The name Inklingwood Studios may not be familiar to most adventure fans just yet, but if the playable demo of their upcoming debut Foolish Mortals is any indication, that looks certain to change in a big way soon enough. The indie British developer’s beautifully designed “merry and macabre” point-and-click treasure hunt across a ghost-infested island is currently a smashing success on Kickstarter, with another week remaining to reach stretch goals that could make it bigger and better than ever. While there’s still time left to support its production, I caught up with writer/director David Younger to shine some more light on this promising new supernatural adventure that you’d be foolish to overlook.
Hi, David. Great to have you with us here on the Hotspot. It seems to me you didn’t get the memo that indie developers aren’t supposed to make games that look this good and this polished their first time out. Just who are you guys and where did you come from?
Well thank you very much for that description! There’s an amazing team that’s making Foolish Mortals happen, but at its core Inklingwood Studios is a husband-and-wife team, with me David as the director and producer, and my wife Sophie as the lead programmer. We’re working on Foolish Mortals full-time, but before we jumped into the project Sophie was a primary school teacher who taught herself how to program while on maternity leave! My background is in theme park design – I wrote a book called Theme Park Design & The Art of Themed Entertainment after working at Walt Disney Imagineering, and then set up Inklingwood to do freelance design.
Ron Gilbert once said that he wanted Monkey Island to feel like stepping off the boat in the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland and exploring its storybook world, so it certainly feels like theme park design and adventure game design have been connected for a long time. Both of them try to immerse you in a fictional world that tells its story primarily through the environment – I just don’t have to worry about queue lines and restrooms anymore!
We’ve never made a video game before, but I’ve been itching to make one since I first played The Secret of Monkey Island on my cousin’s Amiga in the early nineties. When COVID hit and the theme park world ground to a halt, I thought it was my opportunity to make the leap into finally doing it.
For those who aren’t yet familiar with Foolish Mortals, please give us your best elevator pitch.
Foolish Mortals is a merry & macabre point & click adventure game in the style of classic 1990s adventure games like Monkey Island and Broken Sword. As Murphy McCallan, you’ll arrive on the enigmatic island of Devil’s Rock in 1930s Louisiana, in search of the lost treasure of Bellemore Manor, where thirty years ago an entire wedding party suddenly and mysteriously vanished. But when you’re told that only the dead know where the treasure is hidden, you’ll have no choice but to ask them!
What follows is a thrilling story through crumbling crypts, voodoo vaults, and the mysterious manor itself, as Murphy soon finds out that the only way to find the treasure is to uncover what happened on that fateful night in the house thirty years ago – all while an evil phantom is trying to get to the treasure before you. It’s a full-length experience, with over a hundred inventory items, more than seventy hand-drawn locations to explore, thirty-five fully voiced characters, over one hundred items to pick up, and tons of puzzles in classic adventure game style.
What can you tell us about the game’s protagonist, Murphy McCallan?
Murphy is a young, self-described treasure hunter, who’s come to Devil’s Rock after becoming obsessed with the Bellemore mystery that he read about in a pulp magazine. Without much of a past, he’s decided that this treasure could be his ticket to making a future, but having given up everything he owns to get to Devil’s Rock, perhaps that decision was somewhat … foolish.
Do the ghosts – or at least a certain phantom in particular – pose any threat of physical danger to Murphy? Do players need to fear (or at least avoid) death while playing the game?
Murphy’s opening narration at the beginning of the game talks about the treasure, and says: “How was I supposed to know that in order to find it, I’d have to die too…” So from that, we can say that the stakes are high – although we don’t actually kill off the player and force them to restore, restart, or quit! Most of the ghosts in the house have just accepted their death quite matter-of-factly, although the perpetually fighting Tallagoula Twins have discovered a pistol duel isn’t quite as decisive as it used to be, and Madame Planchette the psychic medium finds communicating with the dead isn’t quite as impressive when she’s dead too. Some spirits are more malevolent however, and it’s up to Murphy to find out what they’re after.
Is the mystery of Bellemore Manor influenced at all by any real-world stories? Or perhaps other works of fiction?
