Making Monsters - Part 1
This week and next week, I'll talk a little bit about creating the monsters for Seventh Cross, both in terms of visual style and gameplay design.
When I set out to design a horror-themed world, I knew that I wanted to be selective in what kind of tropes we embraced, avoided, and circumvented. People have a great deal of in-built emotion surrounding their favorite monsters, and we knew that we could use these to immediately flavor the characters and create instantaneous attraction or repulsion to certain kinds of enemies.
At the same time, we also wanted to explore the monster traditions of the world and make Seventh Cross a game about this world of secret societies and ancient plots.
There's already a lot of grotesque horror in the board game world with games like the Others, Kingdom Death, and the Dark Souls Board Game. Lovecraftian horror, while interesting, has been done to death. I also wanted to avoid the 'vampires vs. werewolves' type of plots that are quite common these days.
I decided that, given the talents we had on our side and the expectations of our fans from past Level 99 Games productions that we would be working on more of an anime-styled horror experience, and that we wanted to focus on horror traditions from around the world, as well as from modern popular culture.
So, how did we decide which monsters we wanted to represent in the game, and how did we choose how to style them?
Designing for Theme
As with the World of Indines, we decided that we wanted to take a slightly different look at classical mythologies and tropes. With Indines, this meant changing all the races around a bit and giving them new powers and proficiencies.
In Seventh Cross this meant grouping the horror traditions of the world together to create various themes. We called these themes Otherworlds. Sorcery comes from a Source–the Otherworlds–and when you use a certain Otherworld's Sorcery, you slowly become a monster that is attuned to that Otherworld and at least partially under the influence of that Otherworld's secret master.
This allowed us to start building broader categories of monsters, as well as to explain why similar monsters might be working together or appear in the same castle. It also allowed us to explain some of the differences between our monsters and those of classical mythology.
Once we had our Otherworlds and monsters figured out, we started building castles and distributing the monsters among them, as well as designing interesting encounters to feature those monsters.
Rusalka appears in Norbett's Claw, an ice-themed castle. Like other monsters in that castle, this monster's powers are drawn from Nyborea, an Otherworld trapped in eternal ice and ruled by a mysterious 'sleeping king' trapped beneath the frost. These influences of a larger theme helped to shape the monster’s visual look.
Designing for Style
Another justification in selecting our monsters was style. There were a lot of famous classics that we wanted to hit, while specifically avoiding or subverting the strict interpretations in media. In other cases, we let staff members or artists make the decision on which monsters to include. I wanted to make sure it was a group effort and that everyone got to work on a monster that they were really excited about.
Our artist, wickedAlucard, opted to include Ame Onna, a monster inspired by some of his favorite Japanese mythology. One of our lead developers, Kier, envisioned the Hunter Killer as a mechanical killing machine driven by supernatural forces.
A Unique Look
It wasn't enough that our monsters be things that would surprise players–we also wanted to do familiar monsters in a more interesting and world-specific way. This was another great opportunity granted to us by the Otherworlds and their stylistic themes. For example, our standard 'witch' character, D'Janette, draws her magic from Sheligath, a world of demons and dark magic stylized after the ancient roman empire. This allowed us to create a unique monstrous form for her that escaped the usual 'pointy hat and broom' signals that would normally be required parts of the costume.
For characters that draw their power from the light, we were able to create monstrous forms that gave an angelic or divine presence to otherwise terrifying creatures, such as Emogine's Hecatoncheir. While the monster's concept is a classical one, it’s still very clear why this creature is called “Hecatoncheir”. The creature is also quite different from any other “Hecatoncheir” interpretation that you might find online.
These unique visual designs are a big part of Seventh Cross's identity and what sets it apart from other settings in the gothic/horror genre.
That's all for designing the style of monsters. Next week, I'll talk about how we balanced and designed the gameplay of monsters, to keep things interesting.