For a love of Lovecraft.
Things I learned from Precursor Games’ staff at their preview event: Japanese action film director Ryuhei Kitamura speaks English with an Australian accent, and the Kickstarter revolution is democratizing the way games are made, down to the design itself.
When we arrive for our meeting for the title, Denis Dyack is apologetic. He’s alone in a small conference room when we come in and wears a sheepish grin on his face that goes well with his polo shirt. He introduces himself simply as “Denis.”
Denis Dyack is apologetic because the PC they’d been running the demo build for Shadow of the Eternals arrived the night before with a melted motherboard, a casualty of rough handling after their showing at San Diego Comic-Con, where gamers got hands-on with the demo built for their Kickstarter campaign which started on Thursday. He’s alone because the game’s art director and the rep from its PR agency are on the hunt for a replacement.
This gives us some time to talk, for Denis to fill us in, and for him to show us a video of the demo in playback. Shadow of the Eternals is the spiritual sequel to Eternal Darkness. A previous Kickstarter campaign was cancelled before its conclusion, so that Precursor Games, the IP's developer, could refocus the campaign and its message on the game, instead of the company’s formation and Dyack’s involvement as creative director.
The game, which is inspired by H.P. Lovecraft’s tales of dark and ineffable Elder Gods, takes place in several different locations and times, with multiple narratives woven together into a whole. In the section we’re shown Elizabeth Báthory, the Blood Countess, showing her lover a book which takes the player to a monastery where a young male messenger looks for Charlemagne. Under player control in the monastery, where he can find no proper religious texts, the messenger descends into a cellar, encounters demons, and watches the world fall apart around him, revealing a hellish existence where the world is rent in flame and giant stone pillars sport eyes.
“People kept trying to go back up the ladder.” Dyack says with a smile. But it's clear that this was merely a hallucination, and in reference to Eternal Darkness, the young messenger shouts, "This... isn't... happening!" Shortly afterward the view pulls out of the book, revealing the Blood Countess and her lover again, and the demo ends. It’s short, it’s sweet, and it’s a rarity for Kickstarter—a demo that shows what gamers can actually expect from the game itself, instead of art assets or talking heads.
The game, which hasn’t even entered full production, looks amazing. In pre-alpha, it’s already started to look like a triple-A current-gen title, and that despite the fact that we can tell by the stray pixels popping out on occasion, it isn’t pre-rendered. It’s running on CryEngine 3.5, which makes it scalable for the Wii U, PC, and PS4, which they recently began developing for and hope to finish with the help of Kickstarter. Dyack lauds Crytek’s engine and the ability to make a game like this with a smaller 10-man team, mentioning that he did the particle effects on the torches himself.
"For a while I thought that bigger teams would be better,“ Dennis said, and you can almost hear an unspoken melancholy echo behind the words. Instead he talks about how a game like Tomb Raider, critically lauded and triple-A funded, failed to be profitable despite its sales figures.
Shadow of the Eternals is hoping for $750,000 from Kickstarter, but it looks like a much more expensive game. Shadow is a 3D, third-person psychological horror game, which sets it apart from most Kickstarter video game projects, most of which are isometric top-down turn-based RPGs, 16-bit era RPG clones, and the return of single-screen adventure games.
What really sets Shadow of the Eternals apart is the community involvement. Precursor Games has opened up the development process to their potential backers. They aren’t just giving people a look; they’re giving them the ability to help build the game itself. Short stories, art assets, and effects are all already being created for the game by fans.
Near the end of our talk, Art Director and COO Shawn Jackson arrived and told us about how the site had already attracted professional artists who are providing concept art of the elder gods. Before its campaign has even started, the development of the game is already being molded and changed by fans.
It was on the recommendation of fans that Dyack contacted David Hayter, with whom he’d worked on Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes. Hayter will be voicing the lead character, Paul Becker, a detective whose investigation begins to pull the historical threads together.
Precursor Games’ Shadow of the Eternals is aiming for an 8-10 hour campaign, and for a mid-range price level. On their Kickstarter campaign, contributors can buy-in to pre-order the game starting at $20 under the Early Supporter tier. The game is planned for release on the Wii U, PC, with the PS4 as a stretch goal for extra money raised towards the project.