Wot I Think: TRIHAYWBFRFYH

By Alec Meer on January 15th, 2014 at 7:00 pm.

Its full name being ‘The Rapture Is Here And You Will Be Forcibly Removed From Your Home‘, but there’s about as much chance as that fitting into our post title space as there is my being clean shaven for any reason except a funeral. It’s an exploration game, created by one Connor Sherlock (and what a fabulous name that is), set during an unspecified end of the world event. You have twenty minutes to do what you will. Then everything ends.

It’s a little bit amazing.

True story – I was about to criticise this end-of-the-world Going For A Walk game for being a trifle too purple of prose, before finally bothering to read the email about it properly and realising all the dialogue is taken directly from Lovecraft tales. A rose by any other name, and all that.

This also caused my sum feelings about the game to rapidly adjust themselves, now seem through the lens of fond tribute to otherworldly menace, rather than primarily a concerted attempt to be arch and confusing. I’m sure a more painstaking gaming archaeologist than I would assemble more implied truths and meanings from their time exploring a starkly beautiful outdoor world in search of narrative fragments, while perhaps fleeing from or perhaps guiding an enormous, possibly malign or possibly benign, unidentified flying object that slowly descends towards this prettily shattered world. I, chose, however, to treat it as an experiment in atmosphere, and even before my about-face on the cut-up, out-of-order diary entries, I thought TRIHAYWBFRFYH an almost unqualified success in that regard.

(The ‘almost’ refers primarily to the distracting, sometimes mood-breaking effects of pop-up vegetation and fog; whether this is a limitation of the Unity engine or just of this particular take on it I do not know. But, y’know, free games- mustn’t't grumble).

While it’s an extremely visually striking game, much of this atmosphere stems from the soundtrack, which pings carefully and powerfully between utmost dread and eerily uplifting – a fine reflection of The Rapture both as a broader concept and as the dark, silhouetted, city-sized hovering lozenge that is its avatar here. In the truest meaning of the word, it is awesome. Is it the end, or is it our transport to something better? No answers are provided, no questions are directly posed – it’s all on the player to choose their interpretation and their reaction, whether to admire this looming emissary or to attempt to escape it.

(In either case, I implore you to make sure you play with shadows turned on in settings, for in their dramatic darkening of the land just behind your feet they’re vital for the sense of being pursued by something immense, implacable and impossible).

To return to the music, as well-realised and well-judged as it is there is a question mark over how effective the game would be without it. It would, indeed, have a little of the tech demo to it – a wander through some off-the-shelf foliage, heading to a series of coloured pillars to activate snippets of dialogue from those aforementioned Lovecraft tales. That’s all there is too it, though I reject such a factor being an accurate barometer of a game’s worth. Yes, for all the awe that thing in the sky elicits, the game would without music feel too empty, too without purpose, but lest that sound like criticism, please believe me when I say my point is just how effective and crucial a good soundtrack can be. In this case, the game very nearly is its soundtrack, and all the alien-tinged hope and terror it evokes.

Though the massive alien/celestial/divine/??? shape that dogs your every footstep certainly helps. It puts me in mind of the first footage of the XCOM remake which ultimately become poor, compromised, The Bureau, back when the idea of fighting, let alone defeating, that enormous transforming cube-creature seemed entirely impossible. This one hounds you, but it does so without pressure or violence. It’s just there, always. Pitiless or pitying? That’s for you to decide.

I’m so glad the time limit isn’t in any way apparent, that there’s no sense of urgency at all until the closing minutes, so you’re free to simply soak it all in, it sounds and its strangeness, its destabilising juxtaposition of the known and the unfathomable.

TRIHAYWBFRFYH is a free game which lasts twenty minutes (at which point an, as far as three plays have established to me, inescapable conclusion activates) but demands a couple more playthroughs – perhaps in search of answers you won’t find, perhaps to soak up more of its frightening yet faintly euphoric atmosphere. It’s rougher around the edges and much shorter on visual surprises than Dear Esther, but can certainly be filed alongside it and is to my mind very much a comparable accomplishment. Proteus too, in its juxtaposition of familiar nature with strange shapes. TRIHAYWBFRFYH is more dramatic than either, however. Perhaps that’s because it’s not really a quest for answers, or for relaxation: it is from start to finish an ending, or at least a coda after an unseen, apocalyptic conclusion.

