“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.”
Who is The Stranger in Kilstow?
Inspired by the works of H. P. Lovecraft, The Stranger in Kilstow is a horror-themed discovery platformer set in a world where you can’t possibly fight back, stealth is your only option. You will take on the role of an investigative reporter hired to look into the disappearance of a small child last seen on the outskirts of an isolated rural town. While its inhabitants swear they’ve never seen the child, there is much more going on under the seemingly-tranquil surface 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.
How Will it Play?
The core theme of comes from the chase scene in The Shadow Over Innsmouth. Running for your life makes for a great story, but is hardly as compelling as a game. To create the feeling of terror and helplessness that story conveys 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. Similar to classic metroidvania games, the use of exploration, discovery, and backtracking are used to retain the feeling of being lost and alone in a foreign town. The game also makes heavy use of three dimensional lighting to create a tense atmosphere, and to enhance the capacity of traditional two dimensional graphics.
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. A system of procedural content arrangement is employed to counteract this. 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.
To add to the sense of immersion in this world, and drawing from frequent references to hieroglyphs in the source literature, the game employs a system of logograms. 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. Each glyph has a discrete meaning and confers a specific in-game bonus, in addition to granting access to new areas of the map.
When Can I Play It?
Currently the game is targeting a release during the first quarter of 2015. This is highly subject to change, due to the fact that it is being developed by a single part-time developer. For regular updates on the status and progress of this game’s development, check out the main Electric Horse Software website. This page will be updated with more exact dates, beta testing access, and free game demos as they become available.