Moons of Madness is Lovecraftian horror on Mars

Moons of Madness

Moons of Madness [official site] wants to be a lot of things: a Lovecraftian horror game set on Mars, a mature exploration of mental health issues and a hard sci-fi space simulator. Gulp. Its trailer certainly looks scary to me, although I’m the kind of person that can only play horror games in 15 minute bursts (I’ve been on Alien: Isolation for the last two months and still haven’t finished).

You’re astronaut Shane Newart, who is battling hallucinations to try and solve the supernatural goings-on on research station Trailblazer Alpha. From the looks of it, the gameplay will be a mixture of environmental puzzles (some of which will be very “technical”, apparently) and exploration/spooky segments.

It’s due out early next year, by the end of March. Here’s the trailer:

Most of the focus on mental health will happen through hallucinations that combine Shane’s memories with events that will happen in the future. Here’s developer Rock Pocket Games (of Olive and Spike):

“These events bend the player’s perception of reality by making them question what was a hallucination and what was real. Players can explore Shane’s subconscious and discover background details of the characters and game world. These events serve both as foreshadowing and to display the condition of Shane’s faltering mental state.”

The developers say they want to make a “scary game that does not antagonise any mental illness sufferers”, and the team have written a blog post about how they’ll do that (they’re particularly keen to avoid video game tropes).

The thing that most caught my eye about the trailer is, oddly enough, the HUD. I love minimal HUDs, and Moons of Madness has a belter: all the information you need is projected onto the bottom of your helmet. If you’re standing straight looking dead ahead you can’t see it, so you have to look down slightly to view your oxygen levels, inventory slots and space suit pressure. Now, I’ve no idea if you stay in that helmet for the duration of the game, but it’s a promising start.

37 Comments

  1. Buuurr says:

    Sounds terrifying… I mean, Shane? Really? Scary name.

  2. Daymare says:

    There have been so many Lovecraft-inspired games announced over the last few years. I don’t think even one has actually been released. Yet. But still.

    I mean, SOMA counts, but I think that’s pretty much it. And even that’s 2 years old by now.

    • dethtoll says:

      SOMA isn’t even Lovecraftian really. At best it draws some visual ideas from Alien, but as weird and sinister and inhuman as the WAU is, it’s not Lovecraftian.

      • Daymare says:

        Sure, it’s got no elder gods *specifically* reaching out from unimaginable depths yada yada, to end mankind. It’s a highly intellligent artificial intelligence instead. And *SPOILERS* mankind was already ended before. Comes close though, I’d say. Does trigger my cosmic horror sense.

        The fact that this is the only one I could come up with that even comes close to Lovecraftian makes it all the more disappointing.

        Was a good one, though.

      • Daymare says:

        Upon reflection, I don’t really care if it’s Lovecraftian. Just cosmic horror’s fine. And I think most people (including me, to be honest) are often conflating the two, even if they’re not synonymous.

        Plenty of other authors doing that subset of horror, anyway.

        • MrBehemoth says:

          I would say that SOMA *is* Lovecraftian horror, in the way that something like Eldritch or Howard Phillips Lovecar is not. They have the motifs, but what they don’t have is the shocking revelation that your existence is not what you think it is and that you are not the centre of the universe. That’s a lot of what SOMA is.

          • Daymare says:

            Sure, that’s also true.

            It just depends on what elements you view as specifically Lovecraftian, and what you can contribute to any wider, related genre.

          • syndrome says:

            The genre you’re referring to isn’t ‘Lovecraftian’ but existential horror

    • Maxheadroom says:

      Whatever happened to Routine? I remember seeing a trailer for that, cor years ago now and thinking it looked cool.

      Below too (although that was less sci-fi horror and more pixel/Dark Souls/roguelike), is everything just vapourware now?

      I think its a conspiracy to turn everyone into CoD/Battlefield drones

      • Daymare says:

        I followed Routine’s development. It got delayed again and again. Then got a release date, then its release date was retracted, because the game needed a bit more time, something like “not more than a month”. That was three months ago. Devs have been pretty quiet during last year anyway.

        Same as with Scorn, that Giger-inspired FPS horror thing. First it was cut into two parts, then it was supposed to come out as some Humble games thing, devs have gone silent ever since.

        At this point I don’t believe either of those games will see a release. I suppose their respective devs ran out of money, or some other necessary resource (work time, staff).