It’s still the dialogue that complicates matters the most for me – even the realisation that these were familiar and respected words from a master of otherwordly menace doesn’t spare the cut-up (but well-performed) lines from feeling too arbitrary and too showy, threatening (but ultimately failing, I’m glad to say) to drag the game from affecting ambiguity and into hollow posturing. That said, their various threads are well-chosen, forever seeming to be somehow relevant to this event and what led to it, and they do lend a questing nature to proceedings. Also, that the game focuses on the solitude and eeriness of Lovecraft’s work rather than the outright horror and creepy-crawlies that videogames invariably go to when utilising his work makes it perhaps a truer homage than games with guns and blades.

Most of all, I must wholeheartedly recommend TRIHAYWBFRFYH as a mood and sound piece. Going For A Walk Games, whatever narrative affections they might also offer, strive to evoke the loneliness of the uninhabited world, and this one most certainly accomplishes that. The silent, impossibly large foe/friend/follower somehow serves to accentuate this solitude, even though its indefatigable presence means ever being alone is an impossibility.

It’s a rare thing for any game to sear images into the brain in this way, let alone do it at the same time as creating so powerful a mood of introspection, wonder and discomfort. For a first game, and a free one too, it’s attention-grabbing and beautiful stuff, and hopefully the herald of very great things to come from its developer. I strongly urge you to play this.

The Rapture Is Here And You Will Be Forcibly Removed From Your Home is out now, and free. Play in your browser, or download the standalone version, here. I’d strongly recommend doing the latter.

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75 Comments »

  1. pupsikaso says:

    It took me too long to realize you weren’t being sarcastic in the first two paragraphs, because this kind of game is EXACTLY a concerted attempt at being arch and confusing.
    Who the hell fills an entire game’s dialogue with quotes from some of the most confusing and obscure literature on the planet? Despite having a cult following, Lovecraft is not exactly very well known, even within the community of gamers. And we know well how Lovecraft fanboyism usually leads to some of the worst pretentious works that could possibly be called creativity.
    This game doesn’t attempt to do much better than that.

    • ColCol says:

      Really, strange response, Lovecraft’s writing is not really that obscure nor is is that difficult to understand. Most Lovecraft Fanboyism leads to shitty horror/sci-fi writing, not pretentiousness.

      • LionsPhil says:

        I dunno; awareness of it might be pretty widespread, but how many people have actually read it?

        • BTAxis says:

          I know I haven’t, and I don’t feel the desire to.

        • CookPassBabtridge says:

          I thought Lovecraft was a shop that sold knitting needles

        • Lemming says:

          You’d hope so. The first thing I did when I was becoming aware of Lovecraft and things like Cthulhu through popular culture was want to know what it was all about, and so bought a copy of his stories

          Seeing something you don’t understand, then endeavouring to understand it is surely a fairly human and therefore common thing for us all to do.

          I’m flad I did too. They are great horror stories. To suggest as some have that it’s difficult to read is quite amusing. However, it doesn’t sound great spoken over this game, I grant.

          • silentdan says:

            It depends on what you mean by “difficult” — Lovecraft didn’t think much of non-whites, and there are certainly passages that make you cringe from something other than the horror of unfathomable malevolence. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan of his work and I know it isn’t fair to judge people of past ages by contemporary standards, but … some parts are a little hard to read.

          • dethtoll says:

            Not to mention his xenophobia had high standards even for his time. He was a little behind, socially — and a bit part of that is because he was something of a shut-in, I suspect.

          • Samuel Erikson says:

            @dethtoll
            Yes & no.
            While Lovecraft was more racist and xenophobic than was common for the time, he was not a shut-in in any sense of the word. He had a wide circle of friends, and wrote multiple travelogues–one of which was his longest single work. (See here for more: http://www.hplovecraft.com/life/myths.aspx#recluse )

            If you are seriously interested in learning about Lovecraft–or if you happen to enjoy reading biographies–pick up S.T. Joshi’s I Am Providence: The Life and Times of H. P. Lovecraft.

