Gaming history has a long list of iconic villains, but we have yet to meet a flesh-eating spider train named Charles – until now. Unveiled earlier this month by Two Star Games, Choo-Choo Charles is an open-world survival horror romp that has managed to quickly bring unsuspecting gamers aboard with its dark, densely wooded areas and, yes, a terrifying sentient train antagonist. Charles clearly has a relentless drive to consume human flesh, but is there more to this villainous locomotive than we’ve seen so far? We caught up with Choo-Choo Charles solo developer Gavin Eisenbeisz to find out just that.
The Escapist: Tell us about yourself and your work at Two Star Games. You’re a solo developer, so I’d love to hear about your journey and what it’s been like seeing the excitement surrounding Choo-Choo Charles.
Gavin Eisenbeisz: I started making games as a hobby about 8 years ago and officially started Two Star Games just a few years back. I’ve made a handful of free games as Two Star, as well as my first major commercial launch, My Beautiful Paper Smile, and now Choo-Choo Charles. Seeing Choo-Choo Charles get so much attention has been wild. When I first had the idea for the game I knew it had a lot of potential, but I wasn’t expecting it to get such widespread notice so quickly. The first three days after I released the announcement trailer were filled with adrenaline and were super overwhelming. Sifting through messages, business offers, and people’s opinions on the game was all I did for those days. Ultimately, it was fantastic though. A little stressful, since I haven’t really had this many eyes on me before, but it’s been really great for the game.
Where did the idea for Choo-Choo Charles come from? Or more specifically, how did you manage to think up and create a flesh-eating spider train?
Gavin Eisenbeisz: I was trying to come up with an idea for my next game and realized how few horror games there are that parody kids TV characters. Indie horror has long been known to take happy childhood memories and flip them on their heads, like with Tattletail or Five Nights at Freddy’s, but kids TV and movies have got almost entirely untouched. The first character I thought of was Thomas the Tank Engine, who was one of my favorite TV characters when I was younger. After I had that idea, I just had to figure out a way to make this new train character as horrifying as I could.
When creating Choo-Choo Charles, did you take any inspiration from mods seen in games like the Resident Evil 2 remake or Skyrim? The infamous Thomas the Tank Engine Mr. X was the thing that came to mind when I first saw your sentient spider train.
Gavin Eisenbeisz: I’ve seen a ton of people mention this and assume that it was where the idea came from, but I honestly had no idea that Thomas mods were a big thing. I do remember seeing a video on YouTube of Thomas as Mr. X, but I had forgotten about it until people brought it up again. I know a lot of people probably won’t believe me, since it seems that’s what CCC reminds people of most. The game probably wouldn’t have blown up nearly as much if those mods didn’t exist.
Can you tell us more about Choo-Choo Charles’ story, its world, and its inhabitants?
Gavin Eisenbeisz: At the moment the story is basically nonexistent. I’ve been focusing all my time so far on creating the main gameplay systems that will make the game fun to play, and I’ll be putting time into the story/lore and inhabitants of the island later on once I have most of the gameplay completed.
How would you describe the core gameplay loop?
Gavin Eisenbeisz: The core gameplay loop consists of traveling, looting, and upgrading. Players will travel to new locations in their train, loot and complete missions for NPCs to get more scraps, then use those scraps to upgrade the stats on their train to better defend against Charles, since you’ll have random encounters with him as you travel. The ultimate goal of the game is to collect three special items from around the island that will be used to summon Charles to fight you to the death. If you successfully kill him with your train, then you beat the game, and (you can) continue to roam around the world to 100% the game.
How important is exploration? I know there are resources to find, but how have you tried to make exploration rewarding?
Gavin Eisenbeisz: As well as looting and completing missions, exploration will be one of the main ways I tell the lore of the game. There’ll be many remote locations that aren’t marked on your map or even mentioned by NPCs that all have their own stories to tell, as well as extra puzzles and collectables.
Charles really looks like a force to be reckoned with. How can we meaningfully do damage to him? Can he be killed or slowed down?
Gavin Eisenbeisz: Players will fight Charles in two scenarios. The first and most common is when Charles randomly attacks you while you travel. To survive these encounters, you either need to scare him away by dealing enough damage to him, or escape him by upgrading the speed of your train and slowing him down by shooting his wheels. (While it’s not implemented yet, Charles will use his wheels when he’s chasing you on the train tracks.)
The other time you’ll fight Charles is when you summon him to a duel. If you summon him, you won’t be able to slow him down enough to escape him and will need to deal enough damage to him to kill him. I’ve been thinking about ways to make these combat scenarios more interesting, with weak spots, different attacks, and other enemies that might help Charles, but I don’t have anything solid to talk about yet.
I’ve seen armor, damage, and speed upgrades for the little yellow train, so I’d love to hear more about how exactly the upgrade system works and if there is anything else to it that you haven’t shown yet.
Gavin Eisenbeisz: The upgrade system is pretty simple and linear. There are three upgrade paths, and all of them use Scraps, which are found in the map or earned from NPCs. Every time you upgrade one of your stats, it’ll increase by a certain percentage. I’m not certain how many levels there will be for each type of upgrade or how much effect each of them will have yet though. A lot of that will come down to lots of beta testing and balancing of stats to find the numbers that feel right.
As well as the linear upgrades, players can complete missions for certain NPCs that will in turn give you higher-powered weapons. I don’t have the weapon list nailed down 100%, but there will be at least three unlockable weapons besides the default machine gun, and one of them will be a rocket launcher.
What sort of missions can townspeople send us on, and how do they spice up the gameplay?
Gavin Eisenbeisz: I want there to be a lot of variety in the missions players complete. Some that I have planned are using your train to clear paths for people or using your guns to clear an area of enemies on someone’s property. You might need to solve some puzzles to get information for people. Ultimately, the missions are where I can mess around and do a little extra fun stuff that helps add some interest to the gameplay and world.
How long has Choo-Choo Charles been in development?
Gavin Eisenbeisz: I came up with the idea a little over a month ago.
How long do you expect it to take to complete Choo-Choo Charles? It sounds like there might be collectibles, too, so I’d also be interested to hear how much time you think it might take to “100%” it.
Gavin Eisenbeisz: Since the game is still in very early development, it’s hard to give an accurate estimate, but I’m hoping it’ll take around 2-3 hours to beat the game, and maybe an extra hour or two for someone to fully upgrade their train, complete all the missions, and find all the collectables.
I know we’ll be able to play Choo-Choo Charles on PC, but are there plans to bring it to any other platforms? If so, when could console players expect to get the game in their hands?
Gavin Eisenbeisz: The initial launch will likely just be PC, on Steam. I might bring the game to some other PC storefront as well. As far as consoles go, I would love to make the game available on Xbox and PlayStation, but those versions are likely going to come some months after the PC launch. Nothing is confirmed, and I’m not 100% certain I’ll be porting the game, but It’s definitely on my radar and something I’m interested in doing.
Choo-Choo Charles is currently scheduled to release on PC via Steam in Q1 of 2022.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.