The Manor stands before you, in your waking moments and in your dreams. It calls to you, it beckons you. You follow only to discover you’re now trapped within, the shadows whispering things and horrors lurking in every corner. Your only choice is to find the sigils and escape…but will you be able to, or will the darkness claim you? This is Westmark Manor.
Tense Atmosphere: From the moment Wesmark Manor opens you find yourself in an unknown place, with little information, a few scraps of text and an immediate awareness that darkness is the enemy and that you’re in a hostile place where your wits and a trusty lantern and matches are your only weapons. This sets a tone for the entire game where you’re constantly tense and despite there not being any enemies or jump-scares, you are at the edge of your seat at all times, after all, you don’t know what’s across that hallway, in the dark, or through that threshold. Is there a safe haven somewhere, or just another fiendish room where your sanity and resources will begin to dwindle? Westmark Manor’s writing, visual and sound design come together to create an impressively oppressive atmosphere.
Intriguing Plot: Westmark Manor’s plot is presented via letters and journals, speaking of the characters’ pasts and their connection to the events happening in the Manor. It’s a classic Cthulhu Mythos story, of traps and ploys but it works, especially because it’s up to you to find the links in the chain and the way out. The few cutscenes you see, which present villains and snippets of stories and the minuscule cast of characters keep the story tight and focused, delivering on the mystery that just enhances the atmosphere.
Fun Puzzles: To escape Westmark Manor, you must collect Sigils by solving puzzles, which range from inventory puzzles to logical ones and they’re all a joy and really force you to pay attention to your surroundings and the documents you’ve collected. Add in the environmental puzzles to overcome traps and challenges, the careful tight-rope walks across beams and the many ways you can lose or gain sanity, and you get a compelling experience that kept me coming back ever after I had quit saying “enough for now.”
Useless Items: One of the recurring mechanics in Westmark Manor is finding items that need to be identified. To do this you must find and use identification kits. These kits being consumables and hard to find is bad enough, but the sheer number of items you find that after identifying turn out to be completely useless, just trinkets without mechanical worth, is staggering. This is already a game where your inventory and resources are limited so adding these kinds of worthless items just feels malicious and unfair from the developers and really hampers the entertainment value of the product, as it just leads to frustration.
Inventory Woes: I despise inventory management, especially when it’s used to artificially inflate difficulty and Westmark Manor is guilty of this in so many ways. Not only is inventory limited but so is the storage. Items can only be stacked up to a certain number, which in my experience tended to vary between item types, before the next pickup takes up another inventory slot. Some items take up multiple ones in the horizontal or vertical, there is no way to rotate them and everything requires crafting. And worst of all, keys are single-use only. I get it for chest keys and reliquary keys, but door keys? Are you serious?
Crafting Nonsense: Again, everything requires crafting and recipes are hidden in books that need to be identified. Your crafting kit begins with a wet blanket equivalent of recipes, basically nothing you can actually make. Worse still is that once you actually have recipes, there are items you need to craft over and over when it doesn’t make much sense: You make the base for a skeleton key, a simple rod on which you slide on the parts of the blade in different configurations. Can you just remove the bits and add new ones? Nope, you need to make a whole new key base (the keys are single-use only, remember) and you can add the bits in the wrong order effectively wasting a key. It feels unnecessarily punishing. And let’s not get into the fact that crafting involves a little grid minigame that serves no purpose but to make you waste your time or that Westmark Manor doesn’t recognise that you’re using up items to craft, so if your inventory is full, you can’t craft, not even if consuming the items during the crafting would open up inventory spaces. Again, punishing for no reason.
Eldritch Buggery: By all the ancients and Old Ones, this game is buggy. I lost count of the number of times I fell down a hole and didn’t die, my character walking in the abyss, effectively making me lose all progress. The Garden puzzle is broken, a piece of furniture standing in your way and preventing passage, which is key to solving the puzzle. Hell, while playing for this review, the developers put out an update and it killed my previous save and I had a fair number of crashes where the game wouldn’t properly launch again for hours on end.
