and crannies of a map, exploring it loses its thrill and becomes a chore. To counteract this, I will make sparing use of procedural content generation. The map rooms will all be crafted by hand, to ensure they are interesting and present the right kinds of challenges. Each room will also have a myriad of hidden passages, storage areas, and other secrets to discover, but they won’t all be active during any given playthrough. From the bank of rooms, a map will be put together, and just enough secrets will be enabled to hide all of the items you can find in that run. This means that subsequent plays will not only put you through rooms you might not have seen, and in ways you most certainly haven’t, but the same room will have different hidden compartments to keep you on your toes.
In addition to randomizing the map, elements of the story will be different each time through. The main theme is always the same, the town is run by a secretive cult that seems to have taken the child, and you have to investigate what they are doing. What eldritch horror the cult worships, what creatures they interact with, how they are structured, and what rituals and rites they perform will all be pulled from a pool. There won’t be limitless scenarios, but each one should provide a unique and engaging experience. Each creature and horror will confer its own unique gift to its followers, which means each run will provide you with at least a few new tricks to master as you discover what twisted ways this cult defiles the natural order. Some of the creatures and horrors will be pulled directly from the stories of H. P. Lovecraft, while the rest new creations based on those works. The town and the cult are largely based on Innsmouth and The Esoteric Order Of Dagon, but due to the variable nature of the game will not be direct recreations.
As I have a background in linguistics and have always been interested in languages, I will be creating a written language to go along with this world. Unlike the cipher I used in my last game, this one will be a fair bit more complex. Drawing from frequent references to hieroglyphs in the source literature, I have decided to create my own set of logograms to add to the atmosphere and frankly because it sounds like a fun thing to do. These will be used for decoration to add depth to the locations in the game, and will also act as keys when engraved onto stones like the images you see here. They will be another one of the many things that will have you trekking back and forth across the map to uncover secrets in new areas you couldn’t access before.
When Can I Play It?
The idea for this game came from the concept I used in the 29th Ludum Dare competition. While not a direct follow-on, and indeed written in a different language, I intend to use that project as a baseline for this one during the early stages. I don’t know exactly how long this will take, but I intend to make this as open and transparent of a development process as possible. Every Sunday night I will let you know what has happened with development in the past week, every day on twitter you can see what progress I’m making, and I’m always here if you have any questions about what’s going on. As soon as I have a stable playable build, I will upload it here and update it each week.
Bear in mind that this a side-project for me. I have a day job that is unrelated, and during the week I won’t always get a ton of time to work on this. The last game I released took me roughly six months from conception to release. I also moved across an ocean and lost access to my code in the middle of that, so really I got about four good months of work on it. This project is a little bit bigger, though the focus is on content creation instead of mechanics and puzzle design. I haven’t made a game like this before, so I can’t say what challenges it will present and how that will affect the timeline, but based on my previous work, I’m going with a ballpark estimate of six months. As I get closer, that will undoubtedly change, but for now that’s what I’m going with.
If you’re still reading at this point, then clearly your interest has been piqued. Stick around and join me on the crazy journey that is game development. It won’t always be pretty, and it won’t always be fun, but it will always be interesting, and at the end a game comes out that will hopefully be entertaining, and will definitely be like nothing you’ve played before.