Somewhere in another universe, there are video games that exist alongside movies we have never seen and books we have never read. And while cancellations occur in the world of media all the time, the ambitious projects that do fall under the axe are not always the most deserving of such a fate. Had circumstances been slightly different, they might be sitting on our shelves, installed on our hard drives, and potentially even regarded as a much-loved installment to our favorite genre. Their stories make up a fascinating part of the history of the medium that we usually do not get to see, but they deserve to be told, and we'd like to do our part in preserving these stories so that the world can come to know them.
In addition to working on The Age of Decadence, Iron Tower Studio has regularly reached out to other developers in order to create a destination on the web for similar independent RPG projects. In 2008, this led to Scott Jäeger forming Team Omega under the Iron Tower Studio umbrella to develop a Lovecraftian RPG. With a strong focus on writing, the project (known as "Cyclopean") seemed very promising, but unfortunately it was cancelled after a couple of years of devleopment in September of 2010. To find out more about Scott's ambitions for the title, what we're missing out on having never had a chance to play it, and what he's up to now, we caught up with the man himself for a Q&A:
GB: How did you hook up with Iron Tower and start the project?
Scott: I began lurking around the Iron Tower forums in 2007. I’ve always been a fan of Lovecraft and also a bit of an English nerd. I started to think about how an old fashioned, turn-based RPG, with a setup like Age of Decadence, would work with Lovecraft’s sort of horror. I wrote The First Mate’s Account (appended at bottom), which would act as an uncovered bit of flavor text for a quest, and sent it to Vince to ask his opinion. More and longer stories followed –some meant to tease a game event or location, others which were standalone stories in their own right– and Vince invited me to post them. Initially, I had hoped that I could contribute as a writer, modeler or animator (I also have a background in 3D modeling and character animation) to AoD or Iron Tower’s next project.
The stories became popular and I began to hash out how the rules to a full-fledged game would work and how the player’s chosen Background would integrate into the story. There were folks on the forums, and the internet at large, who were clearly losing their minds at the idea of a serious Lovecraft RPG and I got a really positive response to everything I shared.
GB: Why did you ultimately decide to cancel the project? Did Vince have plans to roll more people onto your project as AoD inched closer to completion?
Scott: Vince, Oscar and Nick all offered their assistance once AoD was published, but as Lead Developer I would still need to find committed artists, programmers, etc. to form a team. I knew Iron Tower would have other projects, presumably a follow-up to AoD, and of course Dead State. These guys can’t clone themselves to work full time on Cyclopean.
Attempts to recruit artists and programmers over the course of a year-and-a-half were basically a complete bust. Getting someone talented to volunteer their time on such shaky grounds is understandably a very hard sell. Folks like the Iron Tower team and all the talented people who signed up for Dead State on nothing but a promise are 1 in 10,000.
Vince asked me that rather than cancel the game, I declare a hiatus and maybe come back to it later. Although I had already made up my mind, I let it sit fallow for six months, but I couldn’t in good conscience leave everyone hanging when I had no hope to revive it in the future. At the end of the day what I want is to contribute in the areas I’m talented, not to be lead developer. I wasn’t (and still am not) ready to make that kind of commitment. Writing is my thing, not project management.
GB: Would you ever consider restarting the project? Or was the cancellation more than a matter of resources?
Scott: It’s not a matter of financial resources, but human resources. Basically the project had a lead writer (me), but no dedicated artists or programmers, and no lead developer.
GB: As you were dedicated to the game's writing, what can you tell us about the critical path of the game?
Scott: Originally, the game was to take place in four key Lovecraft locations: Arkham, Dunwich, Innsmouth and Kingsport. Later, I consolidated it to a sprawling Arkham and the surrounding area. The player would start with a particular Background, which would determine starting location, items and certain special skills. This Background would also give him a starting quest and perhaps NPC contacts in Arkham.
I also conceived of a Sanity system where constant and reckless exposure to Mythos entities could, if it didn’t kill him outright, permanently corrupt the player, which would allow him access to certain areas and abilities otherwise hidden. The downside of this is that while the player sees into that other world juxtaposed with our own, its denizens may see him as well.
Magic was to be an area where characters would start with absolutely nothing, except maybe a predilection for its study. You wouldn’t be buying scrolls at the dry goods store in town. In the player were interested, he would have to seek out and research each spell through the discovery of cursed tomes and strange NPC’s. Actually casting a spell would incur a Sanity cost, but also move the player inexorably towards the state of corruption already mentioned. Basically, there were no “fireballs”. Using magic at all would be a decision to carefully evaluate.
Rather than have a single main quest, the game was intended to have three main quest branches leading to a major Mythos event, any of which could be followed initially, but only one of which could be taken all the way to the end. In each branch, the player could choose to thwart the plans of the cultists or madmen, or he could choose to join them and help to (for instance) open a gate to one of the Great Old Ones and bring about the end of the world.
In one of these quest lines, the player must discover which among the various weird secret societies is actually the dangerous (or more accurately, most dangerous) cult in Arkham, figure out what their goal is, identify the High Priest from a selection of Arkham notables, then defeat them, hopefully while hanging on bitterly to some small shred of his humanity.
These are in addition to many standalone quests investigating hauntings, forgotten tombs, strange experiments and disappearances.