Very cool read. My brain totally glossed over the whole creepies all being based on internet horror when I was playing through the first chapter, but it does make sense. I kind of appreciate them a bit more now.
Behind The Bat: The Creation of HorrorVale
Hello, and welcome to a new potential series of blogs known as "Behind The Bat", where I do a deep dive into the inner workings of Batworks Software to discuss things related to "HorrorVale".
The purpose of this being to not only provide fun trivia and tidbits for fans of the game, but also provide some of our own learned insight as fairly new game developers for people interested in getting into game creation.
If this is received well, we may go on to write more of these in the future.
For reference, the one writing this is Dustin Andrews, Lead Designer and Artist at Batworks Software and welcome to "Behind The Bat". In this post we'll be discussing the creation of HorrorVale, as well as showing off and discussing early game concepts. Some of these concepts have been scrapped, while others have continued to evolve and adapt as the game has progressed over the course of 6 years. Without further ado, let's begin.
Why was HorrorVale Created?
For the longest time, myself and longtime friend Matthew Rock have wanted to create some kind
of project together.
In terms of creating a Game, it almost seemed like a perfect idea. I could draw, and Matt could make music. The only really missing piece of the puzzle was Coding. Unfortunately there was no secret third coder friend.
In fact, HorrorVale was not the first game we talked about making together. Our original idea was pitched by Matt, and it involved a young boy going on an adventure to rescue his world from pollutants that were corrupting the landscape and the nature spirits that live there. Some assets for this can actually be found in HorrorVale that were used for testing purposes.
Although this project never came to fruition, the desire to create something remained, and so when I suddenly got the idea for "HorrorVale" in October of 2016, I was determined to see it through and create a game.
I intentionally wanted to create something short and simple, as at the time I was already running a very large, very ambitious Webcomic and I knew I had a bad habit of making small things much larger as I get more and more ideas and the project becomes immensely larger than I originally anticipated. (This is foreshadowing for later)
Of course, Matt was fully onboard, excited to compose music for the spooky adventure that would ensue.
Also, I often get asked if HorrorVale was inspired by "UNDERTALE" in some way, most likely because Skeletons. To this question I would say a bit of yes and no.
I wouldn't say that HorrorVale as a game was inspired by the concepts and world of "UNDERTALE", but I would say I on a personal level was definitely inspired by Toby Fox and what he achieved.
("UNDERTALE" by Toby Fox pictured above.)
I would think that anyone privy to "UNDERTALE" and what it achieved would find some inspiration and drive to create based off of its success. Despite its incredibly simplistic style and mechanics, the game was able to completely outperform its contemporaries in ways most people never thought even possible for such a game. Bigger than "Lisa: The Painful". Bigger than "OFF". Bigger than the game it was inspired by in the first place, "Earthbound". It cannot be said enough how much this game revolutionized what people thought was possible in the industry, and Toby Fox did all of this with no programming knowledge and minimal artistic skill.
Why RPG Maker?
As said earlier, although I could draw and Matt could compose, we had no programmer. Because of this, RPG Maker seemed like the ideal solution to our problem. We didn't particularly want to create something groundbreaking or complex, and RPG Maker allows users to create games with very little programming knowledge, if any at all. Even if you don't have the skills to draw or compose music, you can still make a game with RPG Maker.
Although one unfortunate aspect of RPG Maker is of course its limitations. Even with the ability to create custom scripts, the software is only capable of doing so much, and these limitations definitely came up time and time again during development.
For instance, did you know that if you "tab out" of the game, the music will continue playing forever? This has one unfortunate consequence for cutscenes, where if the music or sound effects are tied to specific parts of the scene, tabbing out will cause the cutscene to be unsynced, which can ruin a bit of the experience.
That being said, there is little doubt that if it wasn't for RPG Maker, HorrorVale would not exist at all, so I can hardly complain.
Additionally, there's also many different version of RPG Maker, so if you're looking into the software you may get confused about which one you should check out. Although you could get really deep into the differences between the versions, in our case I looked to another RPG Maker game for help, that being "Lisa: The Painful RPG".
("Lisa: The Painful RPG", by Dingaling Productions, pictured above.)
Like HorrorVale, "Lisa: The Painful RPG", was created in RPG Maker. Given that I had played Lisa before and was more or less aware of what the game achieved, I thought that since HorrorVale probably wouldn't have anything more going on than what Lisa did, I'd just use whichever version that game used. In this case, it was "RPG Maker VX Ace".
A version known as "RPG Maker MV" is the newer adjacent version to Ace, and from what I can see it has its own pros and cons. For one, it's supposedly easier to port games created in that version to consoles. Just use your own judgement and think about what you're trying to achieve when choosing versions.
Why the Setting?
When I decided I wanted to create a "Spooky" themed game, I almost immediately came up with the idea of taking the traditional, generic turn based RPG Adventure and giving it that "Spooky" twist. Essentially, the concept was to take something akin to "Dragon Quest" or classic "Final Fantasy" games, and then give it a Halloween coat of paint. In the service of that, the basic cast of the game was conceived.
In order to stay in line with the theme of a traditional RPG turned spooky, the main cast was created to embody that sort of theme by having all of them represent a traditional "Class" in RPGs.
Alice of course representing a Witch or Mage.
Bolt representing a Knight.
Webs representing an Archer.
And finally Beatrice representing a Rogue or Thief.
Alice was actually a design I created just for fun prior in the year, so you could say that the concept behind the rest of the cast was born from her.
