Still Running's Simo Talasranta takes time out to talk Morbid: The Seven Acolytes
Morbid: The Seven Acolytes has been developed in Finland by the Still Running team. Composer, Sound Designer and Writer, Simo Talasranta took time out of his busy schedule to answer our questions.
Morbid’s billed as the most gruesome take on the isometric Souls-like genre yet! Fans of the genre will instantly understand what to expect but how would you describe the game to your grandmother?
Hah! That’s a good one. Well, whenever I’ve told about Morbid to someone who isn’t familiar with souls-likes, or gaming in general, I’ve tried to make it as simple as possible. In its core Morbid is a role playing game where you battle nightmarish monsters to save the world. This is a fairly simple concept to grasp even if you know nothing about games.
To those who ask me what makes Morbid a Souls-like, the answer is a bit more convoluted. After all, Souls-like is a fairly new genre and the definition is still partly changing and up for grabs. Some of the “classic” Souls-like features present in Morbid are for example: Character levelling, Looting, Stamina management, High difficulty, World with rich embedded lore, Emphasis on boss-fights, Combat focused on reading enemy patterns, Parrying and counter attacking, weapon customization, Well designed maps with shortcuts, and so forth.
This being said, Morbid is not just a souls-like. If you’ve played our demo, or seen footage of the game, you have surely noticed the Diablo-style slot inventory, which will definitely change things up a bit. We also have several side quests, which aren’t something souls-likes would inherently have. In short, we have not tried to copy-paste the souls-like template, but rather build upon the best parts of the genre to make an amazing game.
The game features an RPG element and players are able to level up their character using a perks system – how does that work and will choosing different perks effect play-styles?
Yeah, these perks are called the Blessings of Magratheus, Magratheus being the benevolent force of the universe in the world of Mornia. There are fifteen unique Blessings in the game at launch, which you must first discover to put in use. And of course you can’t use all of them at the same time, so you have to be savvy about how you build and combine your perks. Blessing slots are granted for Slaying Acolytes, so at the beginning you have fewer options, but as you progress you can start making very interesting Blessing combinations.
The Blessings of Magratheus will dramatically effect your play-style, as they are the main method of customizing your character. For example: Let’s say I wish to create and agile rogue-like character. I would definitely try to get my hands on the Blessing of Fitness, which increases the size of my Stamina bar. I would then use my experience points to upgrade that blessing (up to five times), to further grow my Stamina capacity. Now if I could also get my hands on say, the Blessing of the Slasher, which would increase my attack speed, and the Blessing of the Acrobat, which lowers my stamina consumption while Dodge-rolling and Running, I would have a pretty strong start for a Stamina-build there.
One of the coolest things about the Blessings is that they are swappable throughout the game. So if you feel like you wish to pursue a different build mid-game, or find a cool weapon around which you hope to start building your character, you can do that without starting over!
I understand how stamina and health stats work in these type of games but Morbid adds “sanity” into the mix, how does that effect things?
Sanity is both thematically and mechanically an important part of Morbid. The Abysmal monstrosities of Mornia are impossible for a mere mortal to cope with, without eventually going insane. The Sanity Meter on the HUD keeps track of the players faltering mind.
Sanity effects among other things the damage the player deals and takes, as wells as the amount of Experience she gains. But perhaps the most discernible effect Sanity has on our heroine, is the apparition of Spectres. If your Sanity sinks too low, dead enemies begin to rise anew as horrid ghostly versions of themselves. This is why Sanity management is important while traversing the ghastly world of Mornia. You can try to mend your sanity with some of the single use items found in the world, as well as through meditation on the Shrines.
We’ve seen images of some of the Seven Acolytes (that’s bosses to you and me) and they are a hideous bunch. Who came up with the monster designs and where were the inspirations drawn from?
We wanted the Acolytes to be more than just “big bad bosses”, so we designed the lore first. Me and Elias (our animator) would come up with an initial rough idea for the character. After this skeleton-concept, I would go into detail, and write a holistic backstory for the Acolyte, so it would fit the world and interconnect with the surrounding lore. After we were happy with what we had, Elias and Olga (our other artist) would draw some sketches visualizing the Acolyte in question. Then, together with our programmers Rellu and Rama, a model which allowed interesting gameplay and move-set possibilities, was chosen. After this Elias would go and animate the hideous thing. And there you have it, the birth of an Acolyte in short.
As for inspiration, me and Elias are both huge fans of H.P. Lovecraft’s work. Though the man himself had some ideological problems, his fiction remains fascinating. And so this sort of cosmic horror Lovecraft promotes in his work, is present in our game for example in the form of the Gahars, callous ancient formidable gods, who are actually causing all the madness that is taking place in Mornia. In addition, we also adore classic gore and splatter found in for example David Cronenberg’s movies, and Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead films.
In short, with Morbid we felt that Cosmic horror combined with bloody gore would be a match made in heaven, or should I say—Hell!
