Cyclopean: The Lovecraft RPG

By Alec Meer on October 15th, 2008 at 11:20 pm.

From Love to Lovecraft… ‘Scott’, mysteriously surnameless lead developer at the newly-formed ‘Team Omega’ over at Iron Tower Studio, kindly drops us a line to let us know he’s working on a turn-based cRPG based on the works of HP Lovecraft. Cthulhu and chums are forever a source of excitement for Men Like Us, so interest = piqued.

Iron Tower Studio, should the name ring no bells, is the peculiarly passionate indie-RPG outfit headed up by one Vince D. Weller. You may remember him. So far, Scott hasn’t demonstrated any of Vince’s great rage, but there’s every chance that someone whinging about turn-based combat will awaken the beast within, so don’t judge it until you’ve seen it, eh? (Me, I’m all about the turn-based at the moment – King’s Bounty continues to occupy my almost every waking hour).

It’s still very early, pre-production doors for the project, to be known as Cyclopean (quoth Scott, “I chose the name Cyclopean because it was arguably Lovecraft’s favourite adjective, meaning “big” in the context of his stories, not “one-eyed”. I like the way it sounds and I don’t want to call the game “Shadow Over Arkham”, “Look Out, It’s Cthulhu!” or something else entirely predictable and lame.“).

Hence, no Great Old One screenshots for you as yet, but what there is is a very long discussion thread over at ITS’ forums, in which Scott’s being remarkably open about his intentions for and behind the game. There’s also some concept art over yonder and yonder. Which looks jolly nice, though without some eyes-on in-game imagery or video (or, indeed, without a release of Age of Decadence to get a real sense of what Iron Tower are capable of) it’s very hard to make any meaningful judgements whatsoever about this, but conceptually it’s certainly appealing.

Go have a read, perhaps ask a question or two, and hopefully we’ll have more details and a Soggoth or two to point your eyes at in the not-too-distant. To start you off, here’s Scott’s initial summary, but there’s far more still – including writing samples and design briefs – over in the official forum.

The player starts out in Lovecraft’s most famous fictional town, Arkham. Over the course of the game the player will travel to several other locations in and under the State of Massachusetts, and come in contact with cultists, law enforcement, hapless citizens, shadowy organizations, criminals, otherworldly creatures, and if he’s lucky, horrors beyond imagining. The game will concentrate on dense, quality writing in Lovecraft’s style, thrilling dialogue, and stimulating turn-based combat versus people and other things. Emphasis will be placed on quests with many possible solutions and outcomes. Players will not be restricted to fighting evil, but may ally themselves with those who wish to bring back the Great Old Ones, as well as various other organizations. Details to follow. The player will be able to pick up autonomous NPC support, a la Fallout, during the game. Influence over ally’s basic AI will be available, but equipment changes will be limited.

A concern already raised is that Lovecraft’s canon does not suit itself to a computer game. I think the locations, creatures and atmosphere established by Lovecraft are entirely adaptable, not just as a colourful background to the same tired old RPG themes, but as an entire game experience. Any established body of work translated to a computer game, or any other form of media, will have to be bent somewhat to accommodate its new form. It is my belief that a more faithful translation of Lovecraft’s world can be implemented as a fun and worthwhile CRPG.

Finally, here are a few things which will not be in Cyclopean: immortal and chatty NPCs with abandonment issues, elves, giant rats, sewers, black and red hellscapes, and Monty Python references.

*Image not from the game. It’s a GNU free thingy from Wikicommons.

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62 Comments »

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  1. Premium User Badge

    matte_k says:

    Finally! A Cthulu based game with a good understanding of the source material-i’ll be keeping an eye (or 40) on this…

  2. Bhazor says:

    Reply to matte_k

    Finally a game that captures all those rambling diaries and casual racism of Lovecraft’s work. Ia Cthulhu indeed.

  3. Jonas says:

    I’m not playing a game without Monty Python references.

  4. simonkaye says:

    I bet he’ll regret not including sewers.

  5. Great Cthulhu says:

    My tentacles shall writhe in expectation.

  6. Kast says:

    Anchorhead was amazing. Really need to play Call of Cthulu – that FPS thing. Trying to read through Lovecraft’s work at the moment. So this is very good news.

  7. kafka7 says:

    I’m worried by the reference to ‘evil’. The whole point behind Lovecraft’s universe was that it was fundamentally amoral (not immoral), and different to Tolkien’s world with it’s clear good/evil dichotomy. It was August Derleth that butchered the legacy and brought Cthulhu (as an ‘evil’ entity) to the centre stage, turning a complex body of work into a bunch of monster stories. Other writings by Lovecraft reveal a wider range of influence and greater novelty value (dream fantasy or detective novel, for example). No game has done it properly yet, but good luck to them.