We’re using an original story that isn’t influenced by any specific fiction, but more tries to pull together the classic tropes of haunted house mysteries, mixed with a sprinkling of voodoo and Indiana Jones and Goonies-style adventuring. When I first sat down to write an adventure game, I initially came up with three stories with different themes, settings, and genres, and chose to do what we were then calling ‘The Ghost Game’ because it was the simplest story of the three. When you start making a video game, the most common advice you receive is to start small – and we did START small, but then it got bigger! Locations, characters, puzzles, and story ideas just grew and grew as we began to write the mystery of Bellemore Manor until it ended up as a full-length adventure game experience.
How about Devil’s Rock itself? Are the locales there based on any actual places, or are they entirely figments of your vivid imaginations?
The key thing here is that the game doesn’t just take place in Bellemore Manor, which is something I realise a lot of haunted house stories do. Instead, I wanted that Monkey Island feel of having a whole island to explore, with locations all across Devil’s Rock. There are actually more locations outside of the house than in it! The locations aren’t particularly influenced by real places, but came about by gathering together the places I’d like to visit in a treasure hunt ghost story. The demo allows you to visit a creaking riverboat in the bayou, St. Juniper’s cemetery, the famed Bellemore grounds, and the dock town of Deadnettle, but the full game will, in Broken Sword style, add even more locations as the game progresses, such as an old French Caribbean fort, the abandoned Baxter’s lumber mill, and St. Juniper’s Church itself.
Why the 1930s?
In classic ghost story style, I knew that I wanted the disappearance at Bellemore Manor to be Victorian, and Murphy’s visit to the island needed to be some time after – but going too modern would add in cell phones, computers, and other technology that would be too distracting. The 1930s felt like a good intermediary point, with a romance all its own that gels well with the Victorian backstory and the Louisiana setting. When I realised one of the voodoo ingredients the player needed to find would be rum, setting it during the Prohibition Era added some extra characterful complications!
From the artwork to the … shall we say, non-rugged main character, the game gives me a distinct Broken Sword vibe, and yet there’s so much more. Voodoo, ghosts, hidden treasure, old fortresses and older manuscripts. What are some of the other influences that have helped shape your vision for Foolish Mortals?
When we set out to make the game, we knew we wanted to position the experience some way between Monkey Island 2 and Broken Sword – which isn’t actually an easy blend! It took a bit of time to figure out what influences we could expand on from each game. Most obviously we’ve aimed for our backgrounds to be Broken Sword-style linework with Monkey Island-style colouring, but it goes a lot further than that. Our gameplay structure is very much Monkey Island-style, where each chapter of the game asks you to search out a collection of different objectives, just like ‘The Three Trials’ or ‘The Four Map Pieces.’ The genius of this structure is that if you get stuck on one chain of puzzles, you can move over to another until you get a bit of inspiration. The interface and presentation though is Broken Sword-style, with a two-button interface, and our main character describing his adventure in a first-person past tense way, which we thought suited the game in the style of film noir – especially Sunset Boulevard.
While the overall trend seems to be making games shorter and easier, Foolish Mortals looks to be a substantial game with real puzzles for players to sink their teeth into. What can we expect of the gameplay?
That’s exactly right – we want the game to feel equal in scale to the adventure games of the nineties, with lots of things to do and lots of places to explore. However we are doing it with the convenient shortcuts that people can expect from modern adventure games: we have double-click exits, hotspot highlighting, a to-do list, and most crucially a gradually revealing in-game system in case the player really does get stuck. We’re aiming for puzzles that make sense, but do offer a fun challenge in the style of 1990s games. You’ll always have something there to nudge you in the right direction, without forcing you to look up a walkthrough online!
Would you say this is more a comedic game, a swashbuckling adventure, a horror game, or a blend of all of the above (and perhaps then some)?