Without giving too much away can you give us an overview of the game’s lore and what sources influenced the storyline?
I kinda stumbled onto this on the previous question. But yeah, I think that Lovecraft is the biggest influence when it comes to my writing, and the lore of Morbid. I am also a huge Douglas Adams fan, so there might be little bits of humour sprinkled in the lore as well, though these are few and far between, in order to preserve the murky tone of the game.
The Story line in Morbid is rather mysterious. This is a common feature in Souls-like games. The idea is that the narrative story of the game is minimalistic, but through NPC’s, Item and weapon descriptions, Loading screens, Side quests and Environmental assets, one may piece together the enormous puzzle that is the tragic lore and history of Mornia.
I find this style of story telling in games great, as it allows the player to choose how much of the story he or she wishes to experience. If you love immersive lore and holistic world creation, you can piece together the puzzle, and analyze every bit of information, to form a bigger picture. If however you simply wish to slay monsters and battle bosses, you are free to do just that.
The game promises a diverse array of environments what sort of locations can we expect to explore?
I don’t wanna spoil too much, but I can say that all the levels are very different from each other, all with their own types of enemies and hazards, and gorgeous environmental set pieces. You will be journeying for example through cursed seaside villages, deep dark caverns, murky fetid swaps, sinister industrial cities, just to describe a couple of locations. But as I said, don’t wanna spoil too much.
What games would you hold up as inspirations to Morbid?
Definitely Darksouls one and three, as well as Bloodborne. But also Diablo 2, Crawl, Resident Evil 4, Hyper Light Drifter aaaand Titan Souls, to name a few others.
How does the game’s difficulty ramp up? Are there tricks and techniques that players can adopt to get better results?
Yes. In fact understanding the mechanics of the game is essential if you wish to become better. One such mechanic is Parry, with which you can block most enemy attacks. If you become very good at the game and learn to time your parry perfectly, you will Stagger the enemy, after which you can do a counter-attack for a massive amount of damage.
Morbid also has damage dealing Elements introduced, such as Fire, Poison, Cold, Electricity and Bleed. Different enemies and bosses have different weaknesses to these elements, so using right types of weapons and elemental buffs at the right moment might give you an edge against a formidable foe.
These are only a couple of examples of the features that might give you a fighting chance against the seemingly insurmountable challenges the game presents. However, there is much more you can figure out through playing the game. The means to prevail are all up for grabs.
Have there been any laugh-out-loud moments for the team during development that you can share with us?
Several! We reckon that in order to create fun, one must have fun creating. Granted, with a project this big, and with a team of only 6 people, the pressure is on. Still, we aim to keep our spirits high and chill every now and then.
For example, every once in a while we have a Company Game Night. This is when we get together on a Friday evening, have fun, relax, play some good (or bad) games, have a few brewskies and dine together. This has been a real lifeline whenever excess stress tries to creep up on us.
On one specific Game Night at the office we were trying out a certain VR fighting game, and our Animator, Elias got so into it, that he almost knocked a monitor down. That was pretty hilarious, and very close to not being hilarious at all. But yeah, it was a fun evening.
I see there are eighteen musical pieces included in the game’s soundtrack. How did you approach their composition and which are you most proud of?
For me composing is a very intense process. The work days are invariably around twelve hours long, and I’m quite reclusive during this time. Even after the hours of active creation, my mind kinda keeps on going, so no rest for the wicked I guess. Still, it is my passion, and I love it.
For Morbid I got to create an epic orchestral soundtrack. I felt that the colours and tones of a symphonic orchestra, spiced up with a mixed choir would fit Morbid’s grim and epic fantasy setting the best. This being said, there are quite a few surprises, where I changed up the composition a bit, or brought in nontraditional instruments, in order to achieve a unique sound for the pieces, and to underline the otherworldly nature of Mornia.
My favourite tracks at the moment would probably be “Bile Toad Putrus, the Spawn of Disgust”, and “Lorn the Blind, the Lord of Loneliness”, though I have to say, my favourites change a lot, cos frankly I’m very happy how the whole soundtrack turned out, and to me all the songs have their own interesting properties that make them special.
This is Still Running’s third game, tell us a secret about each of the team.
Secrets ay? If I tell you they won’t be secrets anymore, buuuut… alright.
Our first game, Zombie Kill of the Week was made entirely by our CEO Santeri, with the help of only a few outsourced workers. Back then, Still Running was effectively a one-man-show. We have come a long way since then, and will keep on going and growing.
In The Walking Vegetables all the sounds of the ravenous veggies and fruit are voiced by a group of friends of mine. I provided everyone with plenty of pizza and refreshments, and we spent an evening making funny noises at my home studio and having fun.
In Morbid: The Seven Acolytes, if you keep your eyes peeled, you will be able to find us creators in the game as NPC’s or corpses. Even our adorable office dog, Pönö, will be there somewhere. (Don’t worry, he won’t be a corpse, but very much alive, hahaa!)