Review Fix chats with Llexi Leon, director of Incendium, who lets us know why the Worms meets Resident Evil hybrid that is ‘Phantom Halls’ is an indie game you won’t want to miss.
Review Fix: How was this game born?
Llexi Leon: Phantom Halls evolved pretty organically from a number of ideas I had jotted down over many months and as I was exploring different takes on tactical turn-based games, text-based adventures, all ages horror concepts, and so on, they were all unrelated ideas I was experimenting with for various themes. Ultimately it was a mix and match of a few different threads that suddenly clicked for me in terms of how the real-time squad based gameplay could quite very unique and reinforce the narrative source material [IE: Group of teens enters a house on a hill, hijinks ensue!].
Review Fix: What has development been like so far?
Leon: It’s been fairly relaxed so far as we’ve had plenty of time to keep chipping away at it and getting the most out of it, that’ll probably change in the next 6 months as we’re really ramping up now ahead of our full release launch for Halloween this year. Everyone works on this project part time alongside other games, so it’s always been a longterm production bubbling away in the background, but we’ve got more folks working on it now than ever to make it the best it can be for October. There’s a great core team here that are deep into the mechanics and narrative of the game and we all share ideas for where to take it next and what we want to see in there for wide release, taking into account all the community feedback as we go which has been an incredible resource. For myself as the studio head at Incendium, this is a real passion project as we mostly did client work until I decided to develop some original IP for the studio, it’s been great to have the team rally around it and realize the potential of this wonderfully quirky comedy-horror adventure.
Review Fix: What makes this game special?
Leon: Well I often describe the game as ‘Worms meets Resident Evil’ which is a phrase that stuck in my head early on in development, but there’s a truth too it as bizarre as it sounds! I feel like the combination of the unique real-time squad-based mechanics, the papercraft aesthetic applied to the horror genre, and the irreverent banter between the characters makes for a rather unexpected gaming experience that’s offering something a bit different but doesn’t take itself too seriously, despite the depth of the gameplay on offer if you start digging into all the possible character party choices, skill trees, weapon combos, and so on.
Review Fix: What games influenced this one the most?
Leon: I’ve already mentioned the Worms/Resident Evil thing – both have left their mark on Phantom Halls for sure, Spelunky is a great indie title that has some more direct similarities in terms of procedural generation. I’d say Maniac Mansion is a huge inspiration tonally, not necessarily in terms of gameplay at all, but there is that same quirky humour and offbeat adventure to be had, we reference the key art for that game in our own designs and whilst they’re totally different games to play, I feel like the intent behind them is quite similar.
Review Fix: Any fun stories or wild moments during development?
Leon: We did have a rocky moment or two, It’s always a challenge building out a remote team and seeking help in areas where you know your limitations. On the upside, we’ve met some incredible talent from that outreach and some of those guys are still on the team today making awesome stuff. The downside is you sometimes get folks who overpromise and underdeliver, or worse, get in over their heads creating unusable broken code that has to be scrapped completely after 3 months putting you back to the drawing board… but that’s the joy of game dev, right?!
Review Fix: Do you think preserving older gameplay mechanics in new games is important?
Leon: I’m not sure I’ve ever thought about that too much even as someone who still collects original Gameboy cartridges and plays those games regularly. I do think it’s important to look back at all eras of gaming and see what those games have to offer – it’s also helpful to see how game mechanics have evolved over time and what the foundations of those accepted norms are. Phantom Halls has quite an unforgiving difficulty threshold which requires players to really pay attention, look for visual cues, be wary of traps, and watch thier timing – that’s definitely something that came through from classic vintage games like Castlevania, I do feel like a lot of larger video game releases tend to hand hold quite a bit and kind of guide you through a big (often impressive) story without much actually gameplay challenge, so I tend to rely on vintage games for my barometer of ‘are we making this too hard?’ Typically 10 minutes on any Gameboy title will remind you that the answer is: No, make it harder!
Review Fix: What’s your favorite memory as a gamer?
Leon: I have always been a huge comics nerd when I first discovered the 4 player X-Men arcade machine as a kid I think my head nearly exploded. I must have dumped so much cash into that game, with friends, solo, and with whoever was around at the time – I loved every minute of it! At one point in my 20s I collected all the comic book licensed games on 8bit and 16bit systems, remembering it from my childhood it felt like a golden age of both comics and gaming to me, even though some of those licensed titles were terrible, there are a few real gems.
Review Fix: Who will enjoy this game the most?
Leon: This a game for anyone to pick up and play that’ll offer something a bit different, it’s riffing on horror tropes but not in a way that is going to put you off if you’re queasy or scare easy – we’re firmly in the parody space rather than a jumpscare splatterfest. There’s a ton of different characters to unlock and each one has a unique personality and skillset, so we hope folks will find their favorites and form their Phantom Halls monster busting dream team. Tonally it’s very close to the Evil Dead 2 / Army Of Darkness movies as a horror comedy piece, but with the papercraft graphics it’s visually harmless cartoon violence and so it’s really for anyone that loves 80s b-movies, horror, Halloween, and all manner of myths, monsters, and metal.
Review Fix: How do you want this game to be remembered?
Leon: I hope the community continues to grow and with the addition of networked co-op in the coming months Phantom Halls becomes a go-to party game for Halloween. The game can be relaxing, gripping, relentless, and hilarious at times, a 30minute session can be a real rollercoaster – it’s best experienced with friends and I hope folks have fond memories of teaming up to save the day.
Review Fix: What’s next?
Leon: We have a couple other titles in development, Eternal Descent – based on our comic series of the same name, is going to be a fast-paced action shooter with a heavy metal live show theme. There are plans to do more with the ‘Phantom Halls’ brand in future too, but we’ll probably take the whole concept off-world as I really want to apply our real-time squad mechanics to an aliens/starship troopers parody.