        • Geebs says:

          True story – I once decided to read some Lovecraft while on the Victoria line. I have never felt as mortified at the possibility that somebody might have been reading over my shoulder (it was “the rats in the walls”, and the Victoria line goes through Brixton)

          On another note, do you automatically get given three pints of bitter and a couple of packets of peanuts at the start of this game?

        • melnificent says:

          I bought the complete Lovecraft for the kindle for under £2 (http://www.amazon.co.uk/H-P-Lovecraft-Complete-Collection-ebook/dp/B004TO5KEE/) . In a year I managed 2 stories (Mountains of Madness and the body swap one). They are definitely interesting, but ultimately extremely densely written and I would say have aged rather badly.

          So many more to read, but I’m still not sure I can face them

          • frightlever says:

            Um, the copyright on HP Lovecraft is so confused but I think most of his work is public domain in the EU but for the price of snacks that’s a good deal. The RE Howard complete works ebook is even better value at the same price. Jesus, there’s enough reading in that lot to see me into the grave.

          • Danorz says:

            yeah, he got paid by the word and was definitely a big fan of optimizing his earnings

          • Pippy says:

            Mountains of madness is pretty tedious unless you get a big kick out of wading through innumerable antarctic pages to see some albino penguins get killed (maybe it is the arctic can’t remember) and if the body swap one is the shadow out of time that is pretty bad too, it might be the thing on the doorstep which is one of his good ones.I recommend you try The Dreams in the Witch House and if you don’t like that just give up on the whole ouevre.

      • Lemming says:

        I agree with this, and I’d say it also extends to people saying something is Lovecraftian if it has even a whiff of a tentacle about it, which does annoy me somewhat.

    • LMichet says:

      I understand your discomfort with Lovecraft. He’s certainly not mainstream. HP Lovecraft’s work is filled with strange, uncomfortable emotions. Despair, and weakness, and futility are common themes, and his stories portray the world as a senseless and brutal place, full of mysteries that cannot be solved and secrets that human minds cannot comprehend. His tales have few real heroes– only monsters and victims. They usually end with tragedy, and often feature mental illness or madness. He has a dense, florid writing style: he has a reputation for using unusual words and extremely weird imagery. Most of his stories are linked together by a completely fresh, original mythology, totally unlike any other invented universe. Although many authors have emulated him, few have come close to his quality or bizarre individuality.

      But in the end, Lovecraft is actually pretty damn well known. His monsters are now internet memes; his works are in the public domain, and are pretty easy to find and read. But his biggest importance comes through the artists he’s influenced. He’s had a huge effect on Stephen King, for example. His influence extends to other media, like comic books: Hellboy, for example, is becoming/has become Dark Horse’s flagship “world,” and it often strays into 100% Lovecraft sendup territory. There are plenty of other more-classic comics that reference Lovecraft as well.

      Video games and “gamer culture” have a huge creative debt to Lovecraft. Here’s a list of board and videogames you might recognize that have been STRONGLY influenced by HP Lovecraft:

      -World of Warcraft’s Wrath of the Lich King expansion had several zones and an entire raid based on and influenced by the works of HP Lovecraft. Various bosses in a number of WoW expansions have been based on Lovecraftian ideas as well.
      -Fantasy Flight Games, one of the most successful “hardcore” board-gaming companies, has an entire line of successful products explicitly set in HP Lovecraft’s imaginary universe
      -The Secret World had an entire starter zone based on HP Lovecraft’s story Shadow over Innsmouth
      -The games Dark Souls and Demons’ Souls contain monster designs similar to monsters described in HP Lovecraft. Many American and European players consider these games to be “Lovecraftian” in tone and setting.
      -Some of the internet’s most successful English-language webcomics, like 8-Bit Theater and Penny Arcade, make CONSTANT references, both explicit and stylistic, to HP Lovecraft
      -Torchlight II has dungeons and a major plotline based on HP Lovecraft’s imagery and plots
      -Frogwares, Inc, of the Sherlock Holmes adventure game series, made an entire game about Sherlock Holmes fighting cultists who worship HP Lovecraft’s monsters

      So yeah, HP Lovecraft is pretty damn important. He’s not that weird; he’s at the heart of modern sci-fi and horror, lurking there like one of his own monsters, influencing a shit-ton of stuff. Not confusing or obscure at all: just deeply, deeply in touch with weirder and bleaker emotions than some people care to feel. But he’s influenced so many people that I do think he is central to modern sci-fi and horror and therefore has a huger effect on pop culture than almost any other horror writer besides Stephen King.