It’s time once more, the stars align, strange eons come to
pass and death may even die. It began with the flood, and will end with The
By Lovecraft, For Lovecraft: The Sinking City is not just an open world investigative action/adventure/horror title, it’s also a love letter to the Lovecraftian mythos. There are elements of Lovecraftian fiction in every aspect of the city, its cases, its characters and of course, the plot itself. Streets named after important locales, avenues sharing names with important mythos characters and even advertisements for a certain medical doctor all Lovecraft fans will recognise.
Weird Tales: The cases and the main plot in The Sinking City are wonderfully weird, twisting and twisted. There are characters that seem closer to primates than humans, other closer to fishes (that gorgeous Innsmouth Look), sacrifices, rituals, good ideas that backfire, bad ideas that go horrendously wrong and weirdness galore. Best of all is the main character becomes rather savvy in the madness taking place around him, even if and especially because he’s also descending into insanity. By the end, when faced with the weirdness he will casually state “you’re rather normal, at least by this crazy city’s standards,” when meeting an NPC. I love this. Also, in case it needs saying, the story is gripping and fun.
It’s a Mad World: The Sinking City is a bad place, it’s despair-ridden, maddening and incredibly cold towards outsiders. People in the city are at their wits end, and even the help you provide in solving their cases doesn’t make their lives any easier. In fact, on learning the things you discover, their lives are more likely to take dark turns. I love this, it’s pure Lovecraftian goodness, as are the grotesque apparitions, both the spectral and the physical monstrosities you encounter.
Fear is the Mind Killer: As with every Mythos game, there is a sanity meter and fun things happen as it lowers. The most common are audio-visual hallucinations, visions of creatures and your own grim future—seeing yourself hang from a noose—but as it gets worse, you’ll eventually have to contend with the figments of your deranged imagination in physical ways. This was a genius decision in my opinion, having your insanity sometimes spawn new enemies that aren’t really there but can still hurt you. Best thing is that if you take the sanity medkit aka anti-psychotics, they vanish instantly.
Fortune favours the Bold: There are infested areas in the Sinking City, where the Wylebeasts, the monstrous creatures that came into the city with the flood, have taken over and created nests for themselves. These areas are full of loot and crafting materials but are deadly to explore. But if you’re clever, lucky, brave or all of the above, you can make a killing without getting, well, killed.
Sherlock meet Lovecraft: Frogware is, of course, the wonderful people behind the Sherlock Holmes series, one of my absolute favourite video game series in the world and The Sinking City inherits many elements from that series, from deduction boards to scene reconstructions. This is a game where exploring every corner in a crime scene is recommended as it may just yield the right clue. Best of all, you can set the difficulty of the detective side to expert, where there are no hints on how to proceed, truly challenging your detective instincts.
Find your own way: Clues, important locales, crime scenes, houses and nests are all over the city, but it’s up to you to find them. You have the map of the city and often vague addresses, meaning you gotta open the map, find the right streets and place a marker for where you think the objective might be. But after that, it’s all exploration, on foot, on boat, whichever way you can.
Underwater Slog: I think the intent was for the underwater segments to be tense, dangerous and uncomfortable but they’re really just boring. There’s very little to do but walk or fall or climb your way to the glowing exit and occasionally shoot some horrific fish thing in the face to stun it and leave it behind. There’s very little tension.
Survival Horror Syndrome: Your first encounter with the Wylebeasts will be horrible, especially when you first encounter the really big onces with multiple limbs and teleportation abilities. But as with every other survival horror game, once you’re a walking armoury, there’s very little to fear. Hell, the moment I unlocked grenades, I didn’t fear a single thing. Also, Lovecraft is more about fear of the unknown, and with so few enemy types, the unknown doesn’t last too long.
Elementary Watson: I find cases are too simple in The Sinking City, at least compared to previous Frogwares games. Cases are more or less a series of trips to visit locales, pick things up, maybe uncover something with your third eye and then piece together the clues in the deduction board—which more often than not is click on everything with everything. There aren’t any juicy puzzles to create new clues, like the stuff in Crimes and Punishments and The Devil’s Daughter. It’s a shame.
It’s not Inns-Mouth, it’s Inns-Muth: Ok this is just nit-picking and a personal gripe but the correct way of pronouncing Innsmouth is INNSMUTH, like Plymouth, Dartmouth, Portsmouth. Inn’s-Mouth is just wrong and caused me to lose more sanity than the horrors in the game.
