H.P. Lovecraft. Edgar Allan Poe. If you recognize these names, it’s likely for one of two reasons: you encountered their works directly, maybe through a high school English Literature course, or you discovered them indirectly through one of the many books, films, and/or games that claims one or both of their bibliographies as inspiration. Both artists are noted for their ability to bring chilling and suspenseful horror stories to life, leaving readers feeling haunted well after the last page. Horror adventure title The Last Door hopes to be the point-and-click version of this experience, billing itself as “a Lovecraft novel turned into a video game.”
It should come as no surprise, then, how The Last Door’s project manager Mauricio Garcia describes the creative influences behind the game. According to him, The Last Door “is the result of many references and inspirations (some of them conscious, some subconscious).” As Garcia describes, it all started with an idea: “Our lead artist (Enrique) had the idea to develop an over-pixelated horror game in which the players would have to use their imagination, the same way as when you’re reading a good book.”
With the game’s concept clearly set out, the works of the team’s favorite horror authors quickly became a source of influence. “Since most of us are hardcore readers and we all love the tense horror atmosphere of fantastic and gothic novels, our intention was to create something like that,” Garcia explains. “Those uneasy feelings [are] especially present in the work of literary authors such as Edgar Allan Poe and H.P Lovecraft. So our game, somehow, had to achieve that atmosphere too.”
This Lovecraftian inspiration is evident even in The Last Door’s storyline and setting. Garcia recounts, “We tried our best to write the plot emulating the style and narrative of those master authors, as well as to set the story in the same age in which they used to write: at the end of the nineteenth century, in a mysterious age, full of light and darkness.”
Garcia explains that other forms of media may have also found their way into the game, albeit not intentionally. “It’s almost compulsory to be [subconsciously] influenced by classic adventure games, but there isn’t any specific game by which we have been particularly inspired, as we see ourselves more influenced by literature,” he says. “Classic horror films are also present in the game but these two sources of inspiration (games and films) are not intentional. Although I guess it’s unavoidable that they leave an imprint in our collective imagination, so you never know where the ideas come from.”
Whatever the sources of the developers’ inspiration, Garcia is confident that the elements merge well into a competent and confident entry into the genre. About the game’s unique appeal, he says “The real special thing in ‘The Last Door’, from our point of view, is that it mixes many different ingredients, making up a unique product composed of enthralling horror literature, intriguing horror game mechanics, some TV series techniques (like cold openings, cliffhangers, etc) and many aspects of suspense filmmaking.”
“All together, it makes “The Last Door” a really immersive psychological horror game with a gorgeous story, a brain teaser challenge to any player and, as most of our fans usually say, it’s a Lovecraft novel turned into a video game,” he concludes. “We can’t think of a retro point-and-click game including so many modern elements and provoking such an immersive gameplay experience.”
The old-school feel of The Last Door is thanks in no small part to the pixelated art style, which Garcia describes as a perfect fit “in many ways.” He explains, “We love this kind of aesthetic, as a form of art and expression and it was perfect since we wanted the game to have this “retro” look-and-feel to emulate the classic adventures games.”
“On the top of that, we saw in the pixel art an opportunity to maximize the terrifying experience we wanted the player to feel. The idea was to recreate the feelings that you have when you’re reading a horror novel, in which your imagination plays a vital role, since there are no visual references and it’s your mind that generates the images, the feelings, the latent danger.”
According to Garcia, the game’s orchestral soundtrack plays a similarly important role in crafting a fear-filled atmosphere. “Regarding the music, from our point of view, it’s not [any] less important than the visuals in order to create the uneasy feeling you find within the game,” he insists. “In ‘The Last Door’ the soundtrack [is] essential to complement the visuals in creating a terror state of mind.”
“The soundtrack completes the strange and frightening atmosphere of the game and, to do that, we had the good fortune of counting on our friend Carlos Viola, a master music composer with a long trajectory in composing for video games who rapidly understood what we wanted for the game and did an outstanding job.”
As Garcia explains, the audio and visual elements of the game complement each other in a way that ensures gamers are immersed in the experience. He says, “In sum, both elements pursue the same objective: They’re both designed with the intention of creating a [terrifying] atmosphere. In the case of the pixel art, we strongly believe that, the less visual information you offer, the greatest is the work that the brain has to do. And that was exactly our goal: to stimulate the brain, to leave the responsibility with the player of ‘building’ the missing parts, to perceive and create the feeling of fear.”
This logic makes perfect sense to me. When it comes to horror games, I’ve always been of the mind that it isn’t what you see that scares you; it’s what you don’t. Still, I imagine some might ask how a pixel art game with a point-and-click interface can be truly scary in a world of high-definition horror. When asked whether crafting such an atmospheric experience using simple tools was difficult, Garcia admits, “The truth is that it has not been easy.”