      • Runs With Foxes says:

        -The games Dark Souls and Demons’ Souls contain monster designs similar to monsters described in HP Lovecraft. Many American and European players consider these games to be “Lovecraftian” in tone and setting.

        I’ve literally never heard this opinion from anyone.

        • Eddy9000 says:

          Oh come on, everything about DS screams weird fiction.

          • The Random One says:

            There’s weird fiction, and there’s weird fiction.

            I’d say any foe you can defeat by clubbing with a sword is not Lovecraftian, but then we have mind flayers and frogmen and things get a little muddled.

      • madeofsquares says:

        And Quake. That had a few Lovecraft references in it.

    • SRTie4k says:

      Funny, I’m actually reading The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories right now, and I don’t find it at all difficult to read or comprehend. Sure there is a good amount of deprecated verbiage (my consistent favorite is “shewed”…Lovecraft adored that word), and a small dose of obscure references (which the ebook annotates), but his writing is not even remotely confusing.

    • Soup says:

      Whoops, didn’t mean for this to be a reply!

    • VelvetFistIronGlove says:

      Who the hell fills an entire game’s dialogue with quotes from some of the most confusing and obscure literature on the planet?

      I once decided to use paragraphs from Joyce’s Ulysses as placeholder text in a game, does that count?

    • hairrorist says:

      You are misreading the word obscure. He meant opaque, obfuscating, murky, not unknown. In that sense Lovecraft is kind of the essence of obscure. And as far as the quality of his merit as a writer, he’s a bit of a joke in an academic and critical circles and fellow authors often comment on their desire to avoid Lovecraft’s conceits. And conceit is certainly a word that works on multiple levels in this case.

      He is the poster child for authors with interesting and inventive ideas but no talent for artful expression. He is repetitive. He is purple. He is unkowably, unfathomably, indescribably unspeakably Lovecraftian in his repetitive obfuscation.

      He eschews shewing the reader as much as possible in as many words as possible.

    • dethtoll says:

      Are you high? Lovecraft is one of the most well-known authors in geekdom, period, and has been since the revival of interest in the 1970s when modern geekdom started to emerge.

      As to whether he’s a GOOD author, well… I think he’s ultimately not very. But his ideas were certainly sound.

    • Phasma Felis says:

      “Obscure”? Are you trolling? Lovecraft is one of, if not the, most influential horror writers in history. You don’t have to like him, you don’t have to like horror, but there is no sense in which he is “obscure”.

      • hairrorist says:

        Parse.
        You are misreading the word obscure. He meant opaque, obfuscating, murky, not unknown

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    • secuda says:

      Aw gees, Tom Clansy was not a better writer nor creative when it comes to games as well.

  2. Hodge says:

    Quick question: Is this a satire of/comment on/snarky response to Everyone’s Gone To The Rapture? Both the name and the game’s premise suggest that it is but then there’s the whole Lovecraft thing, so maybe not.

    Will check it out either way, I do enjoy me a good walk ‘em up.

  3. CookPassBabtridge says:

    Is this basically “Everyone’s Gone to The Rapture” FOR ALL OF US WHO WERE BETRA… no ok I am only kidding.

    But is it though?

  4. Zenicetus says:

    A little bit of an immersion-breaker there, when the narrator in the trailer pronounces scintillating as “skintillating.”

    • SillyWizard says:

      Thank you, I was just about to post this.

      Is it really that hard to find literate people to read for your game?

      • Harlander says:

        That depends.

        If you mean “can actually read”, then no. If you mean “is well-read”, then it’s trickier.

        • SillyWizard says:

          I’d settle for “can comprehend the words he’s regurgitating.”

          I get the feeling frequently from voice-actors that they aren’t/can’t really process what’s on the page in front of them.

