We love Indie Games on My Games Lounge and we REALLY love it when indie developers get in touch with us and register as MGL Members. The guys at Protocol Games joined us and have been talking about their incredibly scary looking game: Song of Horror!
We’ve been lucky enough to have a talk with these guys so the Interview is below some details about the game below.
If’ you’re an Indie Developer, please Register Now and let us know about your game like these guys did!
Social Media For Protocol Games
Song of Horror is a third-person survival horror with cinematic camera style. All cameras are automated and the player has no control over them. Some are static but rotating security camera-style but most are mobile and will follow the player and show the perspective we think it’s best in order to keep the tension high at all times.
Our idea with Song of Horror is, first of all, to create a good, thrilling mystery and horror story, and every game element is tailored to fit in that story and to help us tell it the best way we are capable of. We aim to preserve and recover the feelings that the old-school survival horror masterpieces provoked in us, while also taking advantage of current technologies to build upon those foundations.
Song of Horror is divided into chapters. In each chapter, you will be able to choose among several characters, with Daniel Noyer, the lead character, being absent in most of them. These characters each represent his/her own perspective of life and events, and can also be understood as a “life”.
Why is that? Because dying in Song of Horror will be quite easy. There are no enemies like zombies or mutants or aliens, but instead, a primeval, incomprehensible horror will stalk the characters in various ways, either by actively hunting them or by lying in wait for them to fall in its clasp.
Song of Horror’s characters are everyday people, utterly unprepared and defenceless, both physically and mentally, to face such a thing. If a character dies (and some will most certainly die), you pick another one from the available set and continue where the fallen one left. If you run out of characters for a given chapters, you will need to restart said chapter (you can’t save or load, progress is stored automatically). Losing characters is part of the game and does not mean you will miss out on parts of the main plot, but you will lose their perspective and their personality.
MGL Interview With Respawn Rossco
What inspired your team to go with this unique idea with selecting of various people who can live or die?
Actually, this idea stemmed from another one: the fact that you can’t manually save the game. This is a lesson we learned from rogue-like games: not being able to save makes the game generate a lot more tension for the player and gets rid of those relaxed moments just after saving (after saving, you always relax and feel free to try stuff that you think might kill you, just to see if it actually does).
However, this approach entails a challenge of its own: if you can’t save on your own, we have to adjust the difficulty very carefully and even then we still risk the game becoming either too easy or too frustrating. So, we see this idea as a middle-of-the-road approach, as we do not really intend to make a classic rogue-like game. Losing characters is meant to be part of the Song of Horror experience and something that virtually every player will face (we ourselves would lose characters just like any other player). So, as long as you don’t lose them all in a given chapter, you can carry on.
Story seems a key focus so you guys, with different characters living and dying how does this affect the plot of the game?
This question was one of the first to emerge before us due to many characters existing and those characters being able to die without you having to re-load the game (in fact, the only character whose death causes a “Game Over” is Daniel Noyer, the protagonist but, when Daniel is playable, he is the only possible choice). This brings us to a conundrum: we don’t want to give the player exactly the same experience regardless of who lives and who dies, but we also don’t want the player to feel punished (by missing out on parts of the main story) just because something which is meant to be part of the game (losing characters) happened to him or her.
The solution we went for is the following one: the playable characters are not the centre of the story; instead, you will see Daniel’s story through their eyes. Some of them are more important than others: those who have a direct relationship with Daniel will generally appear in more situations than those who don’t. Thus, they are more likely to appear in later episodes (if they are alive). Losing a character means you lose his/her perspective and personality (which we mean to be unique for each character) and the possibility that he/she appears at a later point. The main plot, however, stays the same.
The Primeval Horror looks scary! How does the mechanics of it work, does it attack you using a procedural design or in set places?
We have a name for it: The Presence. Rossco, meet the Presence. Presence, this is Rossco (be careful, it is not very polite to those it does not know).
Err, hi presence, don’t do any of that hand smokey stuff to my doors… ok!
Jokes aside, we want to take the best of both worlds. There will be scripted events at key points in the game, but most of its appearances will be procedural, handled in a controlled but random way. Each playthrough is intended to provide a different experience in this regard. Besides, not all characters have the exact same traits. Some will be stealthy and thus, less likely to trigger events. Some will be strong and thus, more capable of dealing with certain events. And some will be fast, so they have a general-purpose but slight advantage in all situations.
So, do you have the opportunity to escape encounters or are some definitely going to kill you?
We want the player to feel powerless against the Presence and afraid of encountering its manifestations, but we don’t want to do so in a cheap or unfair way. Let’s elaborate on that:
There are several types of events that involve the Presence. The ones where the Presence actively stalks you are called Hauntings, and require an appropriate reaction out of you to avoid a swift end for the character. This reaction might be to run away, or to hide somewhere, or to block a door (as it is shown in our teaser trailer), or several others that we won’t reveal just yet :).
Hauntings will require a reasonable amount of player skill and quick thinking in order to overcome. Reacting properly will mean that your character lives, and not reacting properly… well, you know :). There will also be moments where the environment “weirdens”, or you experience some paranormal-like activity, and you might just have to take a step back and hide or be quiet in order to avoid triggering a Haunting.
Another type of events, less flashy but every bit as deadly, are the ones where danger lies in wait for you somewhere. You see, one of Song of Horror’s key features is “Careful Exploration”. And we mean it. Song of Horror is not a game where you are supposed to explore willy-nilly and leave every stone upturned, which is what many gamers would do in any game involving exploration (ourselves included).
Let’s take an example out of one of the survival horror classic works of art: the great Silent Hill 2. At some point, you encounter a grimy hole in a wall, and you are prompted to stick your arm in it. We thought “wow, really? I would NEVER, for the life of me, stick my arm in that hellhole”. But you stick your arm in it because that’s what you are supposed to do, and you know that, most likely, nothing bad is going to happen because you need to explore every single nook and cranny in order to advance.
This is not the case in Song of Horror. Granted, you’ll need to explore most of the environment, but you need to be careful and thoughtful about it. We are talking about darkened places where there lurks something that can make quick work of any normal person. You are supposed to do what you need to do and get out with your skin intact. If you stick your nose where it doesn’t belong, you might just lose your life.
Summarizing, we want the player to feel tense and afraid, but we don’t want to arbitrarily kill characters in an unavoidable way because we think it is unfair for the player and does not speak well about our game design. Hauntings allow for a reaction, and there will be some clues regarding where peril is waiting. For example, you will be able to stick your ear to a door to listen (as Daniel does in the teaser!) and that might just tell you whether to open said door is a bad idea at the time or, on the other hand, it is fine.
This game looks very high quality, how hard is your team having to work to create such a title?
Very hard. We work an average of 10-11 hours a day (and sometimes more!) on weekdays and we don’t flinch from putting in weekend time as well, but we think every minute of that is worth it when you see the result getting close to what we had in mind in the first place. We are self-funded at the time, so we don’t have many resources nor enough people available. We are planning a Kickstarter for around June which hopefully will allow us to make a game both us and our players can be proud of.
Unreal Engine 4, which is the engine we’re working with in Song of Horror, is a wonderful piece of work that gives us access to so many features and advantages and makes things overall much easier for us. Also, our task division, even if we have a thousand tasks each, allows us to work simultaneously and to feel progress every week. Even when great challenges still loom ahead of us and the work is sometimes daunting, we enjoy it like little kids as we’re passionate about video games and about creation.