So this is my second post regarding discussing the development process for one of my games. As I’m typing this, I just realized that I forgot to write one for Night of the Crescent Moon, so now I’m making a mental note to go back and write one for that game. It won’t be quite as good as it would have been fresh in my mind, but I think I still remember it well enough 🙂
Concept Part 1 (Personal experiences)
Everything game starts with an idea. The Shadow People was no different, of course. So how did it start out? For me, it all started back in college.
Story time: I went to college for a long time. Eight years on and off for community college, then two years at a four year university. I ended up jumping between a few different majors during my time at community college. When I was in high school, I was convinced that I wanted to be a mechanical engineer. So those are the courses I started with at community college (alongside General Ed).
However, I soon found out I wasn’t all that good at rotating three dimensional objects in my head and sketching them out on paper. It also didn’t help that I wasn’t super motivated at the time having been an adult for a couple years at this point. So I flunked engineering and almost got suspended for bad grades.
Fast forward a few years and I eventually got into software development, which I initially swore off after failing a C programming class early in my college career. I eventually found my sweet spot with software dev, and my life became much better because I actually felt like I was going to complete community college instead of failing forever.
During this time, I lived an hour away from college. I generally would go there four days a week on average. In addition, I wasn’t good about going to bed early. Sometimes I stayed up so I could study, but other times I just wanted to play video games instead of get work done. Anyway, the point being that I almost never got enough sleep, and I basically lived off of energy drinks for years of my life. Which isn’t optimal for my health, obviously.
Because I was so exhausted all the time, sometimes I would get the briefly visual hallucinations during the long drives. In between micro-sleeps, I would for one singular instant believe I saw a shadow in the road or something. It would mess with my head, and on at least one occasion I slammed on the car brakes, believing that I was about to strike something in the road. Of course, nothing was there. It was honestly amazing I managed to survive driving with so little sleep for so long without crashing my car; I strongly do not recommend it.
So that’s basically where I got the idea for the game initially. I ended up writing a short little story about it, and shelved it for awhile before deciding to adapt it into a full-fledged video game. I also did a bit of reading about the subject of Shadow People in general. Ignoring the supernatural element for the moment, it seemed that it was at least a somewhat common phenomenon for people who were deprived of sufficient sleep.
Through Wikipedia, I found an article https://books.google.com/books?id=yFGJV5XSNhYC&pg=PA17#v=onepage&q&f=false where meth addicts would report sightings of Shadow People when they stayed awake too long. Since for me the loss of sleep wasn’t driven by drugs, I never felt the conspiratorial component that the people in the article described, but it still felt like I would mistakenly believe someone was in the road or near a dark corner for brief flashes of time.
The other experience I had that ties in to the game was a sleep paralysis episode I had in my twenties. While the sleep paralysis wasn’t due to anything on my part in particular, I did feel a strong sense of terror, believing someone had snuck into my room and poisoned me. I ended up weaving this experience into one of the endings, since it felt fitting that Shadow People could be responsible for restraining the main character in the game.
Concept Part 2 (External Influences)
In terms of the game’s mechanical design, I was largely inspired by Shadowgate, The Uninvited and Deja Vu for the NES, all of which I played one after another near the time I started working on the game.
While I very much enjoyed the games, I remembered thinking that I would have a hard time recommending the games to fans of point and click adventure games, because I felt they had some issues that made the play experience frustrating. Mainly because they were programmed so long ago for the NES. There were some points of frustration like some of the puzzles not making any sense, or the large quantity of items that were useless in each game. Moving around the menus could be obnoxious as well.
Around that time, the annual adventure game jam was happening on GameJolt (2020). I competed in it once before in 2019 (Night of the Crescent Moon), so I wanted to try to make a point and click adventure game this time around. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize how much effort went into making the engine for that genre of game when building it from the ground up (as opposed to using something like Ren’Py or Twine).
It turns out that point and click adventure games take a lot of work from the ground up since there is so much custom code for different actions, objects, and puzzles. Not to mention, most of the time you are drawing new backgrounds for each room, which might take a player 15-30 seconds to traverse. So unless you make the player tread the same areas over and over again, your drawings don’t usually get as much mileage as opposed to some other genres.
The Shadow People in particular was like this since most segments of the game were isolated from each other. Only the central “hub” of the game, the streets of the mysterious town, has a lot of retraversal elements baked in. Most areas you simply need to walk through once (maybe twice).