  8. Angel Dust says:

    “Look Out, It’s Cthulhu!” :D
    Anyway this is now on my radar, being a Lovecraft and turn-based RPG fan.

  9. Premium User Badge

    dhex says:

    call of cthulhu (the fps) has always defeated me at that run and bolt the doors segment in the beginning. it is nail-bitingly hard, and seemingly impossible at first glance. amazing setup, but just far too frustrating.

    i look forward to age of decadence, and though i know naught of lovecraft’s work other than the overarching loathing of seafood-based gods, that there’s a studio out there producing what i suppose is now “old school” rpgs does warm my heart.

  10. Dizet Sma says:

    I look forward to losing many d6 worth of SAN to this game!

  11. Ted says:

    There is absolutely no chance this game will ever be released. This “studio” has one piece of vaporware they’ve been claiming was about to be released for about five years now. Now they’ve got a second team working on another game that will never be released? What a joke.

  12. John T says:

    dense, quality writing in Lovecraft’s style

    Surely there is something wrong with this idea.

  13. Brother None says:

    Looking forward to this one with all my looking-forward prowess!

  14. Premium User Badge

    matte_k says:

    @ Bhazor: given the time period it’s set in/written in, casual racism and rambling diaries were something of a trend, i think. Actually, things haven’t changed much today, except the diaries are now internet forums, and the casual racism, whilst still wrong, is just as widespread. Somehow i don’t think it’ll cause as much controversy as RE5, the publishers won’t risk it. Besides, i don’t think that’s an aspect that is going to be touted heavily upon release- “Guns! Gods! Casual Racism! The horror…”

  15. fanciestofpants says:

    The FPS call of Cthulu game was pretty awesome in my opinion, you don’t even get a bloody weapon for half the game(and by the time you do.. well.. it’s not much comfort because you know you can’t just run away anymore, you actually have to kill the damn things -_-).

    And yeah. The door-blocking bit near the beginning of the game is probably one of the hardest parts. Seriously unforgiving, but I for one appreciate that.

    Have an eye on this, but I won’t get my hopes up till I see Age of decedence(Which I actually would like to try also).

  16. Maximum Fish says:

    You’ve just made my day. Thanks!

  17. Weylund says:

    @Kast – don’t read all his stuff. Well, at least, be aware that some of his stuff is utter crap, so don’t feel bad if ten lines in you need to stop. Every writer has their off days. His “dream poetry” is often… wrong.

    As for the game? Meh. I think part of the fun of Lovecraft was taking his ideas and trying to conceive of how they would play out. An RPG that puts you in a Lovecraft tunnel doesn’t strike me as very fun.

    Call of Cthulu sounds sweeeet though. Action spices everything up!

  18. Turkish Superman says:

    Call of Cthulu: DCotE had some great sequences, some cool ideas, and was very immersive, but it was really frustrating at times; the developers didn’t do a real good job of letting you know just what you were supposed to do in some of the big sequences, which lead to lots of trial-and-error gameplay that would end with you dead every time you made a mis-step. If you don’t have 100% health at the climax of the game, there’s no way you can actually finish it.

    Still, it’s an ideal game to play at this time of year.

  19. Stromko says:

    Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth rather disappointed me in that the entire game was set in one particular dark corner. They stretch a single story, complex as it may be, out way too long by recycling the same assets and cliche twists over and over again and by making you die and/or have to reload hundreds of times.

    I haven’t played it for a couple years but I still remember several instances where there were puzzles of certain doom where I’d inevitably just keep dying, making no progress, until I checked a FAQ and discovered the incredibly obscure and tricky sequence that would allow me to proceed. There were other sequences where I’d simply fail to succeed and be forced to retry unless I played perfectly through excessive trial and error. It’s a game of a (ten) thousand cheap deaths, and that’s primarily where its length is derived from.

    I’d have rather had an 8 hour thrill ride that I’d be tempted to play again, than the monotonous and cheap slog they gave me. I’m someone who played through the original Call of Duty, Half-Life 2, and F.E.A.R. multiple times and found them all a drastically better value than CoT:DCoTE. I know not every FPS can have epic amounts of content that keeps you busy for tens of hours on end, but I’d rather it be a /good/ game the second time through than a frustrating piece of crap the first time through.

    Hopefully Cyclopean will make good use of the assets of the whole mythos, rather than just Innsmouth infinitum like DCotE.