      • Phasma Felis says:

        You’ve got it backwards. He’s not illiterate but too literate, or too exclusively literate. I’ve got a decent collection of big words that I understand quite well but can’t pronounce because I’ve only ever encountered them on the page, and haven’t thought to look up in the dictionary.

  5. Kefren says:

    Vin Diesel’s best voiceover.

    • CookPassBabtridge says:

      One of the actors is Nathan Grayson. Don’t let this stage name fool you – I’d recognise those languid yet reassuring american tones anywhere

  6. CookPassBabtridge says:

    Played it. Thanks for bringing this to our attention Alec, its a great experience.

    The music reminds me of that old War of The Worlds album. The chances of anything coming from mars, are a million to one he said. OOOOO LAAAAAAAA

    Oh cool. YouTube has got this

    • mukuste says:

      Wow. Is that the tale of how humankind attempted to fight off the alien invaders by way of disco music? Hilarious.

      • CookPassBabtridge says:

        That my friend is a pitch for an alien movie which would have been far far better than anything with Tom Cruise in it

  7. The Dark One says:

    I had a recurring nightmare as a kid, where I’d wonder around a landscape either made from a black velvet painting, or an open-air laser tag facility with a gazillion hidden black-lights. I’d be searching for other, younger kids to try to help, but always with a sense of impending doom. A feeling of a crushing weight from above, and, for whatever reason, the number 200. Some nights I’d wake up part-way through the dream, and other times I’d wake up after the invisible force came and crushed us all. Either outcome brought a sense of relief. Waking up, the setting was so outlandish that it was easy to push away, but even the feeling of detachment and oblivion at the end of the dream felt nice compared to the anxiety about a lack of time and my failure to help the other kids.

    I didn’t grow up in a religious family, so I’m pretty sure those dreams are the basis for my adult fascination with apocalyptic scenarios.

    • nearly says:

      I don’t know if it’s piggybacking off having just played the game, but there’s something very understated and yet profoundly descriptive about your words on your recurring dream. I’ll be saving this

  8. Flammablezeus says:

    The concept of this game reminds me a lot of Outer Wilds. It doesn’t look as interesting as that, but I’ll definitely have to give it a go.

  9. Soup says:

    I loved the sound of this – “the world will end in 20 minutes, there is a giant object in the sky, do want you want” – but was pretty disappointed to find out it was actually just wandering around listening to four (five?) unconnected voice overs reading out unrelated stuff written by someone else. It would have been nice to hear something original or at least tangentially related.

    The landscape was nice at first glance, until I realised that everything apart from the grass either used one block colour or had ridiculously low quality textures (would have been fine with either if it had fitted to a theme or some such, but there didn’t seem to be one). The big updraughts of glowy balls were the final straw in terms of immersion or beauty, essentially lazy shorthand for “hey player, here is an objective of some kind”.

    It’s a shame, when I heard that first, pared down description I was really looking forward to this.

    • HybridHalo says:

      The dialogue isn’t unconnected – it’s colour coded. Once you activate one, the next piece of the story will begin emitting the colour from its position.

      Red, for example, is the entire short story “The Colour of Space”. One of Lovecraft’s finest.

      • Soup says:

        I meant that the threads are unconnected to one another. It was kind of the least important point I made.

  10. honuk says:

    Lovecraft is a terrible writer

    • The Random One says:

      He’s a lot better at having ideas than at turning them into interesting stories.

    • SillyWizard says:

      Wow, and you’re so incredibly clever for noticing.

      If you judge “terrible” by being unable to attract and retain an audience, you’re wrong.

      If you judge “terrible” by being technically and stylistically weak in his writing, you’re wrong.

      If you judge “terrible” by being a Bad Person for perhaps having some attitudes which are anachronistically unpopular but very common at the time, you’re stupid.

      Did I miss anything?

  11. MadJax says:

    I don’t know about anyone else, but I also got a very “Jeff Waynes War of the Worlds” (Yes, based on the book by H.G. Wells) feeling from this game thanks to the soundtrack and subject matter :/ Eerily enjoyable yet foreboding.