“There are a lot of elements that have to be carefully mixed and then we try to combine them so the final product is of a high quality and truly terrifying,” he observes. “At first, everyone would say that ‘low-res’ graphics diminished the atmosphere but as explained earlier, in our case, we think that they actually helped us. Perception is not only a matter of the senses; the brain plays an important role when construing our reality, and it usually fills the gaps when senses don’t bring enough information. And that’s what exactly happens in ‘The Last Door.’”
The point-and-click interface, then, is also one of the elements chosen to add to the overall experience. “We also think that, somehow, [the interface] matches the game aura. We have to consider that the story is contextualized in the end of 19th century, and using a retro point-and-click mechanic like the old adventure games used to, it gives to “The Last Door” a great vintage touch.”
Garcia reports that The Last Door’s development team was careful not to overlook anything in their attempt at creating an authentic and authentic experience. This attention to detail included substantial amounts of research for the game’s story, which he describes as “full of mysteries, secrets and intrigue in an age of uncertainty and obscurantism”.
“For many weeks we gathered information and researched literature for that period. We ran into hundreds of old pictures showing buildings, furniture, creepy landscapes, etc, and we also sought out newspapers, reading a lot about murders and weird stories of that era.”
So The Last Door is a well-researched Lovecraftian horror adventure game. Are you interested yet? If so, don’t worry; there’s no need to pull out your wallet just yet. The Last Door operates on a unique episodic model where existing chapters of the game become free over time. When a new episode goes into development, the team starts a crowdfunding campaign to fund it. Backers can donate to receive the sort of “tiered” rewards we’re used to seeing in crowdfunding campaigns, or pay anything above a set minimum to get access to the most recently completed episode. Once the new episode is completed, the previous one automatically becomes free. Backers can also pay a higher price at any time to all existing and future chapters, along with some nifty extras.
Garcia believe this system has been successful, remarking, “This system has been quite successful so far and it also matches our personal values, because we’re allowing people to get to know our game and to check it for free beforehand (with no risk of paying for something that you may end up not liking) and, obviously, this way we also attract new players to the series.”
The Last Door was designed with this episodic format in mind, and Garcia explains that, much like a TV show, it will continue as long as there is a fanbase to support it. “[TV shows] usually have a storyline with a starting and an ending point but if the product works out and it’s successful, scriptwriters start to complicate the plot and to supplement it with new appealing ideas. In our case, it happens quite the same [way]. We have an ending but there are endless paths to reach it and the possibilities are immense so let’s see. Our creative guys still have much to offer; they hoard many ideas and mysteries to delight our players.”
The Collector’s Edition of The Last Door, published by Phoenix Online, includes more polished versions of the first four episodes with “enhanced graphics and visuals, new playable side-stories, new opening sequences, remastered soundtrack, achievements and unlockable content, and much more.” Like the individual episodes, it will be available on mobile platforms as well as PC, Mac, and Linux.
Garcia sees the inclusion of mobile platforms as important; he believes that one cause of the adventure genre’s past slump is that they “failed to adapt”. He continues, “The game has to be where the players are, so when you port the game into those platforms, a whole new audience is gaining access to it.”
According to him, feedback from The Last Door’s audience has been positive, and is playing an important role in shaping the game. As he explains, “‘The Last Door’ started as a Kickstarter project and that circumstance gives you a new perspective about the importance of your community.”
But even before the campaign started, Garcia tells me, the development team staunchly believed in “collaboration as a way of creation.” Fan contributions and feedback have been solicited for everything from item descriptions to puzzle and gameplay design. A key area where fans have been helpful, he says, is in translating the game. The first chapter is currently playable in 18 different languages, thanks to community contributions.
“They are also really helpful in finding and reporting bugs and suggesting improvements like new puzzles, easter eggs, inspiring locations, etc.,” Garcia observes. “They help not only regarding creative topics but also in relation with any kind of subject: marketing, technology, funding, etc. Every day we find new posts in our website with heaps of comments, ideas and so on and we’re really excited about that.”
He describes the fan feedback and involvement as “amazing”, and admits “A project like ours wouldn’t be feasible without the help of our community and we can’t stop the wheel. The Last Door depends on them, helping us shaping the game and getting the word out as much as possible.”
But as amazing as the existing fanbase might be, like anyone who has put a lot of work into a game, Garcia is always welcoming to new players. “The game isn’t just for those who love low pixel resolutions, or those with imaginative and adventuring minds,” he insists. “[It’s also] real gem for those who love the classic adventure games. So, if you are enticed into feeling jumping frights, experiencing fear, resolving puzzles or unfolding a great and mysterious story, this is your game.” The Collector’s Edition, he says, “could be the perfect starting point to go deep into this story of horror and mystery” for those who wish to “discover the blood curdling truth behind the last door.”
He concludes our chat with a simple thank you for all of those who have contributed to The Last Door. Want to see what all of that effort has added up to? You can play the first few episodes for free here, and learn more about the Collector’s Edition here.