Interview: Shadowshifters On Huntsman: The Orphanage, A Captivating Indie Horror Game Without Blood, Gore Or Guns
Welcome to another exclusive eGamer indie interview, where this time we had a look at Huntsman: The Orphanage, a captivating and unique indie horror game from Shadowshifters that features no blood, gore or guns. We had a chat with the game’s director, Dene Waring, who was very enthusiastic towards our questions, which we always appreciate. This is definitely an indie game to look out for, as it may bring a lot to the table for the horror genre. If you’re interested, give the full interview a read.
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eGamer: Thank you for taking the time to do this interview with us. We love getting to know our indie developers on a little bit more of a personal level, so tell us a little about yourselves and your studio.
Dene: Shadowshifters started life as a family working together to create a horror game alternative – no guns, blood or gore, just strong story, characters and player choices. Myself, my wife, and our two sons are behind the heart and soul of the game’s story. Since those early days, talented team members have come on board to make this project better than it ever could have been before, realising the vision with their skills and experiences.
eGamer: Tell us, as though you were explaining it to a clueless person, what is Huntsman: The Orphanage all about?
Over 100 years ago, a dozen children disappeared from Grimhaven Orphanage – seemingly without a trace. There were rumours over the years of a tall, mysterious deformed creature that preys upon the lost and lonely as being the one responsible for spiriting the orphans away; in the present day, you go to explore the decrepit old buildings armed only with your smartphone torch app in hand… you’re a sceptic but you are also driven by motivations you don’t fully understand at the outset, to investigate the truth.
eGamer: My favourite question coming up: What is the biggest reason to play Huntsman?
The best reason to get into Huntsman is to scare yourself as much as you want – plus a little bit more! Because the game allows you to explore the environment and the storyline as much or as little as you want, you can play it different ways depending upon your preferences. If you enjoy the fear of being stalked by a formidable foe, you can put yourself in that danger… or if you like exploring the life story of the characters and learning what may have happened all those years ago, you can play sleuth – it’s up to you!
eGamer: We always like some background to our indie games. So how did you come up with this concept? Where did the idea for this game come from?
As long-term fans of Bradbury, Hitchcock, W. W. Jacobs “The Monkey’s Paw”, W.F. Harvey’s “The Beast with Five Fingers” and Edgar Allan Poe we have always wanted to create interactive experiences that have even a dash of that rich, dark culture of strong settings, ambience and back-story.
We were also inspired by the myth of the Slenderman, but we really wanted to create our own antagonist – Huntsman. Where we live, in the rainforest of Australia, there are giant spiders known as “Huntsmen”. They don’t spin a web; instead they lie in wait, ambushing prey at lightning speed and overpowering them with their strength. It takes a bucket, a big sheet of cardboard and a deep breath to catch one and get it out of your house – so they’re inspiring, to say the least!
eGamer: Can you give us an overview of the gameplay?
As the player, you arrive at a country-road intersection on a dark and stormy night (is there any other kind?), searching for the Orphanage. As you explore the old crumbling buildings, your phone flickers with images and voices from… another dimension? It seems that the lost orphans may be trying to communicate with you, and your phone may just be sensitive enough to their energy to pick up a signal from ‘the other side’!
If you choose to help an orphan to return to their own life from their enforced 100-year limbo in an alternate thread of time and space, you’ll need to search for their most treasured possession amongst the detritus and risk the labyrinth of the old hedge maze to find their memorial headstone and place their toy there (whew!). All the while, you run the risk of encountering the Huntsman, who may still be stalking the scene of the crimes…
eGamer: I read that there are no weapons, there’s no gore and very few of the staple horror genre elements. How, and why, did you come to this decision to exclude them?
I have had a lot of personal experience of the culture of guns and violence, and because of those real-life experiences I’ve always had trouble with the concept of extreme violence as entertainment. This project is a social experiment of sorts, to see if we can build an immersive, atmospheric experience that scares the —- out of you without resorting to buckets of blood to do it!
eGamer: You’ve said that the game offers the player gender and ethnicity choices when creating their own character. Why was this done?
To help make the experience more personal for more people. Oftentimes, games have only one option; that of a young white male protagonist – but that stereotype only represents a minority of the humans on our planet!
eGamer: You’ve also said that “pro-active actions” and “empathy” are prominent themes in the game. Can you elaborate on how they feature?
Because of the free choice and storyline exploration options in the gameplay, as a player you don’t HAVE to help any particular orphan, you don’t HAVE to place yourself at risk of being caught by the Huntsman – that’s all up to you. But you’ll only truly complete the game by helping others, and by being a bold soul!
eGamer: What would you say makes Huntsman scary? What separates it from the pack in the ever-growing genre of horror indie titles?