  3. TheAngriestHobo says:

    To be fair, you could play Alien: Isolation for two months straight and still not reach the end. That’s one game that really overstays its welcome.

    • MrBehemoth says:

      In all honesty, I could have went for a few more hours. (But I know that makes me weird.)

  4. Zenicetus says:

    Okay, Mars setting plus Lovecraftian themes, I can get with that.

    Mental health issues? Really? Is this the new way to boost a meme to advertise a game? I’ve lived with the real thing (family member), and this is not something I want to see exploited in a game.

    And yeah, it’s exploitation. “Hallucinations” are not what mental health issues are about.

    • MrBehemoth says:

      I second this, including the positive parts. The game looks great, and don’t get me wrong, I enjoy some games with portrayals of mental health that I know are awful, including the kind of hallucinations in the trailer (e.g. Amnesia, or Layers of Fear) but let’s not pretend that these game-tropey-style hallucinations part of a respectful treatment of mental health.

      Also, Lovecraftian is the #1 misused literary tag. If we could stop calling everything Lovecraftian that has madness and/or monsters in it, that would be nice.

      The kind of mental health issues that Lovecraft’s characters experience is basically post-traumatic stress disorder. The Horror At Red Hook has a good example of it. A man saw some terrible things that shook up his whole view of reality, and nearly lost his life. As a consequence, he experiences a panic attack when he is reminded of it. That’s it – to the best of my knowledge, Lovecraft didn’t actually write about sanity meters or that thing when you kill a monster but it turns out to be your mum, or whatever.

      #2 most misused literary tag is Kafka-esque. Rant over.

      • Nucas says:

        well that sums it up. the more i think about it, the more laughable i find the “focus on mental health” notion. it’s like saying Modern Warfare 2 is about “the shadow terrorism and it’s impact on international relations.”

      • -Spooky- says:

        #3 survival
        #4 rogue like
        #5 metroidvania
        #6 dark souls esque

    • poliovaccine says:

      Haha yyyeah I dont know how you can have “Lovecraftian horror” and a “mature treatment of mental illness” at the same time, since the two seem to clearly imply of one another that your character will see crazy tentacle monsters the size of mountains because s/he has a mental illness, which I happen to know firsthand is actually as ridiculous as it sounds, believe it or not.

      That Senua game lately actually got a number of the audio-visual things down pretty well, from the few minutes of video I saw lately. But I dont really know how you can gameify a loss of emotional control (at least not in a way that’s anything but annoying to the player, a la the real thing haha), or how you can portray nonlinear thinking/ideas, true hallucinations (i.e. the type you cant differentiate from reality) and a priori perception. Even in a novel, where you can completely control thought expression, that isnt easy. As far as I saw on youtube, that Hellblade game didnt really get into that stuff, but like I say, some audio-visual bits definitely seem like they had the help and approval of real schizophrenics to develop. Gets my approval, what little I saw anyway, in specific the voices, and the way a person can seem to be there in your periphery, and even seem to be speaking, but when you turn around it’s almost like you interrupted your own daydream… they did the visual of that really well when she first sees someone like that.

      That stuff, I think, could actually be cool in games, but it runs dangerously close to glorifying something that isnt glorious. A mature treatment is kind of a necessity if you’re going to try for that stuff at all… eeeexcept that it’s so not in videogames, haha. Outlast is more the gamer’s eye view of mental illness, while perceptions of drug addicts range from Condemned to Bioshock – while staying curiously ignorant of the fact that we spend the whole of Far Cry 3 shooting ourselves up eight times a day with morphine haha. You wouldnt think anyone would really conflate this stuff with reality, but some people really, essentially do. They fear certain types of people the way you would a rabid animal. And sometimes the problem is a sheer lack of any counterexample. So I am all for seeing “mature treatment of mental illness,” as opposed to no attempt at that at all, since we’ve already been seeing cartoonishly immature portrayals for generations.

      One interesting game, actually, which doesnt really deal with mental illness in specific, but still kinda does, is Papa y Yo, anyone play that ever? You play a little boy whose alcoholic father is alternately his savior or the villain, depending on if he’s drunk… the unpredictability of seeking after this source of security, only to be running from that same person after their Jekyll and Hyde transformation, that I think could probably hit as close to home for family members of schizophrenics (or addicts) like me in my most unstable years, before I found a regimen that more or less works for me, as it could for any family members of alcoholics or addicts. Was an interesting game, and it was a “mature treatment” in spite of a cartoony style. The emotional narrative was clearly quite genuine.

