Horror fans haven’t ever been as catered for as they are these days. The genre has really made a comeback over the last few years, and we’ve seen horror of a whole range of types. Deal With The Devil is one such title, hoping to successfully blend a deep narrative with a prevalent, invasive psychological horror. The inspirations include Lovecraft, Edgar Allan Poe and Stephen King, so there’s already a good foundation for something special.
We caught up with some members of the team at Round Table Games to talk a little bit about Deal With The Devil, what makes it stand out and some of the unique elements - such as the 1920s setting - that they hope will make this a flagship release for the genre. There’s a lot of them here, so look out for Toby Ellis (production), Richard Dawson (video), Nate Steger (programming) and Rich Barham (studio head).
GameWatcher: There isn’t much out there about the game at the moment; could you just tell us a bit about the game?
Toby Ellis: The game itself is set in 1920s which is obviously a fascinating period of history. It was a real time of haves and have-nots, managing to have some of the worst times that the world had ever seen. It’s a setting that we’re really excited to explore, especially with a female protagonist.
GameWatcher: Why did you settle on that kind of setting?
Rich Barham: So it was a period that one of our main influences, Lovecraft, wrote about quite a lot. Obviously it’s a horror game and it is influenced quite heavily by Lovecraft’s work as well as Edgar Allan Poe, bits of Stephen King as well. We wanted to tell a story with the background of a period of time that firstly hasn’t been explored in games very expansively but also whereby our protagonist can really interact with the world that was interesting based on circumstance. Our protagonist is a woman and at a really interesting time when women had just got the vote and her backstory is that she was also part of the suffragette movement, and certainly that shaped some of the way that she is today, and the way that she sees the world. And the world was sort of emerging from a period of time where women had to fight for their rights. They couldn’t so easily get the sort of education that people have today, certain things were very difficult for them to access. And it meant for us that it made a really excellent basis to tell a compelling story, particularly a horror story.
Deal With The Devil will take environmental storytelling into a different area by implementing horror elements and a player-controlled narrative
GameWatcher: Does who you are as a person - both in terms of her situation and the player’s actions - affect the way the game plays?
Toby Ellis: Oh absolutely. The game itself allows you to take numerous paths. The way a player decides to carry out a playthrough of the game will very much influence the way in which other characters perceive Amelia. One of our key USPs is that we wanted to create the absolute strongest female character that has ever existed and we want to do that in a way that doesn’t feel artificial, we wanted to create someone who was a strong, normal, flawed and interesting female character. I think that we’re going down a very, very, very exciting route.
Rich Barham: We’re very aware of tropes, and we’ve been very aware of when we’re looking at Amelia’s character and bringing her to life. And certainly Tanya Krzywinska is one of our extended team, and she’s been invaluable in being able to provide a perspective on that. We have that diversity, we’re aware that we want to make sure that we’re constantly checking ourselves that what we think is the right character, is a rounded character. It’s a representative female character that anyone can identify with. We wanted to have something that would be genuinely real and that it wasn’t overblown and it was the real, fully-rounded - if flawed, because everybody is - character that we wanted to portray. That’s one of the most exciting things for us is how Amelia has sort of developed in our concept through to production phase and actually it’s a really interest person overall.
GameWatcher: So you describe the game as a blend of narrative games - which suggests the likes of Gone Home - and horror with the likes of Alien Isolation. How are you blending these two genres together?
Rich Barham: Well Telltale, for example, when we’re talking about the story side of it, in terms of a strong narrative we’re big fans of Telltale. We absolutely want to do things very differently, we want to give a lot more freedom in the environment - that’s why selected first-person.
Toby Ellis: I’m personally an enormous fan of Gone Home, I think it tells a very important story. And I think that getting that kind of environmental storytelling into a game is almost paramount into making it into an immersive experience.
Rich Barham: But certainly adding some elements - not in the same way - but adding some elements are going back even as far as the first Tomb Raider. We got to experience locations which were really impressive and awe-inspiring, interacting with them to create a definite sense of adventure. Exploration was a strong element, and being able to give the player the freedom of controlling Amelia from a first-person person perspective would give us the opportunity to do a lot with the environment so that the player gets to explore these iconic locations that we’re going to put in the game.
Round Table Games cite Clementine - and Telltale Games as a broader influence - as one of the inspirations behind their very human, very normal protagonist Amelia
GameWatcher: How are you going about implementing horror elements into the game without affecting the narrative?
