If you want to get me hyped for a game all you need to do is say a few key words and you will have my undivided attention. “Permadeath”, Procedural Generation” and “Lovecraft” are just a few examples of such words. I know I’m not the only one who perks up whenever those words are whispered somewhere in the world either. So when Eldritch popped up on Steam Greenlight it’s easy to see why it got a lot of attention extremely fast.

I had the opportunity to sit down with David Pittman of Minor Key Games for a Q&A session about Eldritch. Check below for the results!

Eldritch Logo

David Pittman

Eldritch developer David Pittman.

Q: As any good interview should start, sell all of those who have not yet been sold on, or maybe haven’t even heard of Eldritch yet, with your three sentence or less elevator pitch!

Eldritch is a first-person action game inspired by roguelikes, immersive sims, and H. P. Lovecraft. Fight, sneak, and explore strange worlds!

Q: From what I understand, the team working on Eldritch seems to have quite the pedigree of game design and development. Can you tell me who makes up the team, what their past accomplishments are, and how you all got together to work on this project?

Minor Key Games is myself and my twin brother J. Kyle Pittman. I worked at 2K Marin for five years as an AI programmer on BioShock 2 and The Bureau: XCOM Declassified. Kyle worked at Gearbox Software as a programmer on the Borderlands series and other titles, and also made indie games in his spare time (most notably, the challenging platformer You Have to Win the Game).

We have both enjoyed making big budget games, and I feel that the experience has been immensely valuable to building our skill sets. But my creative interests gradually diverged from 2K Marin’s, and Kyle wished for a job where he could communicate more openly and honestly with gamers and press alike. When the opportunity presented itself, we agreed to take the plunge into independent development together.

The way that we work at Minor Key Games is more like a collective than a typical game studio. We share business responsibilities and we exchange ideas and code, but we are each developing individual games. Eldritch is primarily my game, and Kyle is working on a separate game that will be announced next year.

Q: What other differences have you felt when going from a big budget rock star to small tight knit indie dev?

Working on a game with dozens of other smart, talented folks can be very inspiring, educational, and supportive. As independent developers, Kyle and I have to make an extra effort to engage with other developers and avoid isolation. Fortunately, we have a wonderful network of friends and former colleagues to provide support and feedback.

On the other hand, the autonomy of being an independent developer is amazing. Without the layers of management or narrowly defined roles that burden large teams, I find myself able to make games so much faster than I ever could in my past life. If I want to give an enemy a new behavior, I can just do it: write the code, hook it up to the AI script, animate the mesh, and voila! There’s a new enemy behavior in the game. In contrast, this same change would have involved as many as seven people in my experience with big budget games, and more time would be spent scheduling and approving the change than it would actually take to implement it.

Eldritch - Beer

Q: Whenever I hear about Eldritch the words “Roguelike”, “Roguelike-like” or even “Rogue-lite” tend to be not too far off in conversation. Do you feel these adjectives are fitting? In what way does Eldritch contain “Rogue-like” elements. (For those who don’t know, a Rogue-like is a game categorized by an incredible amount of randomization, procedural generation and permanent death. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roguelike for more info)

I’m not a stickler when it comes to roguelike terminology, and I’ll usually call anything with random levels and permadeath a roguelike. But I recognize that many roguelike enthusiasts have a stricter definition of the term, so I usually speak about Eldritch being “inspired by” roguelikes instead. Eldritch is an action-oriented first-person game which contains roguelike elements in its use of randomly generated worlds and permanent player death.

I have tried to balance Eldritch such that it appeals to roguelike fans and non-fans alike. Eldritch is not immediately as difficult as other roguelike(-likes), and I hope that it may serve as a gateway for newcomers to the genre, or for anyone else who feels intimidated by the concept of permadeath. But there are also hidden secrets which exist to challenge veteran players, and I strongly encourage voluntary conduct-based challenges. I did a vegan/pacifist run once while testing the game, and it was an incredibly fresh and exciting experience.

Q: Besides the obvious nightmarish ones, what influences were at play during the concept and creation of Eldritch?

The immersive sim influence (Deus Ex, Thief, Dishonored, BioShock, etc.) is the most important aspect which isn’t immediately apparent in screenshots or videos. Immersion is an overloaded buzzword in games; but for me, immersion means that the player loses herself in the game because she is fully engaged with the systems, listening and looking and thinking about where to go and what to do next.

It was important to me to make Eldritch a game where players feel that their choices are meaningful at a systemic level. The experience of playing stealthily is very different than running around guns blazing, but I believe both are fun and rewarding because Eldritch was designed to acknowledge and respond to the gamut of play styles.

