In the lead up to the release of Carrion, Phobia Game Studios’ effort at creating a ‘reverse horror’ game which casts you as the big bad monster under the bed.
We got to speak with the game’s lead game and level designer Krzysztof Chomicki about how the game came to be, the working relationship with Devolver and just how many many-legged creatures lent their vocal cords to voicing such a monstrosity.
What inspired you to turn the genre on its ear and create this, as you say, ‘reverse horror’ game where you’re the thing that goes bump in the night?
The “reverse horror” (or, rather, “you play as the beast”) idea is not exactly new. In fact, it’s been firmly established in the industry for many years now, dating back to one of the Jurassic Park Super Nintendo games, which allowed you to prey on humans as a velociraptor.
One of our main sources of inspiration, however, was the Aliens vs. Predator series – likely the most widely known example of a successful implementation of this concept in a video game. It turned the horror inside out by letting you become a specimen of one of the competing alien races, which was absolutely fantastic. Sadly, this concept hasn’t been properly explored for a while now (at least not in single-player games), so we felt the need to tackle the idea ourselves.
When I see the monster gather mass and become this amorphous beast, it reminds me a bit of the end of Playdead’s Inside or even Akira. What, if anything, inspired the monster design?
You can’t spell “horror” without John Carpenter’s The Thing. Naturally, we started to wonder what it would feel like to actually “be” that thing, to tackle the marvels of coordinating all the cells of your body which also act on their own as separate organisms. Needless to say, this was the single biggest – and most obvious – influence behind the creature’s design.
If you pay close attention to the beast’s looks and behaviour though, you should be able to spot some throwbacks to a bunch of other 80s and 90s action and horror movie monsters as well.
Jurassic Park’s fearsome Tyrannosaurus Rex’s fearsome roar was a byproduct of the film’s sound designer’s Jack Russell terrier, did you use any real animal sounds in creating the monster’s vocalisations?
Yep! Not only did we hire two extremely vocal dogs, but also utilized a wide selection of hissing insects, including large cockroaches and tarantulas, giving the vocalizations a hint of an Alien-like vibe.
In other words, the monster is quite literally composed of many different species. It’s a slithering mass of rich biodiversity – just like the creature from John Carpenter’s The Thing! Of course, no animal was harmed in the making of this game.
I feel like Carrion is a real Devolver game. The game casts an eye on violence in a unique way and approaches its genre in a way not seen before. At what point did they come in to publish?
Before we teamed up with Devolver, the prototype had already won three awards: The MIX 2018’s Audience Award and 2018 Digital Dragons’ Best Indie Game & Community Vote Awards.
It seemed that we got the core gameplay right early on, which gave us the confidence to send the demo to Devolver Digital. They were the most obvious choice of us, because, as you noticed yourself, Carrion has Devolver written all over it. Thankfully, Devolver felt the same and the deal was struck later that year.
And how have they been to work with in terms of supporting the vision?
Financially supportive and nonintrusive. They’ve been known for giving total creative freedom to the developers, and we were no exception.
Is the absence of a PlayStation version which a result of a deal with Microsoft to bring the game to Game Pass?
Not at all. It’s just a matter of time and resources, as every additional platform means tons of extra work porting the game, testing it, creating console-specific marketing assets, making sure everything is compliant with the platform holder’s guidelines and so on. It’s just a lot to handle for a small team like ours, even when aided by a veteran publisher and some third party teams experienced in the whole process.
In fact, it was the other way round when it came to Carrion and Game Pass. The game was initially planned for PC and Switch only, and the deal with Microsoft is the main reason why we decided to go for it and create the Xbox ahead of the initial launch.
There’s a good chance a PlayStation port will eventually happen at a later date.
I feel like Carrion handles too well with mouse and keyboard not to have been designed with it in mind? The flow of the monster coupled with its viscous composition makes it a hoot to send careening around facilities.
Well, as the game was never meant to be a console exclusive, it was simply more convenient to start with the mouse and keyboard controls. It’s not like controller support wasn’t intended from the very beginning though.
As soon as we had the basic movement and eating mechanics down, we started implementing the gamepad controls. Interestingly enough, the way most skills are divided into the offensive and defensive categories was very much inspired by the button layout on controllers, so I’d avoid saying Carrion was designed specifically with a single input method in mind.
There’s a great variety of abilities the monster can learn, they all serve the mechanical purpose of map progression and look cool at the same time. Were there any crazy powers that were left on the cutting room floor?
In the initial prototypes, we had this ability to split into smaller monsters, which did sound interesting on paper. In practice, though, it created some major design issues, weakened the player’s connection with the monster, and simply wasn’t all that fun to use, so we decided to get rid of it and never look back.
Other than that, we haven’t cut any of the other skills that had any work on them done, they are all present in the final game. Of course, there were some that have never made it out of the GDD (game design document), or past being simple stubs in the code with no actual function.
I’m going to keep them a secret though, as who knows – maybe one day we’ll get to revisit some of those ideas in one form or another!
Carrion releases for PC, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch on July 23 with the game coming to Xbox Game Pass for both console and PC. Keep an eye out for our review, due to be published on release day at 11 PM.