The stars align, the cosmos arranges itself, the portents cry true and whispers seep into the minds of faithful and weak-willed alike. The Great Old One rumbles in sleep in sunken R’lyeh but soon enough all will hear The Call of Cthulhu. Continue reading Review: Call of Cthulhu
Earlier this year, Senscape, the developers behind the upcoming Asylum and founded by the mind behind Scratches, Agustín Cordes, launched a Kickstarter Campaign for the Lovecraftian Adventure Horror game, The Case of Charles Dexter Ward.
A few months ago, I contacted Agustín for a small interview about the game. Here are his replies. Enjoy!
First of all, thank you for taking the time to answer these questions.
It’s my pleasure, thanks for having me!
In your announcement of the game, you mentioned this would be the first official H.P. Lovecraft game. Could you tell us more about that?
Yes, this is the first game that would use both the name H. P. Lovecraft and the title of one of his stories. Up until now we have seen lose adaptations or spin-offs, but never a straight translation of his work to a videogame. For example, Shadow of the Comet and Dark Corners of the Earth are very loosely based on The Shadow Over Innsmouth. What we did is negotiate a license with the Lovecraft Estate established in Providence, the same organization that has been maintaining original manuscripts, letters and photographs from Lovecraft for decades. This is how dedicated we are to bringing a exceptionally faithful adaptation of The Case of Charles Dexter Ward to video games.
Can you tell us what made you choose this The Case of Charles Dexter Ward as the Lovecraft work to adapt?
While it wasn’t our first choice, it was a solid second option. It’s a wonderful story to be turned into an adventure game, full of fascinating aspects of investigation, exploration, and intrigue. And of course, lots of horror. It was almost natural the way in which the story became a game.
How much of the original novel are you adapting and how much is original content?
We’re retaining as much as possible from the original novel, and the changes being introduced are minimal. In fact, when it comes to the storyline, little has been changed — rather, we introduced slight modifications to the ordering of sequences or pacing for best effect as an interactive game, all while retaining the spirit of Lovecraft’s timeless story.
Following up on the previous question: What are the challenges of adapting a novel into a game?
It depends on the novel being adapted, of course, and in this case the transition has been quite smooth. Pacing is the major challenge, as Lovecraft was very slow-paced and descriptive, which can be a deal breaker in games these days. The general idea is to detect which parts of the story can be turned into interactive elements, such as an adventure game puzzle, and fortunately Charles Dexter Ward has plenty of them.
With the impending release of Asylum, how are you dividing work between the two titles?
It’s important to note that the Kickstarter campaign didn’t succeed, so our current team is 100% focused on Asylum. With the proper budget, we could have divided the work between two different teams.
Speaking of Asylum, as a Kickstarter veteran, do you have any advice for indie developers thinking of crowdfunding? What do you think is the most important thing they should have before doing it?
Crowdfunding can be deceiving and Kickstarter has become very unpredictable, even if you invest lots of effort in the campaign. My advice would be to build a strong community before tackling fundraising, otherwise your campaign may not receive enough attention.
Will The Case of Charles Dexter Ward be a First Person Adventure game, much like Scratches and Asylum? If so, will players be able to move with the keyboard or will all movement be using the mouse?
No, we’re planning the game as a third-person adventure, very much like games such as Broken Sword, Gabriel Knight or many LucasArts classics.
On a more technical level: how are you developing the game, what engine are you using for it?
We’ve recently switched to Unity for our productions, and we’re happy enough with it. What we’re using is a sort of hybrid between Unity and features from our in-house engine called Dagon. It’s working out pretty well.
On which component of Charles Dexter Ward are you currently working on?
Nothing for now, I’m afraid, as we don’t have funds to produce the game. We’ll see what 2015 brings!
Is there anything you’d like to tell our readers that we haven’t covered in the previous questions? (Say as much as you’d like)
I’d simply like to thank you all for the support and patience throughout these years. Even if our Kickstarter campaign for Charles Dexter Ward failed, we still managed to raise $110.000, which is no small feast these days. We’re still hard at work on Asylum, ensuring it fulfills its promise of an engrossing horror experience, and then hopefully tackle our new projects.