Toby Ellis: One of the key things to achieving that is atmosphere. I know that game ‘feel’ is such a weird, nebulous thing and it’s very difficult to achieve but we’re trying to create a real feeling of triple-A excellence that will just blow people away with something that feels immersive.
Rich Barham: ‘Immersive experience’ is such an overused term but for us we aren’t a massive triple-A organisation but we really feel that we’re making sure that type of level of experience is really important for giving the player a feeling of being there. You know, everything from the sound through to the feedback from the controls. We’re really trying to pay a close attention to detail so that it transmits through the peripheral, whatever you use; it’s another reason why the use of environmental storytelling is critical for us. Tying the environment and everything around you into the way the story is told, as opposed to a UI heavy example whereby you’re told a story but a lot of the times they’re filled with boxes and all sorts of things like that. They feel like there’s a barrier between you the player and the game itself, and we’re really trying to avoid that. Some things you can’t avoid, but wherever possible we’re making it so the player feels there’s a very smooth transition.
GameWatcher: Was this why you chose to develop the game on Unreal Engine 4, to help create that atmospheric environment?
Nate Steger: I’m very familiar with Unreal technology so it was sort of a go-to choice for me, but when I started on this project I started experimenting with other engines as well and this one just seemed to feel correct for me. Not only because I’m familiar with the technology but I could see myself utilising a lot of the features.
GameWatcher: Is it important for a narrative-based horror game to have really high-end visuals?
Nate Steger: I believe that’s part of it, yes, but I also think that this engine actually allows to actually build upon its features a lot easier than other editors available.
GameWatcher: You mentioned that you wanted to create a triple-A experience, but how are you finding doing that with such a small indie team?
Rich Dawson: It’s tough, is the easy answer - which isn’t much. One of the things we’ve been able to do tying it to some of our goals is to work with two small studios - so Round Table Games and Anti-Matter Studios are working together - and it gives us a bit more flexibility in terms of resources. Obviously we’re both still small organisations, but we’re heavily tied by this thing of growing the region for games industry in Cornwall. But also participating in each other’s projects and working together is a real kick to us. So that has helped to some extent. The bottom line is that our belief is that you can go narrow and you can go very deep when you’re designing, and by that we mean is that if we have a lot of very open space - where I could wander around aimlessly and it doesn’t really have anything to do - is something we’re trying to avoid. We’d much rather make an experience that is a little more compact, but extremely deep and extremely rich. I think that one of the things that people may struggle with understanding is how we’re going to mix that narrative with first-person, and I suppose what I would say is that what we’re attempting to do is unite some of the communal love of stories and narration that we all have here, with the ability for the player to truly explore and interact with the environment.
GameWatcher: Do you think it’s more viable being an indie developer now more than ever?
Rich Barham: Don’t get me wrong, in the run up to us releasing we have a lot of business meetings to do to decide which route we should take this down from a business perspective. Certainly we would never want to work with a publisher who didn’t understand our vision, but I think there are some things coming to the fore in the way of tax credits, you have the game developer’s support that is in the works certainly to proceed in the next year. I don’t think it’s easy necessarily, I think investors in this country are still coming to terms with the idea. I do think we have the talent and we have the ability to show results and people are a bit more familiar with that. And obviously we’re hoping that the government and funding in general for the industry continues to grow and be more supportive.
GameWatcher: Are you planning on doing much to stand out in an increasingly crowded industry, or is that something you’re not worrying too much about?
Rich Barham: Basically we’re a couple of small studios with what we believe is a distinctive, clear vision for a game that has a couple of USPs and it’s a bold, brave choice. We think success only comes from being bold and brave and certainly the era that we’re set in, the influences that we’re passionate about and we know a lot of other people are - especially in the genre. The fact that we’ve unified some incredibly well-loved aspects of gaming and we’re going to hope that people recognise that passion and get involved. In terms of showing people a little bit about the tone of things to get them used to the world, well, I think Toby can talk a little bit about that…
Toby Ellis: We’re basically going to be releasing some videos that explore the backstory of the game, but also the world that it’s set in. And we’ll be releasing other games and we’ll be including extra content that is unlocked by solving puzzles through the games. I think it’s really interesting to release transmedia content that will actually unlock extra content prior to the game’s release. What we’re creating is a huge, extended world and I think it’s something people will be excited about.
Deal With The Devil doesn’t yet have a release date - and nothing in the way of released in-game images - but this definitely sounds like one to keep an eye out for.