The literary works of HP Lovecraft are known the world over for their chilling blend of philosophy, science and cosmology, and horror – one example being the ever popular “Cthulhu Mythos”. It's no surprise then that such original ideas went on to influence more contemporary art forms such as film, graphic novels and videogames. This particular horror sub-genre will soon be joined by the distinctly Lovecraftian Mark of the Old Ones (MotOO), that is if their Kickstarter campaign goes well.
Developed by American team Hit the Sticks, MotOO put players in control of a indescribable, tentacled blob creature named Mogal that must traverse the ancient underground city of Namaset. The contents of the derelict series of caverns is unknown, but will be revealed to players during Mogal's quest to put right the untold mistakes of the past.
With any good Lovecraftian story, mystery and tension are generated from what is kept unknown from readers, and MotOO is no different. According to the game's Kickstarter page, Namaset was built within and below a mountain to honour and house an eternal deity known as Kraal. But the actual existence of Kraal within the world of MotOO hasn't been confirmed by Hit the Sticks, nor has the origins of Mogal been revealed.
It's an interesting story, and one that is matched by equally interesting gameplay mechanics. Playing MotOO involves the proper utilisation of Mogal's sticky tentacles to jump, swing and manipulate the bright blue creature through Namaset. Additional abilities such as the alteration of Mogal's mass and magnetism, boosting through the air, and slowing down time are thrown into the mix, allowing for varied and challenging puzzle based obstacles.
MotOO's Kickstarter page claims the title to have "metroidvania" gameplay. This suggests an emphasis on exploration and "progression-via-powerups" i.e. certain areas cannot be explored until a particular new item or ability is acquired. However, the same Kickstarter page also claims that MotOO's gameplay revolves around "a few core game mechanics". Does this mean all abilities are unlocked from the start? And how would this affect the exploration elements of MotOO? I was eager to find out and so got in touch with Hit the Sticks president Jordan Brock.
"No, we have not left out 'progression-via-powerups," Brock told me "In my opinion, you cannot be a Metroidvania without 'progression-via-powerups'. I think we have just the right number of abilities to keep a balance between tight game play and 'progression-via-powerups'."
"Many abilities are upgradable," Brock continued "Just because you have the Boost ability, that does not mean that you can Boost yourself up every cliff in the game. You might need to upgrade your Boost ability to reach higher peaks. "What we have left out is anything that isn't a physical ability. So, we don't have any 'wards', i.e. 'you found the red suit, so now you can pass through fire unharmed'. Every ability is a physical ability that you use to solve physical puzzles/obstacles. We may have fewer abilities, but we have designed tons of hard locks for them!"
"What we have left out is anything that isn't a physical ability. So, we don't have any 'wards', i.e. 'you found the red suit, so now you can pass through fire unharmed'. Every ability is a physical ability that you use to solve physical puzzles/obstacles. We may have fewer abilities, but we have designed tons of hard locks for them!"
With my questions regarding acquirable abilities and player progression answered (to an extent) my thoughts moved to MotOO's story and how players fit into that story. For example, who or what is Mogal and what is its significance in MotOO's bigger picture?
"I can't tell you where Mogal fits in," Brock explains "You know that we were inspired by Lovecraft, so you know that you cannot fathom the answers to these questions."
Not the answer I was hoping for, but interesting nonetheless. While this is mere speculation on my part, I feel that Brock & Co. are either intentionally keeping MotOO's narrative, lore and mythology shrouded in mystery or they have purposefully written a vague backstory, the details of which they genuinely don't know. In fact, when asked about the clarity at which story elements will be delivered to players Brock responded by simply saying "With a Lovecraftian level of clarity". Fair enough considering that when it comes to Lovecraftian storytelling, no one person ever holds all the answers.
Nevertheless, MotOO has received one change to its storyline that Hit the Sticks cannot deny: the change of protagonist from Thomas to Mogal.
During MotOO's original Kickstarter campaign Hit the Sticks told of World War I survivor Thomas Lyle, a young man whose plane crashes into an Alaskan mountain range. By bonding with a tentacled Namasetian parasite, Thomas gained similar physics based abilities as Mogal. Yet Thomas is no more.
On MotOO's second and current Kickstarter page Hit the Sticks openly admit that replacing Thomas with Mogal would not only save them time and money, but would positively alter the game's narrative. Interested to unearth the story behind Thomas' departure from MotOO, I asked Jordan Brock for more information.
"We have one character artist, Oleg," Brock explained "All of the time that Oleg spent working on Thomas would have been less time that Oleg could have spent on making better bosses and other enemies. So Mogal means that we get better bosses. "It would have taken Oleg about one month to make Thomas. Then Oleg would have passed Thomas to Aubrey – a programmer – to ensure that Thomas' animation was looking good – we use inverse kinematics, not canned animation, so the animation is done by programmers, not artists. "Thomas would have been a 3D character,"
"It would have taken Oleg about one month to make Thomas. Then Oleg would have passed Thomas to Aubrey – a programmer – to ensure that Thomas' animation was looking good – we use inverse kinematics, not canned animation, so the animation is done by programmers, not artists.
"Thomas would have been a 3D character,"Brock continued "You would expect that as Thomas turned from left to right, that his body would nicely rotate 180 degrees. Believe it or not, getting the rotation to look good would have been a huge hassle. For example, one of the problems that would need solving would have occurred when you started flicking your analogue stick back and forth, i.e. left, right, left, right, left, right. Preventing Thomas from "spazzing out" under these circumstances is harder than it may sound. On the other hand, Mogal is more or less an amorphous blob, so when he moves in different directions, it looks okay without rotating him."
And in terms of the effect Thomas's replacement with Mogal would have on MotOO's narrative, Brock has the following to say.
"Thomas was an outsider, and Mogal is indigenous. The difference to the narrative is that Thomas would have questions about what he is seeing in Namaset. For Mogal, Namaset is nothing out of the ordinary."
So while some juicy information on MotOO's back story would have been nice, Jordan Brock's cryptic words admittedly add a greater level of mystery to what is already a peculiar game. At the time of writing, Hit the Sticks still has some way to go before MotOO's Kickstarter funding goal is reached. But whether or not the secrets of Mark of the Old Ones are revealed will be entirely up to intrepid Kickstarter backers.