      • cpt_freakout says:

        I thought Papo & Yo was pretty brilliant, and I think it was so because it was very personal and developed by someone who had suffered what the game stands in as a metaphor of. The Hellblade team did their research, and while I haven’t played the game, it’s commendable that at least one game studio is interested in mental illness as the experience of something human and real instead of just going for cheap, stereotypical, and ultimately harmful depictions of it. While stuff like Outlast is designed to draw distinctions so stark it’s impossible to empathize, it would seem like Hellblade presents a possibility of empathy. So I think that, done right (basically doing the research, consulting with people who have that illness you wish to portray, even making them part of development), games that treat mental illnesses could potentially be a good thing.

        • poliovaccine says:

          I agree, and that’s precisely why I have hopes for things like Senua, and I’m just as pleased when they get pretty much *anything* right as I am dismayed when those claims pan out into Layers of Fear haha.

          The trouble is, the mentally ill often have trouble representing themselves. I count myself as being one very lucky schizophrenic in the sense that I’m as functional as I am, and in that I had an early passion for the English language which has enabled me to remain articulate no matter how psychotic I am (if sometimes a bit, eh, “poetic”), though I cant afford to forget it all comes from a delicate balance. Which is why anything that gets people off the notion that “schizophrenia” means you have multiple personalities and at least one is homicidal, haha, eugh… is a positive thing. Because it is really absurd the way people popularly perceive mental illness. Even those types who consider themselves “progressive” – when they lack a realistic counterexample, and their only frame of reference is horror media on par with Outlast, well, that’s what leads to other human beings treating a human being like me as you would a rabid raccoon. Which is funny, cus schizophrenia is hardly transmissible haha… (except by satellite.. ((kidding))..!)

          Anyway, yeah. Pretty much anything close to a realistic portrayal is incredibly handy against all the absurd, misinformed-and-caricatured portrayals we currently enjoy.

          I find it ironic, too, that so often authors or devs think that with “insanity” they have a free pass to toss out whatever unimaginative little ideas they think psychosis is all about, to indulge in surreality, to craft dramatic dreamscapes of whatever their choosing, because knowing the difference firsthand here, to me *they* look like the really disturbed ones. Like, I may have schizophrenia and suffer occasional audio-visual distortions or the sense of cosmic truths being implanted into my brain via satellite or radio, but I still dont spend hours upon hours of my waking life crafting bloody corpses in glorious, immersive 3D and dreaming up the most horriffic possible ways to mangle a person, haha… like, to me it just looks like, yknow, I have a neurological condition, sure, but I also have love in my life and kindness in my personality, and beauty in my value set… so, like… to me, *these* are the truly disturbed people haha. The people who have no such neurological excuse, who dont see or hear or otherwise experience things beyond the ken of ordinary perception – certainly not the gruesome scenes they create… no, they have no such excuse, they just indulge in this viscera in spite of their sensory acuity/sanity… just like any sociopath haha. In fact, one of the early names for sociopathy, before they coined that term, was “madness without psychosis.” As in, behaving like a crazy person in spite of seeming to damned well know better haha. I dont mean to say game devs or horror writers are sociopaths… only that I think it’s ironic the way they use “insanity” as a narrative device, when really, their imagined vision of insanity is so much more depraved and absurd than anything in reality haha… like, Outlast wasnt inspired by the behavior of any schizophrenics, rather, it was entirely created by the imaginations of its devs haha. I’m not saying they’re sicker than me, only that willful human imagination is far more depraved than any neurological dysfunction haha. And that sanity is relative here. If Outlast wasnt worth any money, the people who spent years meticulously crafting gruesome murder scenes would be cast in a slightly different light. Of course, you could say that if such a thing werent profitable, it never would have been created… but I feel like indie devs do a good job of proving that wrong haha.

          Really I’ve just had multiple experiences where people were happy to know me until they learned my diagnosis, at which point they began to treat me like a boogeyman, and frankly that doesnt even make me sad, it’s just fucking infuriating. So yeah. Any accurate portrayal is a positive portrayal.

