Review Fix chats with “Witchkin” creator David Jennison who discusses the creepy “slumber party game” that just like “Five Nights at Freddy’s,” will scare the crap out of you and keep you coming back for more.
Review Fix: What was the inspiration for this game?
David Jennison: I am a huge fan of horror in film and books, but the Witchkin game idea came from a conversation I had with my kids. Being a parent has offered a lot of insight into human fear, mainly from being reminded of what it is really like to be a child scared of the dark. Adults seem to indulge in horror media in an odd attempt to recreate that feeling of anxiety and profound vulnerability that children call night-time. What really started it all was when I made a passing reference to the Teletubbies, my kids (7 and 9) had no familiarity with the show so I showed them a video of the program. They responded with the same strong rejection and unease that some people have to clowns. I then jokingly referred to the show as “Terror Tubbies”. My kids had been playing Slender and Five Nights at Freddy’s so we began discussing what a game called Terror Tubbies might be like. An hour later, the basic premise of the game was established. Then the backstory- tying it to the legend of the Candy Lady, Clara Crane, soon followed.
Review Fix: What has development been like?
Jennison: I have been working professionally in games for ten years as a character artist. Doing my own game is a double-edged sword- I have all the creative freedom I could want, but I’m doing everything myself (other than some excellent voice acting provided by my kids). I am quite comfortable with art, and have some former training in music composition, but everything else I’m having to teach myself. It’s developing those new skills that have cost me the most time. Also, forcing myself to see the game from a purely ‘game-play first’ experience took a lot of getting used to. I forced myself to start with an art-less prototype and get the simple mechanics down and balanced first before I would allow myself to work in my comfort zone of art. Very often I would be trudging through learning something totally new, like Unreal’s blueprints (the only reason I can script anything), completely frustrated. I would then be very tempted to just jump onto making some pretty art assets because I was much more comfortable with this and adding assets to the game felt like progress. I’d have to say, “No. THIS is the bigger obstacle to the game being made. You’ve got to push through learning this.” I am very glad I worked out the prototype before I started adding art.
Review Fix: What games did you play as a kid? How did they influence this one?
Jennison: I played a lot of games, but I never played horror games as a kid. There just weren’t many. So I can’t say any childhood games inspired me directly. I can definitely say that there was a series of books, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark and all takes of old American folklore, that terrified me. The profoundly eerie illustrations of Stephen Gammell have quite a bit of influence on the visual style of Witchkin.
Review Fix: What do you think is the coolest feature in the game?
Jennison: Witchkin is about running and hiding. Sometimes, the toys know that you are hiding and search the hiding spots for you, this means staying still and silent for fear that you might attract them. There are some very cool mechanics like holding your breath when they are near, it really adds to that feeling of being a terrified child. Also, the house of the Candy Lady has certain features that can make it hard to run sometimes, or hide other times. Nothing is simple. Nothing is safe.
Review Fix: Bottom line, why should someone play this?
Jennison: Witchkin sucks the player into a surreal experience of dread and horror from the perspective of a child. The visual atmosphere is one of a sepia-toned nightmare, like being trapped in an old photograph- the shadows of dark American folklore. There are no cell phones, no cameras, no paranormal investigators. There is only you, a child, trapped in a Texas farmhouse with the Witchkin- the toy children of an insane woman known as the Candy Lady. You have to survive to discover what happened to the missing children of Harris county.
Review Fix: What are your goals for the game?
Jennison: I call Witchkin a “slumber party horror game.” Similar to Slender and Five Nights at Freddy’s, this is a game for brave children and adults alike with a focus on dread and style rather than shock and gore. There isn’t a drop of blood in the game because the game doesn’t need it. The goal from the start was to make the player feel small and helpless like children feel in the dark. So far, from testing, the feedback is that Witchkin is very much that experience. We’ve had players tell us that they had to put the game down because of anxiety, or because they were keeping their spouses awake in the next room from screaming too much.