  20. The most merciful Kobzon says:

    There’s a good study of Lovecraft’s works by no other than Michel Houellebecq. Those who are still going on about bad writing and racism should read it.

  21. AsubstanceD says:

    Me and my friend bought it to play through together, it started cool with fresh ideas. then we got the guns and then came the long non sensical levels with respawning weird people… then somewere in the mists of time we lost the disc, THANK GOD! We may have actually bothered trying to complete it just because previews at originally made it sound like it was going to be really good and innovative – rather than an awful shooter were shooting was impossible.

  22. Edgar the Peaceful says:

    f’tagn f’tagn!

  23. phil says:

    @The most merciful Kobzon says

    There’s a PDF of the Houellebecq piece here;
    http://blog.urbanomic.com/dread/archives/houellebecq-lovecraft.pdf

    It’s lively enough, in a self aggrandizing, ‘what it means to be an artist in the modern world’ sort of a way, but it hardly excuses Lovecraft on the charges of Racism.

    I agree Lovecraft was an exceptionally gifted story teller and a fine stylist, though his politics were, well, hateful.

  24. Malagate says:

    To be fair to Lovecraft, he only started off as racist (quite widespread at the time) and was later enlightened by some of his colleagues and friends to see the error of his ways. To what extent, I am not entirely sure, but his politics were not always hateful.

    I for one did enjoy CoC: DCotE, despite frustrations it still proved intriguing to me and kept me interested. Lots of tension, lots of easy places to die, lots of chances to go insane, all together it worked for me.
    I will be very interested to see how they’ll realise a game of an RPG version of Lovecraft, especially which elements of his story they will take and when they will set it. As long as it is made eventually, ideally with inter-galactic fungi, then I will try it.

  25. Kieron Gillen says:

    Malagate: Are you sure? I haven’t actually read the Houellebeck piece, but googling around, I find an interview with a Lovecraft Scholar here

    There’s a lot of argument that Lovecraft was a xenophobe and a racist. (Certainly his description of the black zombie in “Herbert West, Re-Animator” seems unduly disparaging.) Is this simply a situation where you have to judge an author according to the mores of his own time? How do you bypass this on personal level?

    As an Indian, I am perennially entertained by Lovecraft’s comment, in the 1930s, that “The more one thinks about India, the more one wants to vomit!” (Actually, he was referring to the political turmoil initiated by Gandhi’s quest for independence from Great Britain.) There is no denying the reality of Lovecraft’s racism, nor can it merely be passed off as “typical of his time,” for it appears that Lovecraft expressed his views more pronouncedly (although usually not for publication) than many others of his era. It is also foolish to deny that racism enters into his fiction at key points (although I might suggest that there is a considerable element of humour and parody in that passage you cite in “Herbert West”). I find Lovecraft’s racism disappointing not merely because he expressed it so frequently in fiction and letters, but because this was one area where he refused to modify his thinking in light of new evidence. In every other aspect of his thought–metaphysics, politics, economics, aesthetics–he was constantly amending his views as new information came to him; but with his racism, he stuck pretty much to the prejudices he had absorbed in the reactionary New England of the 1890s.

    ******

    KG

  26. Voidman says:

    My unspeakable Keeper alter ego hitherto succumbed to what seems like eons’ long non-rpging slumber, twitches with blasphemous excitement.

    Though, admittedly I share the cautious enthusiasm of some commentators above. While I support the Iron Tower guys’ efforts, I’d like to play the Age of Decadence first to give the some credit but so far not much info on the release date (apparently almost done but 40% need to be re-polished).

    Oh well, one day the stars will be right.

  27. Alec Meer says:

    The guy called his cat “Nigger-Man”. There’s no defending against that, really.

  28. Turin Turambar says:

    CoC: DCotE was a totallly and fully linear game.
    The stealth parts, the running away parts, the puzzley parts, everything. Ugh. It broke the immersion one and another times as you have to reload again and again to complete a zone playing just like the game designer wanted, crouching here, running there, hiding in the shadows in point A, B and D but not C, etc.

  29. Nick says:

    One of the dam busters pilots called his dog nigger. Stuff like that *was* a sign of the times, not spite or hatred.. look at gollywogs, they weren’t used as effigys of horror and hate they were childs toys, but undeniably racist in the more enlightened climate.

