We talk with Can Oral from Cultic Games about the characters and themes of Stygian: Reign of the Old Ones.
This week, I was fortunate enough to have questions answered by Can Oral, who is the Lead Designer and Creative Director for Cultic Games, to discuss their upcoming CRPG, Stygian: Reign of the Old Ones. On July 1st, Stygian’s Kickstarter campaign finished with 73,742 Euros (about $80,000) raised, meeting the initial Kickstarter goal of 55,000 Euros (about $61,000), and one of its stretch goals.
Stygian is working to construct a narrative rich, character and horror genre convention breaking experience, which draws from the works of horror author, H.P. Lovecraft. Lovecraft’s works are known for centering on decadent civilizations, religion (especially in regards to Lovecraft’s famous Cthulhu Mythos), and the nature of humanity. In the interview, we discuss these themes of the game in detail.
When asked about Stygian in its relation to its Lovecraftian influences, Oral said that:
“We can describe Stygian as a narrative heavy horror RPG which aims to create a Lovecraftian nightmare dystopia, depicting the last days of humanity following the wake of the Old Ones. It would be appropriate to emphasize that the horror side of Stygian does not come from jump scares or lack of proper lighting but from how it handles its themes and how the game interacts with the player to create its slow but constant sense of dread and desperation. In terms of the implementation of Lovecraft's pantheon and interpreting the mythos, we're taking an integrative approach which binds different eras and dimensions of Lovecraft's work by the help of a multiversal structure thus allowing ourselves to use material from a much varied palette of stories, characters and themes. With this approach, by making our interdimensionally lost city of Arkham the stage, we are able to integrate 1920's New England with Lovecraft's various other work which takes place in weirder and vaguer places and times. This can be viewed similar to the multiversal structures of Planescape and Michael Moorcock's Eternal Champions universe. We are solely taking inspiration from H. P. Lovecraft's works and do not study later authors' works which added new material to the Mythos. A good dose of Lovecraft, history and our imaginative potentials are shaping Stygian right now.”
It's important to note that Stygian is set in a once human world that now resides in a realm where Lovecraft's alien beings, the Old Ones, have awoken. In Lovecraft's mythos, humans originated from the Old Ones' scientific experiments, and the human race was created to be slaves.
The player is not alone in their hopeless journey, however, because companions will accompany the player's character throughout their struggle to survive. The Outsider, a protagonist in Lovecraft's short story, "The Outsider", will join the player through the travels in Arkham, in search of the "Dismal Man".
In Lovecraft's original story, the Outsider is a being that lives in an ancient castle, forgotten by time and society. The only knowledge of the world outside his dark and isolated environment comes from the books he reads that line the shelves of the stone walls. At one point, the Outsider leaves his castle to interact with the world outside, but upon meeting a group of individuals, they flee from him, terrified by his ghoulish appearance.
I asked what kind of role this character might play in the story of Stygian as a companion to the player's character.
Phil Fry: The protagonist of “The Outsider” is a companion of the player’s character. What kind of role will the companion play in the story? What kind of interactions might occur between the player and the fallen soldier?
Oral: All of the companions in Stygian have their own background stories and motivations to follow you in your accursed journey. Without giving too much spoilers, let's just say that after facing the shame of his life, the Outsider gets lost while desperately trying to return to his ancient sanctuary of black towers, and finds himself in a grotesque, alien land which is actually our Arkham. How did he travel there? You as the player won't be able to find an answer to that question as the game begins, but since you're also planning to go beyond the lost town and to the unknown, the Outsider may decide to follow you for his chances to return to the sweet womb of his castle where all this chaos and confusion will end for good and he can safely delve into his ancient tomes once again, forever leaving this nightmare behind.
Apart from the cast of companions that will make appearances in Stygian, the players themselves will be able to choose from eight different character archetypes that all have their own unique origin stories and specialties.
A unique gameplay feature of Stygian, is that players may find that their characters develop mental illnesses in response to the events that they witness and struggle to comprehend. For example, players have Sanity points that they can lose after different scenarios. Players will be able to re-gain their sanity through Belief Systems. Some players may choose to take on a Humanistic belief in their decaying world, or others a more Nihilistic.
Either way, Belief Systems, and the mental condition of the character will affect dialogue options. Mental Illness may even benefit some players in certain combat situations. If a player develops Psychopathy, they can increase their chances to inflict critical damage, but they may lose sanity after killing a foe.
My next question asked Oral about this direction of character traits.
Fry: The characters of Stygian are not perfect beings. They’ve accepted the world’s end, and they appear to be motivated by their own interests. What is Team Cultic hoping to accomplish by presenting more realistic character designs and representations?
Oral: We see games as another field of exploration for mankind's psyche just like in other forms of art. Our human desire to become greater beings have been explored in countless examples in the shape of power fantasies in video gaming by making the player the savior of the universe, the chosen one, the omnipotent ever-strong warrior etc. We believe it is time for video games to face our fragility, our fears and weaknesses as human beings to form new simulations out of them, allowing players to reflect upon these fresh, flawed but natural experiences. Sometimes we need to taste the darkness inside to see the value of light or face our imperfections in order to learn different lessons. Let's see how Stygian will fare in these daunting tasks!
Apart from combat scenarios, Oral also had this to offer about mental illness in Stygian:
When asked what might happen if a player so chose to repress their inner demons, Oral said that:
Finally, about repressing one's inner demons, madness also takes the form of dialogue choices in Stygian. According to your mental condition some of your dialogue choices may turn in to what we call as "voices of madness". When this happens, it is up to the player to follow the path of insanity or control himself. For example a paranoid character's dialogue choice of accepting help from another character may turn into a rambling of mistrustful paranoia thus ruining your chances for cooperation with that character. You may choose to ignore the voice of madness and continue the conversation which enables you to role-play the madness inside your character's mind without creating a reaction in the outside world. Isn't madness like that sometimes? You see the abyss inside your head and hear its call but choose not to indulge in it. We wanted to create that experience in the player.
I'd like to thank Can Oral and Cultic Games for taking the time to respond to my questions and providing interesting information about their upcoming game.
From these answers, players can be sure to experience not only a horror game unlike any other, but also an experience that takes the CRPG genre in a direction not yet explored with character behaviors and traits.
Stygian: Reign of the Old Ones is set to release in November of 2017. If you'd like to keep up with the latest updates to the game, you can check out their Kickstarter page linked above, or visit their Twitter account @Stygianthegame.