Venatrix sounded like an ambitious project from start, even on the paper. As indie developers, we are always accustomed to be cautious of anything deemed “ambitious”.
We always wanted to give the freedom of experiencing the story from two different main characters’ perspective and given the Venatrix’s background lore, which is late Victorian-times, laying the foundations of a narrative structure for having two protagonists. One “Matthew, no-nonsense brave investigator who relies on his gun tactics and sharp wit” and another, “Della, seemingly Victorian tea-room lady on the surface but a social-norm challenger inside”, proved to be difficult yet fruitful.
As a result, we had to develop two “playing styles” since we really wanted to remain faithful to the background-lore we have created.
Right after the introduction chapter, Matthew finds a pistol, unsurprisingly, to get him prepared the perils lurking ahead. He immediately grabs the pistol as if this was the moment he was waiting for and he is already craving for more ammo.
When played the same level, this time from Della’s perspective, she sees the same pistol, in the exact same spot where Matthew picked it up, she wisely comments “What’s the point of a gun, if you can’t shoot the monsters in your head?” and leaves the gun there.
Matthew is the action-hero, whereas Della is the stealth-vixen, that was the polar-opposite of our main-character structure for the narrative design of Venatrix.
Thus, we realized our challenge would go deeper than the usual matrix of a “game design document”.
Matthew’s gameplay will ring more familiar bells with the horror-gaming crowd. You grab your weapon, explore around for clues and ammo, solve puzzles and survive. However, we wanted to stay true to the spirit of Della’s character, when we wanted to design the gameplay from her point of view. Having released a few “stealth-horror” titles in the past and that genre being our favorite as a gamer, it was a no brainer for us to pinpoint Della’s gameplay features as “first-person psychological game with stealth mechanics.”
And thus began the challenge of balance for the entire game. We wanted to give the players the choice between either characters at the start of the each chapter to give them the bold-attempt to change between the course of progress. And since players have a choice of going full-action-blast with Matthew, we wanted to design the Della’s “stealth mechanics” in the old-school way, as much possible. This is what we believe is the true risk we were taking since most of the modern stealth games always have a “hold the gamer’s hand“ approach.
However, in Venatrix’s Della sphere, pure-old-fashioned stealth is the only game play catharsis you would get. And hopefully, in this way, gamers can focus on the duality aspect of our narrative design, how the entire story can be told in a totally different perspective when you switch characters during the progress of the game.
We always pride of ourselves, taking the less-travelled path since we believe we are truly indie-developers from both business and daily-practice aspects but we might be taking the risk-threshold a bit higher than usual this time. Perhaps, many gamers who would appreciate playing as Matthew would get bored after trying one or two chapters from Della’s point of view, thus leaving and crossing off the game without the full experience. But hey, maybe a project like Venatrix is the perfect example to introduce “pure stealth gameplay” to the “action-horror fans” and it is a bit of a burden on our shoulders as indie-developers-self-publishers to take such risks.
At the same time, we feel lucky to have an opportunity like ID@XBOX as a platform where they welcome such a wide spectrum of indie games.
Only history will tell if Venatrix will be liked by masses or not, but we can safely argue that it is going to be a truly unique entry for the horror genre. Try your hand at both approaches on Xbox today and see if you can survive!
Venatrix is a unique hybrid of action-packed and stealth-based horror game. We choose to play as either Matthew Kolth, an occult obsessed paranormal investigator, into nightmarish scenes to fight perturbing monsters from ghastly realms, or as Della Hartfort, as she slithers her way stealthy to avoid the same monsters Matthew is emptying his bullets upon. Join either Mr. Kolth or Mrs.Hartfort as they both try to make sense of a hellish adventure that leads them into the depths of their own psyche and back again. Live through their difference of reality-gaze which merges fiction and ethereal dream sequences and go on to fight against evil in this dimension…and the next. Matthew Kolth is a paranormal investigator at the turn of the century that takes on a new case at Hartford Mansion. There he meets Della, the wife of a rich businessman that believes her house to be haunted. She sees visions of demons and beasts of other dimensions. As a player, we have two deliberate choices: We either pick Matthew or Della, and both alternatives offer completely different play styles and adventures. Matthew must journey through the dream-like yet horror filled halls of the Hartford mansion before heading to Carcosa Asylum in pursuit of Della and the answers she holds. You must guide him from the bone chilling depths of his own psyche and back into stability all the while fighting terrifying monsters and trying to solve mind bending puzzles to progress through the game. Matthew must fight with enemies from outer space, other dimensions, and from the depths of his own soul to avail victorious from this mysterious and blood curdling case. Matthew must overcome his inner demons in a story that twists and turns as you must follow your instincts to find evidence – whether this evidence tells more about the case or about Matthew himself, is to be found out. Alternatively, you can play as Della and befriend with shadows. She will embark on the same path Matthew has ventured, however she would only have her stealth-wise skills to confront or avoid those monsters. Inevitably, her version of this dangerous undertaking will also trigger her soul to face her own inner demons as well, but perhaps she has a different spectrum of opinions on the same worldly matters of which Matthew has a “male-gaze” upon, her own interpretation, as an audacious Victorian-lady…