How do we create new things? The big word we’re looking for is inspiration. Only the greatest geniuses can look at A and B and conclude a meaningful and correct C; the rest of us have to make do with looking at A and B and combining them. So we take influences, or inspiration, from different sources and try to combine those parts into something new and exciting. The trick is finding the right sources and getting the combination to work just right. Today I’m going to write about the things that have inspired us in the design of Stirring Abyss, and try to explain which parts of each we want to have present in the game.
First things first: there is no question of the primary inspiration for Stirring Abyss. The works of H.P. Lovecraft continue to inspire writers, artists, game developers and countless other creative minds around the world. The style of storytelling that Lovecraft pioneered is entirely unique and often derided by literary experts, yet something about it engages the mind and imagination in ways that more traditional horror or fantasy literature cannot. Specifically, the game was inspired by the story “The Temple”, detailing the demise of a german submarine and its crew as they are slowly and inexorably drawn towards an unknown doom deep under the ocean. From the stories of Lovecraft we are looking to incorporate the distinctive writing style, the inexplicable and otherworldly nature of threats to the main characters, the feeling of a great mystery behind what is shown and told in the story, and the theme of exploring something long forgotten (perhaps for a reason!)
In film, there are two titles that have been especially influential in the growth of the idea. The first is the german classic Das Boot, an adaptation of a novel with the same name, which tells the story of a german submarine crew during WW2. It highlights two things that we felt should be important in Stirring Abyss: the struggle to survive through a variety of problems, both personal and technical; and building up interesting stories for the individual characters so that by the end of a game the player feels an emotional attachment to their crew. The second film, which in fact gave me and Eero the original idea that we discussed on the way home from the theater, is The Martian (also a novel adaptation). The main character is an astronaut who ends up stranded on Mars, and has to use his ingenuity and scientific knowledge to find a way to not only survive but help facilitate his rescue as well. The original concept for Stirring Abyss was much more infused with this kind of survival aspect, but we’ve somewhat moved away from that during the design process. What we want to keep from The Martian is the feeling of just barely making it and surviving one crisis after another.
When making a game it is only natural to find inspiration in other games as well. Although there are many more that could be mentioned I decided to cut it down to just two titles for brevity’s sake. The Lovecraft-themed board game Arkham Horror has been a favorite of ours for years. Players cooperate to try and save the world from one of the Old Gods and their minions by closing portals and fighting monsters that emerge from them in the fictional city of Arkham in the early 20th century. For Stirring Abyss, we love the concept of characters with different skill sets and specialities working together towards a common goal. In computer games, we’ve played a ton of FTL: Faster Than Light, a rogue-like game set on a spaceship. Specifically we like the mechanics of choosing how to improve your ship and crew with the limited resources at your disposal, and the thrill of exploration and elements of randomness that each new game offers to the player. FTL also features a storytelling system, simple as it may be, that shares some elements of what we are creating for Stirring Abyss.
But more wonderful than the lore of old men and the lore of books is the secret lore of ocean.
– H.P. Lovecraft, “The White Ship”