    I loved Dark Corners of the Earth, I had more fun and immersion playing that than CoD4. Some of the forced stealth sections, were shit though, I didn’t much like them, but I DID enjoy things like running for my life across the rooftops, doscovering my character was scared of heights for the first time and getting beaten up by the Feds. Arguably it got a bit worse once the guns came into play. Broken in many ways, needing of a patch that could never come, but still one of the most enjoyable gaming experiences I have ever had. For me, it had atmosphere by the boatload and that made the less than stellar portions more bearable. The whole madness theme was captured pretty well too.

  30. Malagate says:

    Hmm, well to be honest I was not sure KG, I have not looked deeply and was just recalling part of an appendix or foreword in one of the collections of his books.

    Naturally there is no defence of his immense racism, the cat naming is well known, but I was under the impression that eventually he did relent towards the end of his life.

    However the account you give KG sounds more credible, especially considering his letters and books written when close to his death. If he did relent it would have been quite abrupt, either a very strong persuasion or more likely he didn’t change and what I’ve read is a latter day defense.

  31. Malagate says:

    Also (whilst cursing the displaced edit function), I would say that just because something like calling pets Nigger was practiced however widely at the time does not make it right or acceptable, now or then. I will not make excuses for it, similar to how I will not make excuses for the cringe-worthy racist stuff in early Disney movies as well as embarassments like “The Black and White Minstrel Show”.

    Although to my shame I do sometimes snigger when I walk through the old Pet Cemetary. On a mini-tombstone it was so unexpected to read that…

  32. Premium User Badge

    Down Rodeo says:

    Ah, RPS, where debate an upcoming game can turn into moral questions of racism and changing attitudes. This is not a Bad Thing.

    On topic… meh, I’m not so interested. But then I guess my interests are occasionally limited so my comments are perhaps not worth as much. They seem to be enthusiastic anyway, something which is always good.

  33. Kieron Gillen says:

    Malagate: I wouldn’t worry about it too much – I personally think that it’s possible to accept the moral flaws of a human being while still appreciating their art – even if the art is driven by those same moral flaws. I think looking for excuses for them in some way is misplaced, if understandable. I mean, I love Futurist art, and that’s driven by an explicitly vile philosophy. Saying Futurists weren’t mostly a bunch of fascist sexist dipshits because of xyz actually misunderstands them.

    KG

  34. Alec Meer says:

    And one can enjoy Kieron’s writing despite the fact he’s a sex-pest.

  35. Kieron Gillen says:

    You can, abstractly. Not many people do.

    KG

  36. Dagda#Mor says:

    I will only be satisfied if this game’s end boss devours 1d6 investigators per round.

  37. Malagate says:

    Oh definately KG, I wouldn’t stop reading his works just because I now know that little bit more about him, it does explain a hell of a lot of the themes in his stories though.

    Do you think they’ll incorporate those undesirable sentiments into this new rpg? Probably the Deep Ones at least will show up, re-animated black people probably less likely.

  38. Gylfi says:

    Wonderful. Thank god for the indie-not-so-indie Iron Tower and all the other companies.

  39. Mark-P says:

    Lovecraft couldn’t have written what he did if he wasn’t such a troubled individual. His racial fears, especially on interbreeding, powered some of his creepiest writing.

    If you look at pretty much any person, you’ll find something unpleasant in their philosophy, politics or morals. It seems a shame that it has become trendy in modern discussion to rail on Lovecraft’s racial phobias ( in our oh-so-enlightened era ¬_¬ ) instead of celebrating his wonderful body of fiction.

  40. DigitalSignalX says:

    OMG I CAN PLAY FOR EVERRRRRRRR

    sorry. Had to do it.

  41. Premium User Badge

    matte_k says:

    Hmm. I stand corrected, as after reading these posts i’ve found out some more interesting info on Lovecraft that i wasn’t aware of, excuse my ignorance. However, it’s an element that isn’t likely to be incorporated into the game,as it’s not considered relevant to the actual material used, which is principally going to be about the Cthulhu mythos. On this, i’m inclined to agree with Mark-P. I quite enjoyed Atlas Shrugged as a piece of fiction, but that doesn’t mean i appreciate or espouse Objectivism, or indeed, most of Rand’s philosophies. I have a friend who chanced across a comment on Rand in an Iain Banks novel, and since that he’s been unable to square up to reading any of her work as it displeased him so.

  42. Maximum Fish says:

    Why are we agonising over racism when talking about an upcoming game based on the mythology created from the writings of a guy who had racist leanings? In 1920? Am i being silly, or is this a bit ridiculous?

    It seems like moral snobbery to vet the works of deceased people based on an analysis of their political/social leanings as compared with our 21st century worldview. First of all, who cares? Secondly, we should only hope that 100 years down the line people are more forgiving in their appraisal of us. Get your own house in order, and so forth.