Q: The hype for Eldritch has been incredibly strong right out of the gate with several fairly prominent Youtubers already doing initial impressions videos, and some good coverage on a wide variety of websites within days of announcing the game on Steam Greenlit. How does it feel to get this amount of attention this early?

The response has been fantastic, and I’m deeply grateful to everyone who has preordered, voted on Greenlight, and shared a first look at the game on YouTube or Twitch. (And if your readers haven’t voted yet, please do!http://steamcommunity.com/sharedfiles/filedetails/?id=166329180)

I have done a lot of playtesting of Eldritch with trusted friends and former colleagues, and it has been shaped through the feedback of a lot of smart, talented designers; but I still find it surprising and rewarding how much people are enjoying and looking forward to the game.

Eldritch - Ghosts

Q: How long has development been in process? Have the initial designs panned out smoothly or is the compiled code quite different than what was presumably set up with a mix of flow charts and word documents that flowed from deep within a poem induced fervour dream?

The premise of a roguelike first-person game came to me about a year ago, while I was still employed at 2K Marin. I did some experiments with procedurally generated voxel worlds, but it never got further than an abstract tech demo. In March, I decided to leave 2K Marin and become independent. I needed a game to make, so I reopened the project with a Lovecraftian theme in mind, and all the pieces fell into place after that.

Instead of starting from a lengthy design document, I started from a vision of a singular moment in the game–the player discovering a mystical statue guarded by strange monsters–and then sort of fractally explored the boundaries of that vision over the course of the next six months. I tend to develop features in real time, as the ideas occur to me, which is one of the privileges of working autonomously.

Q: Is there anything missing from the game that the team wished would have fit in, but could not due to time/budget/manpower/technology/lack of artefacts/loss of sanity? Was anything added because of an abundance of the last two from that list?

After the well-documented challenges of making big budget games, Eldritch has been the smoothest project I’ve ever worked on. I tend to err on the safe side of scoping and scheduling, so Eldritch is actually about two months ahead of my original schedule with virtually no cuts. I also alloted sufficient time in the schedule to accommodate feedback, which has allowed me to add some features I did not originally anticipate. For example, I overlooked the need for a map in early versions of the game, and my testers almost unanimously called it out. The minimap is even further improved in the upcoming beta build (available in a couple of weeks to anyone who preorders at eldritchgame.com).

Q: Don’t get me wrong, Eldritch looks very fun and I can see myself playing it in a mix of both short bursts and long stretches. But so far, at least from watching videos, I don’t feel a profound sense of dread and horror. Are those feelings you aimed to invoke and I have just not experienced the right parts of the game yet? Or were those not the aspect of Lovecraftian lore which you wanted to bring to the table?

I was definitely more interested in making an action game than a horror game. For Eldritch, the Lovecraftian setting provides the essential elements of a good action game: weird monsters, strange environments, and ancient magic. There are a handful of Lovecraft-inspired horror games which have tackled the systemic loss of sanity (Eternal Darkness, Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth, and Amnesia: The Dark Descent), so I didn’t see any reason to revisit that trope.

But to my surprise, some players are actually finding Eldritch to be very creepy! There’s a claustrophobic atmosphere as the player gets lost in ever deeper dungeons, and the distant roar of a shoggoth can be a frightening thing.

Eldritch - Revolver

Q: Was there any other player reactions that have surprised you during development and testing?

Without giving too much away, there’s a part halfway through Eldritch where the player encounters a difficult obstacle guarding a treasure room. I designed the level so that there were three or four ways to traverse this obstacle, and I guessed that some clever players would find new and surprising ways. Then I watched Kyle (my twin brother and partner in the company) play it. He didn’t attempt any of the ways I’d considered. He climbed back up one story to the room directly above his goal, blew up the floor with a stick of dynamite, and dropped into the treasure room, bypassing the obstacle completely. It was brilliant! In many games, completely subverting a challenge like that would be considered “breaking the game,” but that’s exactly the sort of player engagement and lateral thinking that I love and want to support.

Q: Do you have a personal favourite play style? Have you found most players tend to play the game in a certain way, or is there a wide mix of play styles that you’ve seen so far?

As a fan of games like Thief and Dishonored, I usually lean toward a stealthy, non-lethal style of play. But it’s also a lot of fun to play the hypnotist and make enemies fight each other, or combine the two play styles and use Hypnotize as a distraction to support stealth play.

I’ve seen a good mix of play styles from testers so far. Some of the styles which I rarely use myself have turned out to be the most popular! Players love the Materialize power, which spawns a block in the world. It’s such a simple concept, but can be used as the fundamental ingredient in many clever strategies.

Q: I hope you are keeping all rituals under check?

I… don’t even have an answer to this. :)

Thanks for the questions!

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