We’re getting really excited about our most-recently signed game, The Church in the Darkness. This thrilling infiltration game is being developed by Paranoid Productions, so we sat down with director Richard Rouse III to chat about his inspiration behind the game and the current state of the alpha.
Why did you choose a cult for the game’s setting?
As a game designer and writer I’m always thinking about fascinating settings. I like games set in real-world locations, and I wanted somewhere that felt different, somewhere that hasn’t been done a lot already. For all those reasons, a cult down in the jungles of South America in the 1970s just felt irresistible.
I like games that are their own little self-contained worlds, where players can do what they want to, go wherever they can get to, talk to whoever they find, and play the game a variety of ways. I wanted to create somewhere with a real sense of place. Years back I wrote The Suffering horror games, where it really felt like you were in a prison environment: everything from the art to the characters to how the player was constantly trying to get through more locked bars to escape. In The Suffering, everything was unpleasant and terrifying, even before we added supernatural horror and disturbing creatures to the mix.
The Church in the Darkness isn’t a horror game, but it’s still a disturbing environment. In the game, preachers Isaac and Rebecca Walker wanted to leave the U.S. and build their own little socialist utopia in the jungle. So they built Freedom Town. The location in Church is just like the prison island in The Suffering; it’s a self-contained little society—but this time without the supernatural horror, so everything feels like the darker corners of the real world. It’s fiction, of course, but nothing is impossible.
Cults are something that really happen, and whose actions are surprising and sometimes upsetting. I wanted to bring players into this world, let them explore it, and figure out what’s happening below the surface.
What kind of research did you do? Were you inspired by real-world examples or fictional ones?
Almost all the research was done on real-world groups rather than fictitious ones. Alternative religions and what we call “cults” are fascinating, and provide plenty of source material.
The 70s was a unique time for alternative religions—people were terrified of nuclear annihilation and disillusioned by the government, whether it was because of the Vietnam War or Watergate or lots of other terrible things that had happened in the preceding decades. Lots of people in the U.S. wanted to try something different than conventional society. There were plenty of cases of people attempting communal living—from hippie communes like like The Farm or Big Bear Ranch, to more radical alternative religions like the Rajneeshpuram community in Oregon, or Jim Jones and The People’s Temple.
Players might notice that the physical appearance of Freedom Town is most inspired by Jonestown. But the actual cult and its leaders will be quite different, since they were inspired by multiple groups.
You won’t know if the Freedom Town and the Collective Justice Mission are actually a dangerous cult, or if they’re truly progressives and idealists who just want to build their own little society. It’s possible they won’t hurt anyone else, that they just want to be left alone. It changes every time you play; the game has a rogue-like aspect, so it’s meant to be replayed, and each time the story will be different.
As you wander the cult, you’ll hear the leaders preaching over the PA system, meet and talk to other commune members, and read found letters and notes. So it’s a bit of a detective story each time, with a changing story underneath it. Then as a player, you need to decide what to do with that information.
Why did you want to do an alpha?
The project has been in the works for a while, so we wanted to open up an alpha for people who had been following the game. The best part is that we get the chance to hear early feedback on how it’s playing right now, from the people we’re making the game for. With a game like this there’s really no substitute for having people play the game at home, and I am very thankful for all the feedback we have gotten.
Like what? What kind of feedback have you gotten so far?
Specifically we’ve heard a lot about how the keyboard/mouse controls work right now, and we’ve made some adjustments in the Alpha 2 build that we just released. We’ve also put in an alternate control scheme for people to try out, if they want to see how it feels. I’m hoping to hear how people react to that, to see if we should keep pursuing it or stick with our default controls.
What I’m happiest about is that people really seem to enjoy the way we’re telling the story of Freedom Town.
What else is new in the latest update?
We’ve also played a bunch with the difficulty. We have four difficulty levels you can pick from: Interloper, Infiltrator, Spy, and Mole. For people who don’t want all the difficulty of the infiltration gameplay, we’ve made our “Interloper” difficult setting more forgiving. We want players who don’t play a lot of games like this, but are fascinated with the setting, to still be able to get into the game and access all of the possible endings.
At the same time, players who enjoy challenging gameplay should be able to experience that as well. That’s why we turned up the difficulty on the highest levels. We’ve already seen people streaming the game and doing really well—now they’re going to have a more challenging time of it!
I’m very thankful to the people who have shared their experiences so far, and I’m super curious to get feedback on these new changes.
When and how can interested players try out that new build?
Go here! The True Believer special edition is now available on itch.io and includes immediate Alpha access, along with four songs from the game soundtrack. That purchase will also unlock the Steam key upon the game’s release, as well as MP3s of the 28-song soundtrack and a behind-the-scenes video that delves into the ideas and voices behind the game.