The following interview is by Joe Litobarski of UncaringCosmos.com.
The Last Door is a pixelated horror adventure game inspired by the works of H.P Lovecraft, Edgar Allan Poe, and a tremblesome assortment of other authors of Gothic horror and weird fiction. The Lovecraft eZine hosted a Google Hangouts playthrough of the first few chapters back in April 2014. The Last Door is available on PC, Mac, Linux, Android, iPhone, and iPad.
The game’s retro art style does a great job of conjuring up a horrific atmosphere, leaving the details for the player’s imagination to fill in (with the help of the superbly creepy musical score). In order to find out more about the game’s literary influences, I recently spoke to Mateo Pérez, one of the game designers and writers for The Last Door (interview begins after The Last Door trailer).
Joe Litobarski: Is everybody working on The Last Door a fan of H.P. Lovecraft?
Mateo Pérez: I have always been a fan of Lovecraft, and in the writing and design team for The Last Door I’m really pushing Lovecraft content into the game, but it’s quite interesting because we aren’t really all fans of Lovecraft or this kind of fiction. So, Enrique [Cabeza – Lead Designer of The Last Door] proposed the idea of The Last Door by himself; I mean, this Lovecraft-based Gothic horror story was his own idea. I think it’s interesting that he’s not really a Lovecraft fan, actually, and he’s much more cautious about putting Lovecraftian content in the game.
Joe Litobarski: So, are the Poe influences on The Last Door coming more from Enrique?
Mateo Pérez: Yes, but mostly our influences have come from those authors that were between the Gothic writers and Lovecraft. It’s mostly writers like Guy de Maupassant, and a kind of horror that is not so much about a cosmic inhumanity or a universe that is really hostile, but more about something in your daily life that suddenly seems kind of off, and suggests that your conceptions about reality are not right.
Joe Litobarski: When did you first discover this kind of weird fiction?
Mateo Pérez: Well, in my case it was when I was around twelve years old and I read The Novel of The White Powder by Arthur Machen. I didn’t learn about Lovecraft until much later. In fact, I actually discovered the whole Lovecraftian thing from a video game. It was called Necronomicon and it was an old point-and-click adventure. It was kind of a bad game in many ways, but it had a great atmosphere for the time.
Joe Litobarski: Theatres, yellow robes and masks all appear as recurring motifs in The Last Door. That conjures up something of The King in Yellow by Robert W. Chambers. Was that a big influence as well?
Mateo Pérez: Well, a lot of people say that, but not really. We haven’t really read much by Robert W. Chambers. I don’t think Enrique has read any, and I have read only some of his work. I did know about The King in Yellow before writing the game, though, so perhaps it was an unconscious influence.
Instead, we arrived at this theatre metaphor mostly through the films of David Lynch, as a way to contrast between daily reality and this other, expanded and horrifying reality which is lurking behind the veil. It’s also an idea that we took from The Great God Pan by Arthur Machen.
Joe Litobarski: Let’s talk a little bit about the art style of The Last Door. Was it difficult to convey a sense of horror using pixel art?
Mateo Pérez: Well, sometimes we wanted to make these really complex scenes and it got really messy. Or when we wanted to make a scene that relied heavily on what you’re seeing, or using faces, for example, it was not really possible with our art style. So, we just had to cut that sort of thing out.
The thing is, I think The Last Door works in a similar way to a short story, in the sense that the player is making the images themselves mentally. In the game, the images you see are mostly acting as tokens for the player to help them build their mental image of the scene. And I think our art style works really well in that way.
Mateo Pérez: Yes, it was in the very first concept mock-up. The first mock-up was a static image of Jeremiah Devitt [the main character from The Last Door] with a lamp and this Victorian-style wallpaper behind him and the theme music by Carlos Viola. Enrique worked with Carlos to make this first mock-up, and it really worked. I think, in a sense, the music kind of lead the style for the rest of the sound of the game.
Joe Litobarski: There’s no voice acting in The Last Door, so it can sometimes feel like (in a good way) reading a weird fiction short story. Was that also a design decision, or more a result of budget constraints?
Mateo Pérez: I think, initially, it was because nobody in the team really knew how to work with voices and we didn’t really have the budget for it. But it is true that, later on, we discussed the possibility of having voices and we discarded it right away because we realised that having the player read through the text was really important for setting the atmosphere and for getting into the story.
Also, something that is really important for the game is the community and the way players in the community can affect the story. If we were using voices we would be really constrained in what we could change and when. Each episode of The Last Door has a really short development cycle for a video game, and we have to be able to change everything dynamically. We are still editing the text up to 20 minutes before releasing an episode, and we are really looking all the time at people’s comments in the forum or elsewhere and thinking: “Maybe this could be written in another way?”
Also, the actual text of the game is proof-read by a team of players who are backers. And they aren’t just proof-reading the English, they are also influencing the story and what is happening and why. The entire plot is really detailed by players, and I think that’s really rich. We couldn’t do that if we had to record the voices.
Joe Litobarski: Last question. Which Lovecraftian story most influenced you when writing The Last Door?
Mateo Pérez: For me, the most influential story was The Great God Pan by Arthur Machen. For Enrique, I think it’s a short story by Guy de Maupassant called Lui? [Translated as The Terror in English] that really manages to find the spot where reality is kind of broken but not clearly, so the origin of the fear is something really simple. And I think Enrique really tries to convey that feeling with the atmosphere in The Last Door. Also, David Lynch has always been an inspiration. Maybe he’s not very Lovecraftian, though!
Joe Litobarski is a European political journalist and blogger. As a journalist, he has interviewed hundreds of politicians from across Europe, including prime ministers, government ministers and national MPs. He’s also a huge weird fiction fan, so he thought he’d try his hand at interviewing a few Lovecraftian authors, game developers and filmmakers for the Lovecraft eZine. His website is at www.uncaringcosmos.com .
BELOW: Watch the Lovecraft eZine gamers play The Last Door.