I’d like to once more thank Agustín for taking the time out of his busy schedule to respond for this interview.
This will also probably the last article published on The Mental Attic for 2014. See you next year!
H.P. Lovecraft’s Dagon is an in-development Point & Click adventure game by Order of Dagon Publishing, led by Thomas Busse, inspired by the many works of the Cthulhu Mythos, and taking place in one of the most famous locations in the Mythos, Innsmouth, home to the Esoteric Order of Dagon and featuring a very famous character from Lovecraft’s Work, Dr. Herbert West, Reanimator.
Recently, Thomas took some time off his very busy schedule to answer some questions for The Mental Attic.
1. Could you tell us a bit about yourself and Order of Dagon? (I, Kevin, mistook the name of the game, so tremendous way to start off, right?
First of all, the name of the game is H.P. Lovecraft’s Dagon, unfortunately I confused many people by using the domain orderofdagon.com, so now everyone thinks Order of Dagon is the name of the game. So, the first thing I can reveal about myself is that marketing is not my strong suit 🙂
Development of the game initially started in 2009 as a university project, it was my Bachelor thesis and I worked on it together with two others. Back then, we created a prototype of the first chapter of the story, and the plan was to continue working on it after we finished university. Life came in between these plans however; I moved from Germany to the UK, the others also got fulltime jobs in different parts of Germany. On top of that, I started working for a game publisher, and there it was not allowed to work on private game projects because that was seen as a conflict of interests, and so the game was put on ice for quite a while. I always wanted to continue working on it, but it wasn’t until early 2013 that I found the time and motivation again. I wasn’t too pleased with the old prototype anymore, so I started again from scratch.
Story wise, I have mixed a number of Lovecraft stories (mainly Dagon, Shadow over Innsmouth and Herbert West – Reanimator) and created my own storyline out of this.
The story is set in 1927 in the New England coastal town Innsmouth. The town is secretly controlled by Doctor Herbert West and the Esoteric Order of Dagon; West’s plan is to evoke the old god Dagon and, with his help, take over the world. The player controls two different main characters that end up in Innsmouth for different reasons and the task it to stop West and the Order of Dagon.
2. Previous Cthulhu videogames have been mostly Action Adventure, what made you choose the Point & Click Adventure genre?
There have already been Point & Click adventures in the past, e.g. Prisoner of Ice and Shadow of the Cometh. The reason for me was that I’m an adventure gamer for nearly 30 years now, it’s the genre I love most and so it was natural to me to choose it for my own game. Also, I think it’s still the best genre to transport story, characters and atmosphere, which is what Lovecraft is all about for me. Running around with a shotgun and hunting tentacled monsters doesn’t really do Lovecraft justice 🙂
I hope to be able to recreate the horror in a different, more subtle way, without reverting to simple “kill everything you see” mechanics. There might be a bit of blood though, after all we are dealing with Herbert West!
3. Will the game feature 3D environments or models?
Sort of, while the game technically is pure 2d, all the backgrounds and characters are built in 3d, but then prerendered. Low-poly real-time 3D is unfortunately too work-and-time intensive for me at this time; if I’d go that route, you could expect the game in 2025 at the earliest 🙂
4. Aside from Lovecraft and other Mythos writers, what games, books, films, etc. inspired H.P. Lovecraft’s Dagon, both in storytelling and gameplay?
Gameplay wise Broken Sword comes to mind, the way it handles 2 playable characters will be similar in H.P. Lovecraft’s Dagon (it’s mostly linear based on the story, you can’t switch between characters manually most of the time), and I use the same simple yet effective user interface. Apart from that, I guess everything around me influences me a bit, for the part of the game that plays in the Innsmouth Hospital for the Criminally Insane for example, I found the second season of American Horror Story quite inspiring, and I like the atmosphere in outdoor scenes of Silent Hill, so Innsmouth might go a bit in that direction.
5. The story is set in the town of Innsmouth, which has been the setting for previous Cthulhu mythos games, such as Dark Corners of the Earth. What do you think is the appeal of the town and its residents for Mythos Storytellers such as yourself?
