How does one create a real horror game? Is it enough to draw some monsters and torture players with uncertainty? Or do developers need to create a dark atmosphere in order to suggest danger?
Being game developers, we were interested in the horror of uncertainty. Sure, we wanted to strike fear in players to get their adrenalin pumping, but our target group was women, who are attracted to magic and mystery. That played an important role in our choice of theme.
In a fog
While working on the story for Twisted Lands: Shadow Town, two classic horror novels inspired us: “Mist” by Stephen King and “Dagon” by H.P. Lovecraft.
King’s novel helped our game designers create a terrific setting: a city wrapped up in fog. The atmosphere was perfect for the events described in the game.
Alawar’s producers, Artem Ershov and Eugene Sister, and Irina Lebsak, the writer for horror games at Alawar Stargaze, worked on the plot. Irina wrote several storylines and discussed them with the game’s producers. In the end, they went with the newly married couple whose boat crashes on a cursed island in the Mediterranean Sea. Those familiar with “Dagon” will recognize plot details similar to those in the novel, in which a race of cruel aquatic humanoids worship a deep sea god.
The husband and wife, Mark and Angel, did not end up on the island by accident. While visiting an antique shop, they found an ancient map of the lost atoll in a figurine. The couple then rented a boat and went looking for treasure. Instead of riches, however, they found bone-chilling horror.
Don’t worry; I won’t reveal the entire plot. Just that Angel disappears and Mark goes looking for her.
While searching for his wife, Mark visits a lot of eerie locations, including a huge passenger liner with a hole torn through its hull, a ghost town and a catacomb in which a fanatical sect performs sacramental rites (such as human sacrifices). We put a lot of work into the graphics to give each location its own sense of atmosphere. Our lead artist, Dmitry Scheglov, was responsible for coordinating all of the art and making sure the game had a unified look. We ended up with 38 locations, including 22 quest locations, 10 hidden object locations and six connecting passages.
The sinister world
As you have probably established from the plot details I revealed, Twisted Lands: Shadow Town is a hidden object quest in which the player interacts with items by clicking on them with his or her mouse cursor. There are two primary types of scenes in the game: adventure and hidden object. Some of the adventure locations are connected, in that pressing a button in one room causes something to happen in another.
We tried to create a seamless world through which the player was able to freely move, as long as it didn’t contradict the story. For example, Mark can’t enter the police station until he finds the axe, which he uses to chop through the front door.
We developed Twisted Lands: Shadow Town using our own game engine. In addition, we created all of the visual effects and animation using our own software: Clip Maker (animation editor) and Particle Editor (for the creation of visual effects).
We spent a lot of time working on Mark and Angel, our doomed treasure hunters. We debated whether to use 2D or 3D graphics to depict them, and eventually settled on 3D so they’d look more realistic. Our artists put a lot of effort into making Angel look smart and beautiful.
No more fear
The project is finished. The work we did taught us many things and brought us together as a team. We’re afraid of neither ghosts nor deadlines anymore. (Believe us: deadlines can be a lot scarier than ghosts!) I still don’t know the origin of fear, but I do know how to overcome it: be brave enough to look trouble straight in the eye and do the best you can with what you have. Just make sure you have your team with you!