The Kingsport Cases Tries Procedurally-Generated Horror


The Kickstarter for the Lovecraftian horror game The Kingsport Cases is winding down, but there’s still time to check out the playable alpha.

In many ways, The Kingsport Cases is just another first-person indie horror game set in a 19th-century Lovecraft-inspired universe, and not terribly noteworthy as a result. But it is unusual, because rather than following a path set in stone by the game’s developers, it’s procedurally-generated, with a random element introduced to map and character creation that will, it is hoped, keep the game fresh through multiple plays.

A playable early-alpha version of the game was turned loose a couple weeks ago but server issues kept it out of my hands until late last week. I was finally able to give it a go over the weekend and it is definitely as advertised: randomly-generated (to a point), turn-of-the-last-century supernatural and very, very alpha. The edges aren’t rough, they’re jagged, particularly with regard to art assets, and the boxy, unnatural level design betrays some of the challenges of machine-driven design.

But it is playable, and it is creepy – perhaps unintentionally at times, thanks to the hollow-eyed NPCs and the way they just suddenly appear behind you without warning – but it may not get as far beyond its current state as the developers hope. Just four days remain in the Kickstarter and it’s not quite halfway to its modest $20,000 goal. If it doesn’t make it across the line, lead designer and writer Tabitha Chirrick says development will be seriously curtailed.

“We’ve been invited to Gam3rcon in San Diego, and will likely still attend, and our new goal is to stay on track for a Beta, which we’ll submit to the Independent Game Festival in October. At that time we’ll likely release the beta to the public,” she explained. “Without funding, we don’t really have the resources or time to make the game what we want it to be, and ironically, the biggest complaints have been the graphics, and now that certainly won’t change.”

Achieving its funding goal would allow the team to license Unity Pro (it’s currently using the free version), hire a 3D artist and perhaps a programmer, and cover expenses for things like music licenses and software. It would also “hugely mitigate” the risk of indie game development. “Continuing with this project without funding is potentially wasted time, and in a way, a successful Kickstarter would have validated our idea and time commitment,” Chirrick said. “It’s not impossible to continue from this point on, but in a way it’s like we’re being asked to run a race while injured or dehydrated. We can get somewhere, sure, but our chances of getting to the finish line are quite uncertain.”

A procedurally-generated horror game would be a tall order for anyone, much less an understaffed and under-equipped indie team, and the game as it stands has a long way to go before it’s ready for prime time. But Chirrick said the Kickstarter experience has convinced the team that there is legitimate interest in this kind of game. “When people see it, they like it,” she said.

The playable alpha can be had from either Kickstarter or The Kingsport Cases website. It won’t take you long to play through it, maybe 15 minutes at the most, and considerably less once you know roughly where to go and what to do – procedural generation notwithstanding, general areas and outcomes remain fairly consistent. The Kingsport Cases Kickstarter ends on June 2; it’s also up for voting on Steam Greenlight.

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