An Interview with GORGE Designer Cecilia Bishton.
GORGE is an indie horror title currently being funded on Kickstarter. In it, two girls (Etoile and Sadie) must navigate a twisted version of their home town. They will have to talk to NPCs and solve various puzzles if they want to find their way out. Players can also make choices along the way to change how the narrative proceeds. GORGE is Cecilia Bishton's first Kickstarter campaign. I sat down with her to talk about her experience.
Brian Crimmins: From what I can gather of your KickStarter, the selling point for GORGE is its dark atmosphere. However, it also has very game-y aspects like puzzles. Will these be integrated into the atmosphere (like Silent Hill), or will they exist within their own space (like Professor Layton)?
Cecilia Bishton: The puzzles are integrated in the atmosphere of the game. The main character Etoile is constantly moving forward through a series of "dungeons" as she tries to find her way home, and the puzzles present themselves as obstacles she must overcome. In a way, the game is very much aware that it is a game. The domain that Etoile is trapped in is actively trying to stop her from escaping.
Brian: So the puzzles are more like Resident Evil (where they're a part of the world, but not part of the atmosphere, if that makes any sense)?
Cecilia: I unfortunately haven't played Resident Evil, so I can't really say. But that sounds about right.
Brian: What makes the game scary? Is it scary in the psychological sense, or scary in the physical sense (blood and gore and stuff)?
Cecilia: I would say the psychological aspects of GORGE are what makes it scary. I wanted the feeling of not knowing what's going on, being trapped, and the bizarre, inexplicable things happening around you to feel more threatening than the actual physical dangers. I wanted the player to feel concerned about helping Etoile to survive and make it home, of course, but I also wanted them to be asking themselves questions and then seeking out the answers to those questions.
Brian: So part of the game's appeal is going to be in the world? And Etoile as a character?
Cecilia: I would say so. Although I want the game to be scary and a little unsettling, it's not all about spooking the player for me. GORGE focuses heavily on plot and characters, and I want the player to be as invested in surviving and unraveling the mystery of the gorge as much as Etoile and Satie, the other main character, are. GORGE is as much a story about friendship and loss as it is a horror story. I would definitely say that the characters are one of the game's biggest appeals, and the world that the game takes place in is a character in a way too.
Brian: Do you think the pixel art, retro RPG aesthetic might harm the game's scary atmosphere? Or is the art in the trailer not entirely representative of the final product?
Cecilia: The art in the trailer is representative of the final product, including the illustrated "cutscenes". I think that with pixel art, it's definitely more challenging to create a scary atmosphere. However, it's definitely not impossible. GORGE was inspired by many pixel horror games such as Ib, Ao Oni, and The Witch's House, and I think anyone who's played those games would agree that they all have some really scary moments. I think the situations that characters might find themselves in have the most potential for being scary, and that kind of horror translates even with retro pixel art. I also think the pixel art adds a lot of humor, in a way. Even though GORGE is a horror game, I think it's important to have a sense of humor.
Brian: That transitions nicely into my next question: You list your inspirations on your Kickstarter page. What specifically do you see yourself taking from each source?
Cecilia: GORGE was definitely inspired by a lot of things. The pixel horror games I mentioned inspired the gameplay style, and inspired me to make this game in the first place. One of my biggest inspirations was the horror manga artist Junji Ito. The first time I read one of his manga, I was instantly addicted and couldn't stop until I had read all of his works. I was fascinated by the bizarre and creative horrors he could come up with, and the way that his characters often struggled against malevolent circumstances beyond their understanding. He was my biggest inspiration for the horror aspects of the game -- I wanted it to play out like playing a character in one of his manga. GORGE was also inspired by movies like Pan's Labyrinth, A Tale of Two Sisters, and Spirited Away, which all have some similar themes. I really loved the plot, characters, and mood of all these movies and wanted to create something similar in GORGE. There are a lot of inspirations for GORGE, but those are probably the biggest ones.
Brian: If alternate endings are a stretch goal, in what way would my choices affect my outcome? Would I unlock different narrative paths to the same end (a la the Erika/Ephraim routes in Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones)? Or will you implement these choices in a way other games have not done before?