So while the game took over a year to make (and obviously wasn’t ready for the jam’s 2 week deadline), it was a very satisfying experience for me, as I’ve never even come close to making a game as large as this one before.
Now onto the more specific influences and homages.
TRIGGER WARNING: Some of the pictures ahead are somewhat graphic in terms of horror, so please don’t read the entire post if that sort of thing bothers you.
Here is the full list of references and homages in the game.
When you look at the portrait in your bedroom and see the tall man with light brown hair and woodcutter axe, it’s a reference to one of my friends, Dred4170, who always seems to be doing woodcutting at his house 🙂
The description that I gave to the teacher at school is literally how I felt about a real life teacher I had when I was attending college. They weren’t the worst professor ever, but it really bothered me how useless they were in helping students out or teaching them.
I got the idea of the highway disappearing into the darkness from the Red Letter Media review of In the Mouth of Madness. In the movie, the road suddenly disappears during a late night country drive, and it looked quite terrifying to me.
The items in the inventory screen is a style that’s a reference to the early PS1 Resident Evil inventory screens.
In the shed, when you use the radio, you can hear a series of numbers (with my voice). The numbers are used to solve the puzzle in the clock tower. This is a reference to Number Stations, which are these interesting old radio stations where someone speaks a series of numbers over and over again. Presumably, they were used as codes for spies, but no one knows for sure.
The room with the three mirrors (both in the church and in the dream world) are direct references to Shadowgate on NES. In Shadowgate, the middle mirror was the way forward with a hidden door, and the right mirror would bring you into deep space, killing you instantly. In my game, I altered it so that going into deep space would instead bring you to an alien planet (since you are in a dream).
The Red Prince is a character from two of my previous games, Night of the Crescent Moon and Story of the Mirror. They are basically a mad monster/demigod that exists in some far away dimension. They are a reference to The King in Yellow, a series of short stories loosely tied together by a play in the story called “The King in Yellow”. And anyone who reads the whole play is driven crazy.
The body on the floor with the description “THERE WAS A PERSON HERE. THEY ARE GONE NOW.” is a reference to a line in Silent Hill 2 “THERE WAS A HOLE HERE. IT’S GONE NOW.” Honestly, the creepy no-context lines are what I find the most effective in horror.
The “shadow people” waving to the player is a reference to a couple panels in Hellstar Remina, a Junji Ito manga. Honestly, I’m extremely split about that particular Ito manga, but I thought the “shadow people” waving was a cool image. In the story, I interpreted that those shadows probably were the remains of previous explorers who died on the hostile planet.
The elephant creature is a reference to the elephant illusion, in terms of how many legs it had. The room name “Lair of the Imperfect” is a reference to a bonfire in Dark Souls 2, that looked to house misshapen dragon creatures.
The hole in the wall, and the twisted creature that eventually comes out of the cracked hole in the wall, is a direct reference to Enigma at Amigara Fault by Junji Ito. When you try to interact with the first hole, and it says “This hole wasn’t made for you.”, that is also a direct reference to the story, where everyone was compelled to enter their own hole in the wall.
The endless hallway is a reference to the 1974 japanese movie Jack and the Beanstalk. In the castle in the clouds, Jack sees a long hallway with multiple doors, and he hears children beckoning him to run away. The children are never seen, so they could be spirits for all he knows.
The endless hallway with the light at the end was a reference to Spooky’s Jump Scare Mansion (formerly known as Spooky’s House of 1000 Jump Scares). One of the rooms that you find sometimes has an endless hallway with a light at the end in the middle of two normal ones. If you travel too far down the hallway, the walls eventually close in on you and you get stuck, while a monster comes out of nowhere to ambush you.
There’s a total of 5 endings in the game. One of them is a dream ending where you visit an alien planet populated with Shadow People, and the other is kind of a joke ending where you go blind from staring at the sun too long. The other 3 endings depend on which items you pick up along the way. These are basically designed after the Silent Hill games again, where picking up certain items can change the ending, in addition to the “UFO” and “Dog” endings.
To finish up, The Shadow People was a really fun game to make. It was pretty touch and go for a long time, but a couple people motivated me to continue working on the game past the conclusion of the 2020 Adventure Jam. It’s a game that means quite a lot to me as I got to combine not only my own personal experiences, but also my love for all kinds of different horror games, movies and cryptids. I never expected the game to perform particularly well, but for me, it was an exhilarating and rewarding development process 🙂