Finding the Right Pitch - The Origins of Song of Horror
With the final chapter looming, we talked to the creators behind episodic horror game Song of Horror and found out more about the game's path to completion.
Song of Horror is an episodic game that we've ended up covering extensively, and that determination paid off when we were granted the opportunity to put some questions to the developer, Protocol Games, and find out a bit more about the game, its inspirations, the game's failed Kickstarter campaign, and more. However, we started by asking for the elevator pitch.
"For us, Song of Horror contains everything that we admire about horror games, especially classic horror games," studio co-founder Carlos Grupeli told us. "We tied up the classic survival horror formula with some fresh mechanics to adapt it to our times. The result is the Lovecraftian horror game we've always wanted to play, with a special focus on investigation and an oppressive atmosphere that infuses a permanent feeling of dread and fear."
The episodic format is an interesting one as it potentially allows games to grow and evolve, as well as react to its audience in real-time, and the game has "taken some really interesting ideas from players," although "each episode has kept the general ideas developed before the launch of the first two episodes."
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"Launching the game in an episodic format has allowed us to see what aspects of the game are the most enjoyed by the players. We have also been able to see our community enjoying our game, which is so incredible after five years of development. It's unavoidable to experience difficult times during the development of a game, but the lovely support of our community has proven crucial to motivate us during the hardest periods."
During the interview, Grupeli also reiterated that console players would be able to enjoy the game in its entirety, an "advantage" of porting the game all at once. However, we also wanted to know what the team would do differently if given the chance to start the project again knowing what they know now.
"We would probably make other technical decisions that would allow us to be more effective and save us a lot of headaches, but the truth is we would not change anything from this trip because we have learned a lot during these years. Thanks to this learning process, Song of Horror is the game that it is now, becoming the cornerstone of the identity and history behind Protocol Games."
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The game was introduced to many via crowdfunding site Kickstarter where it failed to get funded despite catching the interest of a number of people, which was "both a reality check and a blessing in disguise. After running two Kickstarter campaigns and not reaching our intended goal, we realised that the project wasn't good enough, especially when you compare to how the game is now. We also learned that we needed to invest in generating a proper community beforehand; otherwise, the game would be dead on arrival."
"However, taking a look back, we are glad everything turned out as it did. Crowdfunded video games have a bad reputation of letting their backers down, and Song of Horror would have probably become one more disappointment. Our original release dates were completely unrealistic and we wouldn't have managed to deliver the game on time with our intended level of quality. Regarding our morale, this experience wasn't going to bring us down. We understood the reasons behind the failure of the crowdfunding campaigns, and it served as a lesson to know how to move forward. And of course, the extraordinary support of our backers helped us a lot: we wanted to surprise them with a horror game that would surpass their wildest expectations."
Quickly putting the disappointment of the failed Kickstarter campaigns behind them, the team went back to work, and "around February 2015, we launched our first teaser, which caught the attention of Badland Indie, our initial publisher. We started conversations with them before our first Kickstarter campaign and, by the time the second one came around in November 2015 we had already signed a publishing agreement, which propelled us to continue developing the game. It was after this moment that we started making substantial changes to Song of Horror by implementing the lessons from our experience during the first stages of development. It was a long, deep process of refinement. By the end, we had thrown away everything we did in the first year! Despite the hardships and tribulations, we think it was totally worth it."
Release schedules and their implications are only so interesting, and what we really wanted to know about was the horror experience itself. The addition of procedurally generated spooks and frights have certainly elevated the experience but we had to ask how hard it was balancing the difficulty with so much potential variation.
"Building the Presence and then balancing it has been a process of trial and error. Sometimes, we have found that it used certain tools at times that were not expected. It was tough, but also a lot of fun. The Presence has both a general balance and a specific balance-per-episode, so the iterative process is continuous. Still, we really enjoyed watching the players having fun and freaking out even playing multiple times so we are very happy with the result. The effort has paid off!"
The game is influenced by the works of H.P Lovecraft and Edgar Allan Poe, but there are other influences in there too, including a few video game horror classics.
"The game contains a large volume of references," Grupeli said. "We challenge players to find them all! On one hand, in addition to these classic writers, it includes some references to other writers such as Lewis Carroll and Alexandre Dumas. On the other, it contains many references dedicated to other games in the genre. References to Silent Hill, Alone in the Dark, Fatal Frame... Some of them are quite difficult to find, but we are sure that the players that recognise them will enjoy those moments!"
Our review of the first chapter of Song of Horror can be found here, and you can watch a heap of let's play videos right here. The fifth and final chapter of the game is due to land on PC on May 28.