Cecilia: Throughout the game, you, as Etoile, will have a lot of choices to make, sometimes as dialogue and other times as the actions you take (or don't take). The consequences of your decisions are varied. You might get a slightly different dialogue option, or completely change the way a dungeon is played. Right now, the game plays out a lot like The Sacred Stones. While you can experience different situations and even change the plot depending on your choices, ultimately the game will end the same way. If the alternate endings stretch goal is reached, I'll be able to add in multiple alternate endings that take into account all of the decisions you made throughout the game for completely unique endings.
Brian: One of the rewards says that you can appear in the game as a traveler "with up to two emotions." Could you explain this further? What are emotions in this game, and how do they tie into the story and gameplay?
Cecilia: All of the game's characters have an illustrated speaking portrait to accompany their dialogue, and they are varied with different expressions (so Satie will actually look annoyed when she's annoyed and happy when she's happy). I think this detail is something that RPG game players have really come to expect. It adds a lot of depth to the dialogue and storytelling of a game. I don't have any examples of the speaking portraits yet, but they're coming soon!
Brian: So it wouldn't have any affect on the gameplay or anything. It's just a cosmetic feature?
Brian: Will social interaction (IE talking to various characters) be a major part of the game's mechanics?
Cecilia: Talking to various characters is definitely an important part of the game (as well as investigating things in general). How you choose to interact with Satie, the other main character, and the relationship you have with her will greatly affect your gameplay experience (especially if alternate endings are funded). Along with Satie, there are all kinds of NPCs scattered throughout the cursed gorge, not all of them friendly. They are a piece of the puzzle that is the gorge, and interacting with them will be pivotal in moving forward.
Brian: So is there some kind of emotion system in GORGE between Etoile and Satie? Sort of like the interactions between Ash and Pikachu in Pokemon Yellow?
Cecilia: Interacting with Satie is more about the decisions you make, through dialogue and your actions. During conversations, you'll often be given a choice of varied responses that will affect her opinion of you. The conversation will branch depending on what reply you pick, meaning you may have a very different experience if you replay the game and choose another option. Your actions also affect your relationship, such as choosing to investigate a new room together or volunteering to go alone. Not only will your actions concerning Satie affect your relationship, but your actions in general also will. Anything from the way you solve a puzzle (there's not only just one way) or approach an NPC will affect her opinion of you. Consequently, Satie will speak to you and treat you differently depending on your relationship with her.
Brian: So your choices just affect the scenarios you encounter.
Brian: Will food tie into the gameplay in any important ways? Will the heroine have to eat food to survive? Will enemies/puzzles be food based? etc.
Cecilia: There is no hunger management in the game, but food is nonetheless an important part of the gorge and its world. The "dungeons" of the game are twisted versions of common eateries, starting at a bakery were the bread is all rotten and including a grocery, bar, and more (I don't want to spoil it!) The food is occasionally incorporated in puzzles, and the struggle to find something to eat is part of the plot. I think food is an interesting part of survival, so I tried to explore it in as many ways as I could in GORGE, from rotten food to disgusting food, eating habits and sickness, the social situations associated with food, and of course, the need to eat food to survive. The denizens of the GORGE and their unnatural obsession with food is definitely an important part of the game's bizarre atmosphere.
Brian: So the plot moves at a set pace, like how Conker's Bad Fur Day all took place in a single day?
Cecilia: I would say so, yes.
Brian: How much will the game sell for? Will it be available on Steam or some other digital distribution service? If not, where will it be available?
Cecilia: I'm planning to sell it for $10, which is the the pledge amount to get a copy of the game (so it's like preordering). That price is tentative though, and it really depends on what kind of interest I see in GORGE. I'll likely be selling it from my website gorgegame.com. If the Kickstarter is successful and people are interested, I will put GORGE through the Steam Greenlight process. I'd love to make it available on Steam.
Brian: Any other comments or questions?
Cecilia: My only comment would be that crowdfunding is an amazing resource for indie developers to get a game made. I'm really excited about this game, and I hope others are too! If the campaign succeeds, that would be beyond amazing. But even if it doesn't, I've learned a lot from this experience and I won't quit on this game. It really means a lot to me.