The Huntsman himself scares me because he doesn’t have to be a physical threat at all – it’s worse than that: he has the power to take you away from everything you know and love, forever. The points of difference that I see are the immersive nature of the scenario, the richness of the characters and their life stories, and the way you are personally drawn into the fate of the orphans…
eGamer: Will you be able to die in the game? A lot of modern indie horror titles omit player death in favour of atmosphere and immersion. Is there a consequence to failure in this game?
Oh yes indeed, there are consequences worse than death… that’s all we’re saying about that for now – you’ll have to experience that for yourself!
eGamer: What inspired Huntsman: The Orphanage? Particularly its setting?
My father was raised in an orphanage back in the 1920’s and 30’s, and he had many horror stories of his own to tell from that time. The game’s setting of Grimhaven Orphanage was created as a dysfunctional institution staffed by dysfunctional adults, who let the orphans and each other down by way of their own human frailties; it provides the ultimate infrastructure for weakness and bad behaviour, within a rigid system of discipline and order.
eGamer: What can you tell us about the game’s story?
We’ve poured many hundreds and hundreds of hours into writing the game’s story and characters, and we hope that will show when you’re delving deep into it all. At the same time, this is an Indie effort, hand-crafted by a small but passionate team without the huge resources of a AAA studio, so the scale is far more intimate than the big block-buster games. This is a small game, with a big heart!
eGamer: How long will it take to complete the game?
We haven’t aimed for any time target at all; roam around, explore, get involved – or race through the Orphanage collecting creepy toys and running the maze hard-out to get them to where they need to be, and try your best to survive that course of action twelve times over… it’s your call!
eGamer: What are you most proud of with Huntsman? What are you most excited for players to experience? If there was something you’d really like to say about the game that you didn’t have the chance in one of the earlier interview questions, what would it be?
We’re very proud of, and humbled by, the support of the couple of hundred thousand people who visited Huntsman on Steam Greenlight, and those YES votes that helped us get the distribution deal that made the project viable!
We are also immensely proud of the ethos of the project – it’s all empathy and involvement; no killing, no violence as a conflict resolution tool, no resorting to guns to augment your natural bravery in the face of danger. Plus, the ethnic and gender diversity of the cast of characters.
And, we’re proud – as a team – of the extra mile we’re going to make this as good as we personally can.
eGamer: When will the game be released? And how much will it cost?
We’re launching early September this year, and we’re aiming low with our pricing to allow as many people as possible to explore the game – so it won’t cost much more than a couple of burger combos!
eGamer: Can you tell us what’s happening in development right now?
Everything at once! Animation of the Huntsman himself, and it s-o-o-o-o cool watching this character that we wrote, and drew, finally come to life in realistic 3D. Hand-made interiors with carefully crafted aging and damage… organic hedgerows are being agonised over in order to achieve the right level of realism within the maze… creepy Victorian-era toys and artefacts are being beautifully re-created… it’s all on!
eGamer: Do you have a plan after Huntsman? What comes next for you and your studio?
We have big plans, actually. I’m not at liberty to go into detail, but Huntsman has a few surprises up his sleeve, plus we are in discussions with people in L.A. about other ways for his stories to be told; there’s a another totally new game franchise in the works featuring a little guy I think the whole world will love; and there are more diverse creepy stories on our slate too.
As AAA studios are faced by ever-increasing fiscal pressure, they are forced to focus on the megahit formula; the middle tier of the market is wide open for ambitious Indies to fulfil the needs of the rest of us. This is the time to dream large!
eGamer: As gamers, what do you think the next horror craze after zombies and Slender Man should be? We’ve tried to back squirrels up before.
I believe the worst horrors are in our own mind. Allowing gamers to scare themselves to their own thresholds by way of totally immersive story and environment may have always been the goal of horror game developers, but I see that goal actually becoming possible in more engaging ways as we explore cinematic technique and new augmented reality tech.
Fear is a natural response to the threat of the unknown, and removing the final sensory barriers will allow gamers to truly believe that they are in the game’s world. But as far as who or what the antagonist may be in the next round of creature features to capture the imagination of gamers around the world? I hold out hope that it’s the Huntsman, and his band of bestial buddies that we have in store over the next sets of games we’re producing!
That concludes our interview with Shadowshifters, and I’d like to thank Dene for taking the time to answer our questions and tell us so much about the game. Personally, you well know by now that I’m a huge fan of horror, so this one is definitely near the top of my list. As soon as it becomes playable or is released, I’ll get right on it for review, and furthermore I”ll definitely look to feature it on our newly established and progressing YouTube channel if possible. Stay tuned for more interviews!