I’ll be the first to admit to my jumpiness. As a child, I was scared of the dark. Even now, as a college student, I still utilize the run-hit-the-switch-and-jump technique for turning off lights when I’m home alone. When I realize my feet are dangling off the bed, I take a deep breath in anticipation of my certain death. I’ve probably covered my face in every single horror movie I’ve ever seen. Despite all this, one of my favorite gaming memories is playing Fatal Frame, lights off, with nothing but a pizza to keep me company.
Some (myself included) would argue that the horror genre is dead. Notable series like Resident Evil have changed into little more than action titles, and Silent Hill just doesn’t have that eerie feeling anymore. While the co-op feature works for some, for others it takes away from the scare experience. Others have just been downright weird.
Even more so, though, the horror genre has been taken over by a reliance on gore and violence as its ultimate scare factor. Unfortunately, there’s only so much of that we can see until we’ve seen it all before. Sure, we were all shocked when Isaac encountered his first suicide victim or when he died by mutilation for the first time, but after awhile it just got old. In an industry that’s already overly saturated with violence, blood, and guts, creators of horror are going to have to try a lot harder than that to give us that “edge-of-your-seat” terror we crave. No matter how gruesome what we face could be, we know the old Predator adage, “If it bleeds, we can kill it.”
Meet Dene Waring, a man on a mission to revitalize the genre. Dene is head of ShadowShifters Entertainment, a family Indie developer. ShadowShifters is working on its first project, Huntsman: The Orphanage, a genuinely creepy ghost story that has the potential to be the scariest game we’ve seen in awhile. Waring finds his inspiration for the game from stories by Ray Bradbury, Edgar Allen Poe, and Haklyut’s Voyages. He found the time to give us some more information on the game.
So what is, Huntsman: The Orphanage, you ask? Well, we’ll let Dene tell you, himself:
“In pragmatic terms, it’s a family-first time project; a laptop-on-the-kitchen table homegrown creature that grew out of all its clothes and became a little bit of a monster in its own right.
The inkling became an idea, the idea became a concept, and now over a hundred thousand people are waiting for us to complete the thought and just launch it already—and we have miraculously won Steam and Amazon distribution, some funding, a talented team on board plus offers of interest from more online distributors! We started out with [none] of those things, and now we’re just blown away by the response.
In abstract terms, it’s a story that you, as the player, just don’t believe. A dozen orphans disappeared on night back in the late 1800’s from their orphanage in the back-blocks of Illinois; rumor has long held that a mysterious figure, The Huntsman, was responsible. But you don’t believe in mysterious figures, so you go check out the ghost story in the old abandoned buildings…”
The game originally featured the internet’s resident creep, Slenderman. However, in November 2012, the rights to Slendy were sold, leaving developers who couldn’t acquire usage rights desperate for a new antagonist. To remedy this, ShadowShifters introduced the Huntsman, who’s received a warm reception from backers.
“The Huntsman, a time traveler of sorts, came to be in our particular thread of time and space during the Black Plague of the 1400’s.
He was initially attracted to the negative energy amassed through the emotional stress of those thousands of bereft survivors; since then, he has found a bountiful harvest of human misery, enough to warrant sticking around. He hunts the lost and the lonely, drawing them each into their own personal oblivion—an existence within a place of no light, sound or sensation, forevermore. He draws his own satisfaction from the dark energy of each victim’s sense of loss and hopelessness.
The message in all this? Never give up your last vestige of hope. Never let go of your sense of connectedness. There is a steel core inside each of us that is designed to withstand immeasurable pressures.”
The game has several different things going on at once. This allows the player to get as involved as he or she chooses to, giving it the potential to appeal to a large range of audiences. Those who wish to rush through the game for the scare factor can do so, and those who wish to focus on details and characters can, all based on how they choose to play the game.
“The human mind is deliciously complex and adaptable in how it drives us forward through any new and unfamiliar experience…Your Huntsman gameplay experience will be driven by your own predilections; if you are empathetic and bold despite the obvious risk to your best interests, you will have a different experience than if you are someone who likes to unravel a story to understand all the characters’ motivations and backstories.”
In Huntsman, the protagonist goes through the entire game without a weapon, relying on his cell phone as his only equipment throughout his adventure. It functions much like equipment used in paranormal investigations, picking up sounds and images that the player would otherwise be unable to hear or see. The game does not feature combat situations. Instead, Waring emphasizes the importance of immersion and atmosphere in the sensation of horror.
“Combat releases a different adrenaline. It engenders a level of aggression that is quite different than the nauseous sense of helplessness produced by the fear of the unknown and your own impending, inevitable fate.
Our game is just like real life—or, at least real life if you commonly find yourself in the dark, defenseless and up against an unstoppable, unfathomable, and unearthly opponent.
Without a suspension of disbelief on the part of the player, we can’t create a genuine player experience; you have to buy into the story and start to lose yourself within its world in order to get the most out of it.”
Waring also shared his thoughts on violence in video games, in general. He compares in-game violence to his own experiences and feels it’s important to offer alternatives to violent images within the gaming industry. His personal experiences have helped to shape Huntsman: The Orphanage into what it is, down to the very core of its gameplay mechanics.
“Huntsman does worse things to you than hurt you physically; he takes away everything you know and casts you into oblivion, forever, while crucially leaving you conscious of it.
I chose this structure because, yes, I have had personal experience with the sub-culture of criminal and domestic violence, and I don’t see it as being relevant as a mainstay of entertainment. If no one offers an intelligent alternative, then violent gaming experiences will continue to top the charts.
Does it affect individuals? My own real-life experiences over my first 26 years have certainly affected me, and I didn’t want to create a facsimile of that as a game for others to play.”
Huntsman: The Orphanage has been heralded by some to be the revitalization the horror genre needs. It has the potential to the eerie, emotional, and atmospheric adventure found in horror games past. While he’s not quite ready to give the game that much credit, Dene did say this:
“We wanted to create our own take on scary, immersive experiences told through the gaming medium without reference to the mainstream gore-fest games we see so many of. We felt it could be done differently.
Gamers are growing one year older every year, just like everyone else—we are a diverse and maturing demographic that are growing to demand mature, deeper, richer stories, along with characters with elastic and intriguing backstories. For example, Huntsman: The Orphanage seems to be capturing the interest of an age range from 15 to 75 years old on our Youtube channel, and there’s also a nearly 50/50 split between the male and female audience.”
What does Waring hope players get from Huntsman: The Orphanage?
“I hope that in some small measure, it broadens the concept of how a gaming experience can be scary, how violence is not a universally effective conflict resolution tool, and how getting involved in other peoples stories—such as each of the game’s characters—may be just as rewarding as being deeply involved in your own life story. It would also be great if people just had fun enjoying the game!”
ShadowShifters plans on making a Huntsman trilogy, and the two sequels are already in pre-production. The sequels will feature completely different time periods and stories.
Huntsman: The Orphanage is currently set for release on Mac and PC in early September and has been Greenlit on Steam. You can also help fund the project at GameLaunched and receive perks for doing so.