Doctor Ray Dune’s having a rough night. Blamed for the death of a madman’s wife - a man who was once his friend - and his adopted son now missing, he finds himself navigating the ominous Candlewood Mountains, trying to survive stalking monsters.
Death in Candlewood is the first game from Rosebud Games, a studio made up from industry vets who have worked on Silent Hill, F.E.A.R, The Witcher and BioShock. It’s an open-world horror first-person shooter set in the ‘40s and just went up on Kickstarter.
I had a chat with Rosebud co-founder Toni Sanchez in attempt to unravel the mystery of this Edgar Allan Poe-inspired game.
Sanchez says it’s not your typical FPS. “I would say that besides the fact that Dune needs to kill to survive as usually happens in any FPS, morality is always present with Dune's actions, always pushing him to the edge of what a decent citizen should and shouldn’t do.
“That’s why we have been working so hard to develop the psychology of the hundreds of characters in the game. Apart from that, there's a large open-world, and we've tried to have some weapons and enemies that are less common but that fit perfectly with the spirit of the game.”
And, certainly, most shooters don’t cite Edgar Allan Poe as a major influence. His interest in the macabre flows into Death in Candlewood. The crazed antagonist, Lester Caravan, is driven by his desire to bring back his death wife; resulting in experiments that blur the lines between life and death.
Sanchez says that The Fall of the House of Usher, The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar and Ligeia were, out of all Poe’s works, the main influences. Both The Fall of the House of Usher and Ligeia are concerned with resurrection, while The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar is the tale of a man suspended between life and death by hypnosis.
I wondered whether Poe’s status as the father of detective fiction and his interest in cryptography would inform Death in Candlewood, lending it investigative, adventure game-like qualities. “I really really would like to have all of that in the game, as it's well known that works very well in this kind of game - BioShock is a good example,” says Sanchez. “But so far we are only thinking of a few of them. If budget and time allows, definitely there will be more.”
The Candlewood Mountains - set in the American North East, loosely based on the Danbury area - is an expansive region. The mountain ranges stretch for six square kilometres, while the town of Candlewood is four, filled with 1000 buildings that can be explored. Dune has specific objectives, but can otherwise explore the region freely.
“Dune can do whatever he wants and go wherever he wants any time, there are no limits,” Sanchez says. “He can explore the mountains, visit places like a lighthouse, take food from restaurants, shop in the city - if he can find anyone alive - drive any vehicle, break into a bank, visit an opium den to find peace or talk to the inhabitants. But most important is staying alive despite the many threats around the Candlewood area.”
And staying alive won’t be easy. Dune will face inhuman, intelligent foes. “Inhuman enemies in the game have basic instincts, but all are lethal in different ways,” explains Sanchez. “So stealth here is important as Dune can’t beat them all. Of course sound and light is going to be very important, and also the good use of things like the flashlight or the tranquilizer pistol.
“Most of inhuman enemies come from the work of a man experimenting with the dead, trying to give life to dead matter,” Sanchez continues. “So expect a range of different creatures, some failed and others are more evolved, all of them dangerous in different ways.”
The AI is reactive, spotting things like broken doors or laying in wait to kill Dune. If Dune needs to go to a location to pick something up, his enemies might anticipate this and patrol the area. If he needs to break into a room, one of the patrols could notice that the door has been forced and react accordingly.
There’s a survival element to the exploration of Candlewood, Sanchez tells me, when Dune is out, wandering through the wilderness. “[H]ere the use of a flashlight will be very important for Dune to keep him alive. The creatures there are trying to get him so the mountains have several points that need to be used as a shelter - a wooden barn, a fisherman house - where he will find, for example, ammunition and food during his journey. Also talking with people will help him, if he is lucky enough to find anyone alive.”
Rosebud games is asking for $60,000 to bring Death in Candlewood to life, but should the studio hit the $100,000 stretch goal, an Oculus Rift version will be developed. “The game is based on exploration, moving in shadows, surviving in the wilderness, hiding in corners etc. So we really think that Oculus Rift will enhance the player's experience in the way we want,” says Sanchez.
Death in Candlewood’s Kickstarter is up now, and the game will hopefully launch early next year.