    I don’t share the worldview of the creators of the overwhelming majority of the books i read, movies i watch, games i play, whatever. Do i have to? Am i only to expose myself to the works of those who agree with me on everything, whom i can assure myself are ‘morally righteous’ by my own standards?

    You might say that racism is somehow different, as it is quite obviously wrong. This is a dangerous road to head down, as it’s far to easy to disregard other ideas as similarly and objectively wrong simply by virtue of contrasting with the beliefs you already hold. In my opinion, this road leads to mental stagnation and closed-mindedness, no matter how you frame it. And a few blocks down from there are the book burnings.

  43. chick-fhtagnet says:

    “The game will concentrate on dense, quality writing in Lovecraft’s style…” Good luck with that. Many fine writers have crashed and burned trying to emulate the style.

    “…thrilling dialogue…” There’s almost zero dialog in Lovecraft, so I assume that part is not in HPL’s style.

    For a more balanced look at the man, which deals squarely with his racism as well as the many other ways in which he was hopelessly fucked up, yet still managed to write enduring supernatural fiction, you can’t do better than S.T. Joshi’s mammoth Lovecraft: A Life (to which, if you end up reading the whole thing, as I did, you might wish to append the sub-subtitle: Get One).

    You might also enjoy Richard A. Lupoff’s novel, Lovecraft’s Book, in which the racist HPL ends up actual Nazis.

    As for his cat: He loved nothing more.

    For more fiction by racists, you should also check out The Iron Dream by Adolph Hitler.

  44. phil says:

    @Hitler’s gay dad

    Have you read any of the proceeding posts or just the last one , which you took as an invite to call everyone names? (I’m also particularly proud of my twatish hertiage and I’d be glad if you didn’t bring it up.)

    The whole point about Lovecraft’s racism was that it was a burning, disgusted hatred that informed the horrors of his work just as surely as it informed the gloomy sociology of ‘the Decline of the West.’ Compare him to Kipling, another writer people claim, correctly, is racist and, equally correctly, a product of his time. Kipling’s patronising, paternalistic, and horribly smug but ‘White man’s Burden’ or ‘Kim’, for example, don’t contain the horror, terror and dispair that any non-WASPs inspired in Lovecraft.

    Enjoying Lovecraft for the excellence of his narratives is fine, but you’re left with a very superficial understanding of what he was trying to convey.

  45. GliderRecon says:

    ‘If any question why we died,
    Tell them, because our fathers lied’

    Common Form, 1918
    Rudyard Kipling
    (patronising, paternalistic, and horribly smug)

    • The Unbelievable Guy says:

      Notably said after sending his own son off to die in the war.
      Oh well!

  46. Bilharzia says:

    I’m worried about white women and these Negroes Deep Ones that are trying to sleep with them – think of the children!
    So much of the ‘horror’ in Lovecraft comes from his fear and disgust of miscegenation, it’s more interesting, not less, to read the fiction in light of this.

    On the subject of Cyclopean I’m puzzled by the rejection of the work done by Chaosium by Scott from the forums
    Pure Lovecraft … I honestly haven’t touched the PnP’s or read Chaosium’s stuff. I think this a good thing though. This game is going to be based on the source and nothing else.
    maybe this is to avoid copyright issues, reading the stuff on character backgrounds, and especially Sanity rules it seems almost identical.

  47. Zed says:

    I once read an offhand remark about Lovecraft that has stuck with me ever since. This guy’s interpretation of HPL’s entire schtick was that the whole thing was a satire of Christianity and religion in general. In a weird way it kind of makes sense.

  48. Maximum Fish says:

    I’d always heard it was inspired by relativity’s recent (at the time obviously) undermining of the entire body of scientific ‘certainty’, and the subsequently insignificant and frighteningly tiny portrait it cast of humanities understanding of the universe, and place in it.

    But you know, let’s not forget about the racism. Because i hear he was a racist. Thus we can kick back our feet and be comfortably assured in the knowledge that we are so far morally superior to him. Ah, it’s good to be ‘enlightened’. It makes you better than everyone else…

  49. Heliocentric says:

    Well judgement day would be the end of the world. Just like ol squidey rising up would be.
    Truth be told they are carnal powers not evil ones. If they are written as evil in the game the writer failed. The only true evils were the people.

  50. Fumarole says:

    We need more Lovecraftian RPGs for sure. Iron Tower sounds like a good group to bring us such a game. Let’s hope it includes something squamous.