Soulanity Title

It's been seven months since I told the story of one of the most interesting people I've met in indie game dev, Winston. The original intent of that article was to document the concurrent happenings of what was going on with his project at the time, which was being run as a democracy. Let's resume there.



After we left off on the last day of January, Winston messages me after five months.

Winston: Sorry I've been dead silent for like half a year, but I've been working with some guys on an indie horror project, and we could use a Producer if you're interested.

RTL: Holy Christ. This was one of my first conversations on Discord, LOL. Hold on—let me catch myself up.
Winston tells me that his previous game development project collapsed, but he salvaged it somewhat and impressively transformed it into a web comic that's published on a platform called Tapas.io, having done all the writing and illustrations himself. Unfortunately, like most self-published endeavours, the comic didn't gain any traction at all, and Winston's accompanying Patreon account has zero patrons. On top of his unemployment, he faces the harsh reality of being a well-meaning, but resourceless creator.

I inquire about his new game dev project.

Winston: I joined this hobby team a little while after I stopped talking to you, and we came up with a pretty simple game before branching off into a new group. It's difficult to say what it's actually about since we're still choosing on core aspects, but the key points are it's a sandbox-centric game set on individual maps inhabited by 1 major monster, and a bunch of minor terrors. It's being made in UE4, and we've got a small demo for it running as well as some pretty quality material made to work off of.

I think the biggest quality thing we've got is a 3D modeler who makes some amazing crap, and I've figured out how to actually sculpt models myself that can be used in the game. We've got a bunch of programmers, a level designer, another modeler, and some other guys.

Although the game's structure is in flux rn, I've been pushing for an experience similar to Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes, but with the "modules" being individual maps with a unique monster, puzzles, and minor sub-narrative.
The "Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes" concept is apparently a co-op mechanic where one person is guiding the actual player in completing the level, and I find it interesting. I ask about the team.

Winston: It used to be another member, but they got caught up in some other things, so the actual leader has been undecided. There's another member who is the most qualified, but can't due to obligations, and although I'm also pretty active I'm not much of a leader. While we are pretty active, and come up with allot of stuff, an actual leader has been something we've been trying to find a solution to. The way I thought to get around it was to have as restrictive as an experience as possible capable of being made by a team of our stature, and then collectively work on it without really needing a leader. But we prolly still need one, idk. My input is only part of what everyone else thinks about it.
I reaffirm that they definitely need a Project Lead, as indie game dev projects are handicapped enough without leadership problems. Winston agrees, points out that he himself isn't qualified, and pitches me the position. I tell him that since we last spoke, I've been involved with other game dev projects, and was part of two collaborations at the moment, so might not have the availability for what I already know will be a time-consuming venture. I ask to see the demo Winston had mentioned. He sends me some screenshots instead, and mentions that they began working on the demo without a game design in place, and when they write the Game Design Document (GDD), "the demo will most likely be overhauled." A red flag swings ninety degrees upwards in my mind.

Winston gives me some specifics on the team members, and calls himself a "consultant."

Winston: Idk whatever a creative chatterbox like me does lol. It's hard to say exactly what since I don't know what kind of job that would be in actual game development. Creative Director maybe?
The planned game is called Soulanity, and as the idea develops later on, the premise is actually quite interesting. The main character is in a theatre and finds movie reels, which transport the player into a certain horrorish environment where they must defeat a monster, and come back out to the multiplex again as a centralized "home" location.

I eventually draw a parallel to Super Mario 64, as well as the Are You Afraid of the Dark? episode, The Tale of the Midnight Madness, where the recurring series villain Dr. Vink (with a v'uh) saves a failing smalltown cinema by having them play his classical films, one of which is Nosferatu, who escapes the picture and begins haunting the theatre employees.

This ends up being totally my jazz, and having a fascination with Winston's eccentricities anyway, I'm somewhat hooked.

I ask Winston what makes the game different from modern horrors like Dead by Daylight and Friday the 13th. He does a great job selling a unique, single-player experience, which also fits with exactly the type of projects that interest me.

RTL: Hmm... interesting. The reason why I ask, is because of the few dozen projects I've been asked to join over the last several months, the big thing I'm noticing is that a mass majority of them are either a) direct copies of existing games, or b) just barely different enough, but don't improve the existing concept. So the question becomes: why do all the development work if the game is doomed to fail at release? (Since only innovative games break the barrier of success.)

Winston: Thankya. Individuality is a major issue for us, and it caused allot of changes from the original design. Even so, I don't think the game's substance matters as much so long as the game gets exposure, which is not something I'm banking on. I just want to make a horror game I'd want to play, and do some extreme crap nobody else is doing, but not be as tryhard about it as Agony.

RTL: A terribly problematic statement there.  😕  The game's substance certainly matters, and won't get exposure at all if it lacks it.

Winston: Oh yeah I meant to say that's what I'm sticking to lol, the fun part ties into that. I've got the moral obligation to not make a dumb Slender clone, and make something actually good, so I'm not gonna deviate from that.

Winston: Oh yeah forgot to mention, we're gonna have a voice chat meeting today to vote on aspects so we can move on and actually start making stuff for the game if you want to come in and chat: that is, if you're still interested.
I'm sent an invite to the Discord server, and almost immediately sprung into the project, despite not officially agreeing to join. I catch up on what has been said in the server, and it seems that a huge row has taken place, though with enough professionalism that everyone has continued to stick together. However, the one consensus seems to be that they desperately need a leader, although a teammate is assigned that role already.

I continue to talk to Winston, and refine some of his ideas. He originally wants the "central hub" to be the protagonist's parents' basement, which I feel is silly, and instead suggest their alternative: the theatre, reminding Winston that it's a horror, not a comedy, and funny kills tension.

Winston vehemently disagrees with this, and cites Resident Evil, which "has cheese, but is still pretty scary." His rationale is, "People will make fun of any horror game regardless of legitimacy anyway, so I thought us not taking ourselves seriously would allow the player to not feel like they're sitting through a lore session or something."

I note this in my own thoughts as something that needs to be rectified later on once the more rational members of the team become aware of this, but fail to realize at this juncture that the team has adapted to Winston and his ideas, and are willing to agree to most of them blindly just to appease him.



Whether or not I eventually do join Soulanity is chronicled in Indie Game Dev: The Democracy (Part 3).