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Interview: Distress developer Javy Gwaltney

A futuristic horror thriller where each decision you make could be your last.

Anyone interested in visual novels will be delighted to hear that Indie developer Light Machine is working on a new visual novel called Distress which combines sci-fi and horror together in a three-hour experience with 30 different endings.

The game features difficult, game altering choices, beautiful artwork and cutscenes, and an eerie soundtrack. Each playthrough will be vastly different.

The main character you play as, Demetria Barton, is a vastly different female character as compared to the majority of other female characters within gaming. She has features typically considered more masculine (she's muscular and has a rougher face with short hair) and is black. Gwaltney said that being black was his only condition for Ian Hogginbotham, the game’s artist:

“We talked and I told him I’d love to make a game with him on the condition that we could have a black woman as the protagonist, just because you don’t see that often and I’ve heard a lot/read of folks expressing the desire for more black protagonists. He agreed to that and then just ran with it while I wrote the outline for the main game and started drafting the prologue. I really like how he’s designed her and I think she’ll be someone a lot of people will enjoying playing as.”

The other characters include Barkley Pearce, a masterful tactician with just as much brawn, Nyles Guerra, a tech mastermind with a love for mystery novels, Sara Voxley, the cook, surgeon, and gunslinger, Jim Finn, a sitar player and the pilot of their ship Swiftsure, and Xerabond, a quirky android.

The backstories for these characters will be fully explored throughout Distress:

"We want to make a horror game where you don't want these people to die; you want to safeguard them throughout the journey of the game."

“We’re going to be delving into the personalities and histories of these folks a good bit because that’s part of what makes good horror. Take Until Dawn for instance, which I think is one of the best horror games we’ve had in years. You start out with these sort of stupid, horny, clichéd teenagers but if you make the right choices, they go from being these little walking stereotypes to being characters you actually care about (or at least I did). So we want to make a horror game where you don’t want these people to die; you want to safeguard them throughout the journey of the game.”

The possible DLCs (if the game receives enough funding for DLCs), may not include backstory for the characters though. It may not include the same characters at all:

“… we’ll do DLCs that take place in the same universe but might be different genres or even involve a different set of characters.” 

Light Machine chose a visual novel instead of a click-and-point, RPG, or another genre of game purposefully as well. Besides being a less expensive form of gaming, Gwaltney continued:

“… visual novels are a great format for showing players that their choices matter. We’ll be able to make a game that focuses almost completely on the story and how the player’s choices directly affect the progression of that story without worrying about juggling other superfluous gameplay mechanics, like stats and leveling up and such.”

Without focusing on so many gameplay elements at once, the player can focus much more on the soundtrack.

Gwaltney goes on to explain that the visual novel format allows for a greater appreciation of the music as well. Without focusing on so many gameplay elements at once, the player can focus much more on the soundtrack. According to Gwaltney, Erandi Huipe, the composer for the game, has created a great soundtrack that deserves a good listen.

The Kickstarter page also lists inspirations as Mass Effect, Snatcher, and Silent Hill. Gwaltney describes how the team joined the three games together into Distress:

“It wasn’t that hard combining them in idea form. The challenge is going to be making a game that uses those concepts and mixes them well in a way that doesn’t have players going, ‘Oh, here’s the Mass Effect bit… yup… oh, there’s the Silent Hill bit.’ But I think we’re up for that particular challenge…. What we’re taking from Silent Hill is that game’s eeriness. Lots of critics and gamers often talk about how gross and messed up and psychological those games are but honestly, the scariest parts of them have always been wandering around deserted towns or hallways, trying to figure out what’s going on and what’s going to jump out at you next. The apprehension, I guess. That’s something we definitely want in Distress.”

They already have dark and eerie down too. After playing through the demo, which was about ten minutes, I had already crossed some dark lines and creepy images. There was one line that stated war is a part of human nature. There were images of mutilated bodies with guts spilling out. One body was even tied to a wall with a bloody message behind him.

“This is going to be a dark game, but hopefully not edgy dark. Just the kind of bleakness and horror that’s appropriate for the genre and the journey that Demetria and company are taking.”

That being said, considering the imagery, the game probably isn’t the best suited for children.

“I think it would be fine for teenagers who are allowed to watch bloody horror movies and what not. It’s not going to be too extreme but there will be an entrail thrown on-screen from time to time. We don’t want Lucio Fulci levels of gore or anything. That’s a bit too much.”

In other words, use your own discretion.

If you’re interested, check out the Kickstarter for the game here and the demo for the game here

“You’re responsible not just for your own life, but the lives of your crew as well. Make your choices. Live with the consequences. Good luck.”

Published Sep. 9th 2015

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