It’s definitely a mix of all of them, with some investigating mystery thrown in! We want the game to have humour, for example, but rather than filling the game with references, quotes, and Easter eggs, we want to maintain the world-building and atmosphere of Devil’s Rock by having the comedy come from the eccentricity of the characters Murphy meets on the island, and his own befuddlement from being in the bizarre circumstances he’s got himself into. That’s all overlaid onto the tragic and mysterious story of Bellemore Manor, which will grow to incorporate murder, pirates, betrayal, and lots more for the player to discover. It’s not horror in the sense of it being genuinely scary though: as our tagline suggests we want to balance the merry with the macabre.
While crowdfunding in general is becoming a tougher and tougher sell, you blew past your Kickstarter goal in no time, and are still racing toward further stretch goals as we speak. To what do you contribute the success of your campaign?
While I obviously had the highest hopes for the Kickstarter, I’m amazed that we blew through our target in the first 24 hours. I think its success has grown out of how much work has gone into the game already, so people can see we’re committed to it, and are hopefully on track to deliver something enjoyable. Plus the artists on the team have produced some incredible art and animation! Sophie and I have been self-funding the entire game’s development up to this point, so we really needed this batch of funding to cover our final animation, testing, porting, localisation, and voice acting costs – but thanks to exceeding that initial amount we’re able to add even more content into the game.
When we initially designed Part 1, we had the player searching out seven voodoo ingredients, but we cut that down to five for cost reasons. Thanks to the stretch goals we’ve hit we’re going to be able to add in a sixth ingredient, and it’s looking likely we’ll be able to add in the seventh again too! My aim with all the stretch goals has been to add more for the backers, so we’re adding in bonus backgrounds, animation, puzzles, and even an interactive song puzzle in the style of A Pirate I Was Meant to Be!
What part of the game does the demo represent?
The full game contains a prologue and four parts, with the demo covering the end of Part 1. In Part 1, you’re tasked with finding five (now six, maybe seven!) voodoo ingredients for a summoning spell, and the demo has you finding the final two Murphy needs: coffin nails and chalk. We did this for two reasons. Firstly, it means that when players finally play the full game, they don’t have to repeat an hour’s worth of content they’ve already done – instead there’s a full new prologue to introduce you to the game, and the demo content will be mixed in amongst four/five/six other voodoo ingredients so you have lots of new places, puzzles, and characters to experience in amongst the stuff you’ve already done. And secondly it means we can end the demo with a really cool cliffhanger!
What kind of time frame are we looking at before we see Foolish Mortals in finished form?
We’re aiming for the second half of 2023, but we’re not going to announce a specific release date until we know it’s close to being ready. Other than the new content we get to add in through the Kickstarter, all the backgrounds, characters, and graphic design is complete, with the animation and dialogue about halfway there.
You’ll be launching the game on PC. Any other platforms in mind, either releasing simultaneously or further down the line?
Absolutely! We’re using Visionaire Studio which allows us to export to Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, Linux, and Switch. They may not all be simultaneous, but we definitely want to release for all those platforms eventually.
David, we really appreciate you taking time out from a busy crowdfunding campaign to do this, and we wish you all the best with the project. Can’t wait to see more! Any final words to leave with anyone who might be on the fence about backing the game on Kickstarter?
Thank you for inviting me to do an interview, and thank you to everyone who’s played the demo and backed the game so far! For anyone who hasn’t, if you’re an adventure game fan (and particularly if you like Monkey Island and Broken Sword), backing the game now will not only get you a discounted copy of the game, but will also help make the game bigger and better before its release. It’s directly because of the Kickstarter support that we’ve been able to add in content that I either had to cut, or didn’t think I’d get the budget to include, and there’s still more that could be added.
I’ve tried to offer a whole load of interesting rewards to thank our backers – not only a digital copy of the game, but cool things like a nineties-style big box (packed with documents and ephemera from the game world), a soundtrack, an artbook (with an exclusive foreword by the co-director of The Curse of Monkey Island, Jonathan Ackley), Murphy’s Diary, and even a ‘scents pack’ put together by a theme park smells company! We’re even offering the opportunity to be in the game – either by writing a newspaper headline for the Juniper Parish Gazette archives, or getting drawn up as a ghost in the Bellemore Manor ballroom.