The town has quite a history and a colourful array of characters that can be used, and the fact that it’s located by the sea opens up a lot of possible story twists. I like the idea that it was once a rich, prosperous town but has now transformed into a bleak, sad place but the old heydays are still visible below the surface. Its connection to the Deep Ones, the Order of Dagon, the residents in their various degrees of transformation; all that is a great source of stories to draw from.
6. The Town of Innsmouth isn’t the friendliest of places; will there be moments of danger, possibly death, for the player? If so, have you thought of how you’ll implement them?
Yes, while fighting the Order of Dagon the player will face dangerous situations, and death is always an option 🙂
However, I intend to use it in a non-frustrating way people aren’t fond of having to replay hours of gameplay because they died in the game and forgot to save, so the game will take care of that.
7. Sanity, and madness, is one of the recurring themes of the Mythos and its adaptations, will H.P. Lovecraft’s Dagon manage the character’s Sanity?
Yes, I don’t want to spoil too much of the story, but one of the two main characters will be directly affected by what’s lurking in the darkness, and this will make him doubt reality.
8. You have already revealed Dr. Herbert West as the main villain, are there any other characters, godly or otherwise, we might expect to see in the game?
Yes, Dr. West as well as the Esoteric Order of Dagon are part of the game, as well as a few residents of Innsmouth, for example Zadok Allen. All in all there will be around 15 characters featured in the game.
And there is of course something lurking out there, below the sea, in the shadows …
9. Will we see some of the good Doctor’s reanimating?
You’ll find out once you start roaming through the halls of the Innsmouth Hospital for the Criminally Insane 🙂
10. How far along are you on H.P. Lovecraft’s Dagon, development wise?
The script (story, scenes, puzzles) is more or less finished. I say more or less, because I always make changes here and there, often because things that looked very good on paper don’t turn out to be that much fun when implemented in the game, so I always make adjustments here.
Music and sound are missing completely as of yet, unfortunately that is an area in which I have no talent and need to rely on someone else’s help.
Overall, I would say that I’m about 10-15% done.
11. You mention, on your site, you will soon start your Kickstarter campaign; How soon can we expect it to launch?
I hope to launch the campaign mid to end of January 2014.
12. You have recently participated in the AdventureX event, can you tell us about your experience there? Are there any other events in the near future where we might have a look at Order of Dagon?
Yes, this was the first time that I’ve shown an early prototype to the public, which was quite a bit terrifying in the beginning, but it turned out to be a nice experience. Reception so far has been quite good considering that the game is still in a very early stage of development with many aspects like sound and nearly all animations still missing.
I haven’t planned any other events yet, but should something similar to AdventureX come up again I’d be in for sure, after all there is no better way to get in touch with people who are interested in the game.
13. On the technical side of things, could you walk us through the tools you are using for development?
I’m using the Wintermute Engine, an open source engine specialised for the creation of adventures. It’s a very powerful, flexible and robust engine that was used in quite a number of commercial titles already. Recent additions allow the games to not only run under Windows, but also on Macs, iOs, and lately even under Linux and Android. Since last year, ScummVM is also working on a port for WME, which is part of the stable releases now, so in theory Wintermute games now run on all platforms that ScummVM is available for.
For graphics, I’m currently using Blender, and also started looking into Vue (for outdoor scenes). The 3D modeller that will later come on board is using 3ss Max. For 2D, I’m using Photoshop; and AfterEffects for the planned video sequences.
14. To help put the word out there; What sort of skill sets are you looking for in collaborators/employees?
At the moment, I’m working alone. I already have a potential team in place, depending on whether or not the Kickstarter campaign will be successful I will hire three collaborators (a composer, a 3d modeller and a graphic designer) to help out on a freelance base, and later on a writer who will help me translate the dialogues into proper English based on my own translation (I’m developing the game in German).
So, at the moment I’m not looking for further people, should that change however, I will announce it on my website, Facebook and Twitter 🙂
I want to thank Thomas for taking time to answer these questions for The Mental Attic, giving you the chance to find out more about the fantastic game he’s making. Again, be sure to visit their site and follow them on Twitter and Facebook, and keep your eyes open for his Kickstarter. When it happens, I’ll be sure to let you all know so you can back H.P. Lovecraft’s Dagon just as I will.