  12. crinkles esq. says:

    I find it strange that Alec would criticize the game for its prose until he found out it was from Lovecraft. I’m sick of Lovecraft and people fawning over his stuff, but I appreciate games that try to raise the rather low poetic standard found in gaming narratives.

    Visually, I find this game weird, with a giant vector oval overlapping the photorealistic skybox. It’s jarring and doesn’t work. You’d think with this oval portal, or whatever it is, being a focal point of the game, the designer would’ve spent a bit more time on it.

  13. Jimbot says:

    The narration is from “The Color Out of Space”. It’s a damn good short story and really creepy.

    • HybridHalo says:

      Only if you follow the red coloured beams. The others are each different stories, though I think the Colour of Space is the best one given the setting.

  14. waltC says:

    So this is a twenty-minute recital of Selected Lovecraft Works, set to moog music and the occasional jarring, discordant pop-up technicolor graphic? (I think this is what I saw–er, read about, anyway…;))

    • BisonHero says:

      I’m baffled as to why anyone is impressed by this. Like, OK, you recorded some people reading Lovecraft stories, that have little relation to this giant UFO looming in the sky. You made a pretty countryside and all, but really? That was your whole idea?

  15. Jake says:

    Well that was unsettling. After about 18 minutes, by my best estimations, I was anticipating some sort of rapture to shortly occur, but was quite alarmed when the game quit, all my programmes closed and my computer shutdown. Turns out it was a windows update and not the rapture but it was quite a chilling experience, especially as I wasn’t sure I had saved my work.

    I’m not sold on the game though, mainly because it gave me really strong flashbacks of going mining in Warcraft. Holding down shift and running between marked points on a brown, low detail landscape – it’s a certain type of existential horror.

    As much as I want to enjoy this sort of thing I think you would be better off listening to Wayne June read Lovecraft, he has a much more suitable voice than these voice actors: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m2-Pm1dfWhE

    • snowgim says:

      That’s rather apt. I’m sure when the rapture finally comes, it will be caused by Windows Update.

      • dethtoll says:

        Bravo, the both of you.

      • madeofsquares says:

        Oh God. I can just imagine the last thing I hear before eternal nothingness being the Windows shut down sound.

    • mukuste says:

      I’m pretty sure Windows Update will make all programs with unsaved changes prompt you to save them first. I think. I mean, surely they wouldn’t…?

      • CookPassBabtridge says:

        Not if you’re in a game. I have lost many progress hours to that effing update. Now I have it set so I have to actually authorise it

  16. logizomechanophobe says:

    Perhaps it was designed this way intentionally, but I found it really off-putting that looking more-or-less directly at the spaceship cues an audio loop that just pops in and doesn’t fade in or out gradually as you look more closely at it.

    Also would have enjoyed the dialogue more if they’d crammed some coats into that closet they recorded in so you don’t get all the room reverb.

    Soundtrack is ace, though!

  17. Darth Grabass says:

    I was really looking forward to playing, but it just crashes for me after the loading screen. I just get a frozen image of a pole in a field and then the soundtracks plays. Forever. Not sure it’s worth the trouble to figure out what the problem is.

  18. rustybroomhandle says:

    I saw “TRIHAYWBFRFYH” and immediately thought it must be something in Welsh. Was about to ask my girlfriend to translate.

  19. yezo says:

    Hm, which graphics quality to choose from THE COMBO BOX? Basic, Standard, Ultra, Fantastic, what to choose?.. Maybe just “Unity3D default”, which is AMATEURISHLY LAGGY? Yes.

  20. Scandalon says:

    (The ‘almost’ refers primarily to the distracting, sometimes mood-breaking effects of pop-up vegetation and fog; whether this is a limitation of the Unity engine or just of this particular take on it I do not know.

    My limited knowledge of Unity leads me to believe it’s mostly an implementation issue – the trees in particular transition their LOD models (and their billboard standins) poorly. You’ll notice they also seem to all be plopped down with the same orientation.

    I second the necessity of shadows, even if have to run lower res, as the lighting was very “evocative” IMO, and necessary for the effect of the slowly transforming landscape.

  21. Wulfen666 says:

    TRIHAYWBFRFYH… Unimpressive. Proteus destroys this.

  22. home security says:

    Nice graphics BTW!