After the financial failure of Matt Gilgenbach's first game, a rhythm shooter called Retro/Grade, he found himself in a very dark place. Gilgenbach, who has obsessive compulsive disorder, was plagued by depression and disturbing thoughts of self-harm.
After delving so deeply into the dark corners of their own psyche, you might imagine Gilgenbach and his studio Infinitap Games would be in the market for something a little lighter. To the contrary, he's heading back into the twilight for his next game, Devastated Dreams, the story of a mother-to-be and the horrifying creature that's hunting her.
This new project, something of a spiritual successor to Neverending Nightmares, was inspired by a trip to the Philippines to visit Gilgenbach's in-laws. It was there he was introduced to the vampire-like aswang and other brutal monsters of Filipino folklore.
"They're pretty gruesome in crazy ways that shocked me as an American that's never heard any of this," Gilgenbach said.
He was especially taken by the legend of the Manananggal, a woman by day who at night tears herself in half, grows giant bat wings and then flies around sucking out unborn fetuses from pregnant women. (No points for guessing why expectant father Gilgenbach found this particular legend so utterly terrifying.)
Like Infinitap's last effort, Devastated Dreams is a black and white, two-dimensional horror adventure. But this time, the story is centered on a pregnant Filipino woman being hunted by the Mananangaal.
As, in his own words "a sheltered American," Gilgenbach has taken on a much bigger challenge in this new project trying to do justice to a woman whose own life is so far from his own. He said his wife's guidance has been essential to staying on track.
"It's been interesting because I gave her the macro story ideas I had and she felt like it wasn't a Filipino story, that it wasn't as accurate to the Filipino experience," he said. "I was the captain of my ship with Neverending Nightmares, I did whatever I wanted, but actually her feedback was very helpful and I was able to shape the game in a way that I think is a bit more truthful to the Filipino experience."
Gilgenbach said that his primary goal is to be respectful to Filipino culture, which has even manifested in a refusal to treat his game's antagonist as fantasy.
"It's something that people believe in, so I'm never going to say that they don't exist, because what do I know, I just vacationed there," he said.
Infinitap will also look to evolve the gameplay of its last game in Devastated Dreams. As an example, he said he's going to try to insert more actual scares to break up the relentless tension of Neverending Nightmares.
"I was looking for the feeling of jamming in the knife and slowly turning it the entire game," Gilgenbach said of his last game a laugh. "It was funny, I succeeded in this thing that I thought was the Holy Grail, the thing that was really hard to do, but it turned out that wasn't necessarily what draws people to the genre of horror."
Infinitap will be returning to Kickstarter to fund Devastated Dreams with a new campaign launching in July. On the game's official site, Infinitap is spooling up a mailing list to alert fans when the campaign launches.
Gilgenbach's hoping the fundraising effort will be bolstered by the fact that he had delivered on what he promised in his last campaign. (He delivered the game a month later than initially scheduled, but jokes that in Kickstarter time that's "basically three years early.")
Crowdfunding was a practical necessity for Neverending Nightmares, but Gilgenbach said that Kickstarting also helped make him a better developer, because he had to answer directly to the people who had funded his game.
"Because of my OCD, I would go over the deep end and spend way too much time on little things that people wouldn't notice," Gilgenbach said. "I saw the backers as my producers so I didn't want to say ‘Oh I spent a week optimizing skydomes.' I think on Retro/Grade I spent months optimizing skydomes. It's really embarrassing, [laughs] especially because we got better art for Retro/Grade and you couldn't really see the skydomes."