I didn't want to just apply classes to types of Monster haphazardly either, I wanted them to enhance each other. In this sense, I believe the main cast succeeded in this pretty well. A sturdy, damage sponge like class works well for a Frankenstein's Monster. An archer works well for a Spider as they are natural hunters. This also allowed the usage of different bugs as arrowtips for a fun gimmick. A rogue works well for a Vampire, as vampires are fast, sneaky, and steal blood from their victims.
Of course, this idea was dropped pretty quickly as soon as I started making more Party Member ideas. Turns out I had all the best ideas at the start and couldn't really think of anymore good ones, although this gimmick would later return for the "Cryptid Crew", a rival Party Alice and co. encounter in their adventure.
The Goal and the Conflict
In an adventure game like HorrorVale, I strongly feel that there's two very important aspects that need to be kept in mind when designing a game like this. The "Goal", that being what drives the characters on their adventure, and the "Conflict", that which is keeping them from attaining that goal. In a traditional RPG, the story is a very important aspect of the game, so ironing out these concepts early on is crucial to allow you to then create the rest of the world around that.
For example based off of the previously mentioned games in this post, what is the "Goal" that Frisk is trying to achieve in UNDERTALE? To reach the surface. What "Conflict" is preventing them from achieving that? The Monsters. Similarly, what is the "Goal" that Brad is trying to achieve in Lisa: The Painful RPG? To protect his daughter. What "Conflict" is preventing him from achieving that? The denizens of the wasteland.
Of course, early on in HorrorVale, these things were ironed out as well. What "Goal" is Alice trying to achieve? To rescue her dog. What "Conflict" is preventing her from doing that? The Creepies.
In games, the concept of rescuing another character is a tale as old as time. It's an effective and easy way to give the player and incentive to move forward, even going as far back as "Super Mario Bros." for the Nintendo Entertainment System where the player (Mario) was tasked with rescuing the Princess from certain doom.
Although simple, I felt like rescuing a Princess or a Friend or Lover are things not everyone can find relatable, but the desire to rescue a cute dog is something most people CAN relate to, and therefore Scruffy was born to fulfill this purpose.
It's simple, it's effective, and it allows all kinds of wacky hijinks to occur on the way.
Besides the basic concepts of a Spooky RPG, the world of HorrorVale was also meant to personify the Horror genre of entertainment as a whole. To that end, its inhabitants represent many facets of Horror.
You have monsters representing Vocal Horror, such as folklore and legends that have been passed down from generation to generation through campfire stories and words of warning for misbehaving youths.
Monsters representing Literary Horror, such as books and stories.
You even have Monsters representing Visual Horror, from television and film.
What then, do the Creepies represent?
It goes without saying that as the internet has gotten bigger and bigger, so to has it become entrenched in our very culture, and in this wide, expansive datascape, Horror like many other things has evolved and flourished on it.
From short stories, to video series', to even full blown ARGs, Internet Horror has completely transformed the landscape of Horror forever.
This is ultimately, the meta theme of "HorrorVale".
You have a town of Horror inhabited by the "Old Horror", that is suddenly invaded by the "New Horror".
The Creepies are not just some strange monsters invading some town, they are the metaphorical representation of how Internet Horror has invaded the Horror genre in the real world and changed it forever.
Almost all of the Creepies are therefore meant to parody many Internet Horror monsters that can be found on the web. From suited tall men, to unnerving statues you shouldn't blink around, to haunted video games.
How will the people of HorrorVale cope with these invading forces? Why do they even want Alice's dog to begin with? These are questions you'll just have to answer for yourself by playing the game.
By the way, did you know "Creepies" is short for "Creepypastas"? You can pick your jaw off the floor now.
The Journey Begins
Now that we had a concept, a goal, and a conflict, it was time to begin development of the game properly.
At the start, I wanted to create something that was short and sweet. A game that could be completed in about 8 hours. And so I envisioned a game that takes place over only four major areas. The Town, The Woods, The Swamp, and ???.
You might have played the "Act 1 Demo", and will be interested in knowing that originally, once you found all the generators and went north, the plan was that you would immediately find the lab, walk inside, do the boss fight, and then move on to the next Act. No HorrorVale Heights. No Lab Dungeon. All of the Acts would have been a similar length. It seems crazy to think about now, but that was the original plan.
So... What happened?
What we found is that, the more we worked on this game, the more we became attached to the world and characters we were creating. Would we be satisfied creating such a short experience? We wanted to give this world more. And so it expanded. And expanded. And expanded. Now, 6 years later, we're finally in the closing stages of development.
Would the original vision of "HorrorVale", have been a bad game? I don't think so. It would've certainly been an entirely DIFFERENT game though.
Ultimately it's up to you to decide what sort of experience you're wanting to create. Creating something short and sweet is a great way to get started in game development, but if you decide you want more, it's not bad to expand on it either. The main thing to remember is feasibility. "If I continue making this bigger, will I actually be able to complete it?" Not everyone will be able to come out from a decision like that as well off as we have so far.
From then on HorrorVale continued to grow and evolve, much like the Horror genre it's meant to represent. Creating this game has been a life changing experience, and even if it doesn't perform well on release, I'll be happy to say that I did it anyway.
That's ultimately the main takeaway from this.
If you have an idea, and you want to see it come to fruition. Just do it. Just make something. And if you'd rather wait until you're more experienced to make That idea, then come up with a simpler idea and make that one. In the modern day, all the tools are available to anyone with a computer, free time, and an idea.
You never know where it might lead, and you'll be happier that you tried than if you just didn't bother at all.
Your World is waiting.