Old Gods and Open Worlds – A Sinking City Interview with Frogwares

Veterans of the Investigation Adventure series of Sherlock Holmes titles, game studio Frogwares recently announced a new project which heavily draws from the works of H.P. Lovecraft. The Sinking City is set to feature an open world and an immersive cosmic horror experience. Few other details were released at the time aside from a handful of haunting screenshots. Being big fans of H.P. Lovecraft’s work, we recently caught up with Frogwares, Chief Executive Officer, Wael Amr to find out more about the studios decision to create an open world game in a Lovecraftian setting.

Being more invested in the subject matter, we decided to be a bit more pushy with our line of questioning than usual hoping that we wouldn’t come off too strong or offend. Much to our delight, Wael not only answered our questions but challenged some of our perspectives and offered his own where needed. We’re always happy to be engaged in a more dynamic discussion and we hope you’ll enjoy reading it too.

PressA2Join: We’ve definitely been seeing some increased interest in Lovecraftian themes and cosmic horror over the past year or two with indie games such as Sunless Sea, the upcoming Hearthstone expansion, but also huge releases like Bloodborne. Your game, however, was likely brainstormed and conceptualized during the slump in interest which preceded this. What prompted you to approach what was a niche theme at the time?

Wael Amr: Frogwares created two games based on HP Lovecraft and the Cthulhu mythos previously. Sherlock Holmes the Awakened released in 2006 and Magrunner Dark Pulse released in 2013. So for us, HPL and Cthulhu mythos have been always present at Frogwares. It’s just that today the market is more inclined to look at Lovecraft-themed games.

The conjunction of good commercial results on previous games and access to great technology gave us the final push to launch a project we wanted to do for some time.

Some schools of thought consider that open world environments somewhat water down the memorability inherent in a bordered, limited, but more detailed self-contained level design.This is by no means a rigid rule, but could you tell us what drove you to attempt to create an open world?

I think people that believe that open world can only be watered down games are missing the point. Open world games are usually expensive games, and expensive games usually take less risks regarding gameplay and storytelling. Money investment amount usually waters down games innovations. Our wish is to say that open world games can be used for something else other than action games, and in our case Investigations.

Giving an open city to the players is the attempt to give them the possibility to tell their own story in the game.

fight

Is making the locations unique and memorable a goal for you, or do you expect other elements such as story events or encounters to be the focus of player engagement?

I’m not sure creating memorable moments or locations is a goal for us as such. We would rather spend our efforts on delivering an immersive experience. However narrative and free investigation should give the players a way to create their own memorable moments.

There are, in my opinion, two large subgenres of Lovecraftian themed games: one focuses on visual shock, creative creature design and making the player feel small and helpless when faced with cosmic monstrosities; the other focuses on implied unspeakable horror, subtlety, dread and leaves most of the heavy lifting up to the player’s imagination. Which would you say better describes The Sinking City?

I feel categories are a dangerous path, that don’t work well with a deep immersive experience as we attempt to create it. So I would say we include everything in the game that we feel necessary to create such experience. Playing an investigation game where the player is the one making the choices implies that all his actions include a part of risk for himself or others. Fear is a self-induced feeling and it can work in both subtle or shocking way, however, we are more in favor of the subtle way.

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The works of H. P. Lovecraft and their copyright status are subject to some debate. With some his personal works not clearly under someone’s legal claim and a lot of authors drawing inspiration from and expanding upon his Cthulhu Mythos over the decades have you at Frogwares opted to use iconic Lovecraftian names and locations, or simply to use his fictionalized New England as a foundation for your own lore?

The game is original as well as the stories, however, the game is not exempt of references from the HP Lovecraft writings and is taking place in Lovecraft country (or the portion of New England around Boston and Providence). Key authors are working on the scenario and it helps us to create stories that are deeply rooted in the Lovecraftian canon.

Perhaps the best-known Lovecraftian game is Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth. It somehow managed to pull off a combat system that was competent but clunky by design at the same time to give the player fighting options while also maintaining the tension required by the genre. Would you like to talk about the gameplay in The Sinking City in relation to the atmosphere and some broad terms about the combat system or lack thereof? (We understand if you’re not yet willing to disclose such details)

I believe the best known Lovecraftian game is actually “Alone in the Dark”, “Dark Corner of the earth” is also a brilliant game in term of atmosphere. The question of the combat is a recurrent one, and we are working on the replies today. What’s more important than the fighting is a feeling of danger and vulnerability: like in real life, you can fight, except that it’s extremely risky or totally vain in the case of particular encounters.

Let’s recall that The Sinking City is an investigation game, we define the moment player can lose his life (or sanity) through the investigation process.

What is your favourite Great Old One and why?

Who are we to speak about them? We’re not even worthy…

PressA2Join: Great answer. Thank you for taking the time to speak with us Wael

The Sinking City is currently in development with no confirmed platforms or release date.

Frogware’s Sherlock Holmes: The Devil’s Daughter is available June 10th on Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and PC.

About Paul Policarp

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Paul is mainly a PC Gamer with an affinity for interesting or unique gameplay styles or mechanics. He prefers a good story and engaging gameplay over polygons, and frame rates. He's also going to make a game one day, just you watch. Just as soon as he gets some time. Any day now.

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