Detention, a 2D horror game from Taiwanese developer Red Candle Games, started with a simple question: “Why can’t I find any games out there that represent our culture and share with the world the place I grow up in?” The ensuing game, which mingles elements of Taiwanese history and Chinese mythology, flowed naturally into a horror experience.
Siliconera took a moment to talk to the developers about their story and game, and how their own unique history is creating something new in the world of fear.
Why is Detention set in 1960’s Taiwan? What did this add to the story and fears you wanted to convey with your game?
1960’s Taiwan was a decade of turbulence. Post civil war and with martial law still in effect, the “White Terror” period, as we call it in Taiwan, represents an era of oppression. Though we personally never experienced it, we heard the stories told by our elders of secret police breaking into civilians’ houses in the middle of the night and taking people away. Mr.Yao (Coffee), the game’s creator, then thought that if he could create a fictitious world to reflect on this part of history, he would definitely strike fear into the heart of players.
How did this time/setting affect the visuals of the game?
The visuals were affected by this setting in several ways. The characters, for example, used only black and white color to resemble people from old photographs, which also added suspense to the story. Also, we created the low-saturation scenes to enhance that feeling of gloom and despair.
What drew you to create a horror game around East Asian elements? How did they flow into a horror story?
Growing up playing games, we rarely stumbled upon games that represented our culture. So, as game designers we’ve always wanted to create something with our own flavor. And, as we started to dig deep into the tradition and practices, interestingly enough we’ve discover that Taiwanese/Chinese mysticism and religious beliefs are closely associated with the dead, the afterlife, and karma.
Upon inspecting the materials – Taoism, Buddhism, Chinese myths, along with the 1960s Taiwan setting – the whole game then flows into a horror story rather naturally. Things like giving food offerings to the dead, doing rituals to show respect and reverence, all work well in this genre. And what happens when the evil spirits really show up to claim the food? We thought scenarios like these could be horrifying.
What are some of the unique cultural myths you’ve used to help design the creatures and frightening situations in your game?
Inspirations for the game were all drawn from local practices and beliefs. For instance, the ghost in the game, as we named it “The Lingered”, is derived from a vengeful spirit in urban legends. As in Taiwanese/Chinese folklore, when a person died of a cruel, unnatural or unjust cause, he or she will turn into evil spirit and linger around the place of their death, entering an endless loop of suffering until their souls are cleansed or the grudge is lifted.
We understand that foreigners may be unfamiliar with the cultural references and the myths may be a bit difficult to understand at times, but we are really interested in seeing people from other countries react to this game. Perhaps this is a great way to promote our own identify to the rest of the world, and hopefully it will trigger a wave of Googling Taiwanese history/Chinese mysticism.
What are some of the challenges you meet in trying to create a sidescrolling horror game?
Most ancient Chinese landscape paintings use flattened perspective, therefore the 2D sidescroller fits in well with the overall setting. However, it also causes problems like the lack of a focus point on screen which may disrupt the immersive feelings. For this reason, we added close-up scenes into the game for ease of puzzle solving, which also gave us the ability to add details to the objects and to intensify the cinematic experience when we need to.
How will players hide from the monsters? What sort of mechanics are in place for this? Is there any way to fight back?
One of the main game mechanics is to have players hold their breath before being spotted by monsters. During this state, the players are able to slowly sneak past them. In general, we want the players to feel powerless and vulnerable, so for most cases they will either be hiding from the monsters or distracting them in order to survive.
How did the setting affect the musical choices for the game? What sort of sound were you looking to have for the game, and why?
In terms of music, we are fortunate to have a professional composer on board: Weifan Chang, who came to us at the very beginning of the project and offered to help. He did an amazing job in writing more than 40 min of original soundtracks for the game.
We wanted to bring a sense of dread whenever the ambience or music plays in the background, and to match the oppressive game universe, the sound should create a repressive and suffocating atmosphere. Also as a result of experimenting with different elements, the score incorporates electronica, lo-fi, and rock, along with select combinations of traditional Asian instruments for a particularly dark effect.