    • DudeshootMankill says:

      I hate the word meme. It is a stupid looking and sounding word.

    • Orson says:

      Hi everyone, Moons of Madness Dev here.

      We absolutely do NOT want to use mental health as a meme or marketing plot. As a matter of fact we do want to tell a story that is important to us on a personal level about living with mental illness. We are aware that the trailer does not portray any of that but that would have been pretty much impossible.

      Moons of Madness is very much story and character driven and obviously we do not want to spoil anything in regards to the story but rest assured that some of us in the team have direct experience with the topic and are very much interested in having it portrait as sensitively as possible.

      In regards to Lovecraft vs mental illness: We want to explore the Insanity Lovecraft uses versus The “insanity” of a real mental illness and how that manifests very differently. We also think it’s interesting to look at how internal and external horrors can be similar or different in certain contexts.

      tldr: We absolutely do not want to use the mental illness part as as marketing gimmick and have our own personal reasons for wanting to explore the topic in a very different way. Zone Outs/Hallucinations are only one of different ways we will use to address this topic. We are also working with a Mental Health Consultant.

      • poliovaccine says:

        Dammit, my reply was eaten by a page refresh or somesuch. Well the gist of it was: I do want to see projects succeed at accurate portrayal of mental illness, so I am hoping you take my comments as I mean them, which is in earnest – I’m completely prepared to believe that you mean what you say and that you arent just making another Layers of Fear here… but you even say yourself that none of that “mature treatment” is in the trailer. If you have narrative constraints, I get that, but understand that as soon as you include this sensitive issue, people are going to take it seriously, and also understand that we will judge your game by the stuff you choose to show us – like the trailer. Also, you need to find a way around these narrative constraints, because even your disclaimer like what you provide here doesnt really look like anything alongside the trailer.

        And here’s the thing: Layers of Fear was a perfectly competent horror game, and I’d almost certainly think more highly of it than I do if it had simply never made any claim to accuracy or maturity in its hilariously tropey idea of mental disorder. Then, sure, it’d still be part of the old school of horror media using “madness” as a catchall device for all kinds of absurd crap, but at least it wouldnt lay claim to being anything different, and I could just enjoy it on the same, schlocky level as I do Resident Evil.

        But the second you make that serious claim, you bind yourself to certain design decisions, and forbid yourself from others. And the more you attempt to do something unique and creative with that, the more you stray from the truth, and therefore your stated intention re: mental illness. That sucks, and if you werent saying this comes from personal experience, I’d be tempted to ask if you’re sure a “mature, realistic take” is really the game you want to be making, but like I say, I’m willing to believe you mean it when you say some of your team have been affected by this issue. I just hope it isnt like somebody’s bipolar aunt has always caused wild antics and once crashed their cousin’s wedding cus she was so manic, drunk, and high on Xanax. Plenty of people are “affected by a loved one’s mental illness,” but that frankly isnt enough on its own to grant license to represent it. I mean I tend to wish these Mental Health Consultants people seem to be hiring were actually firsthand sufferers of mental illness. Though I appreciate that finding an articulate and cooperative bunch of psychotics to consult is probably not as easy as hiring some kind of doctor haha.

        But this is my ultimate point. Either you have a conflict of content problem, or an image problem. Either the stuff we see in the trailer clashes with the stuff you say we cant see for narrative reasons, but which is where all the sensitive and accurate portrayal is located, or else the gameplay is in harmony with the concepts and it’s just the trailer which is unrepresentative of your game. I’m willing to believe it’s the latter, since you say as much yourself about the trailer, and hey, if that’s the case you’re in luck, cus that’s the easier problem to fix. But just… if you yourself can see the problem here, dont underestimate the size of it. If, in fact, you have some more realistic stuff to show, I’d strongly suggest finding a way to do it, even if you have to render cutscenes with entirely alternate narrative so it doesnt give away the stuff you wanna keep hidden, but at the same time has a chance to show how you intend to play out this portrayal.

        But you can see by the reactions here that what we’ve got to go by inspires skepticism at best. Like I say, I want to see projects with this goal actually succeed at it, so I hope you take my comments to heart. This isnt gonna be something you can just tack on without really meaning it, like “roguelike elements.” People are going to scrutinize the hell out of this idea, and with good cause. And I saw stuff I liked and found incredibly accurate in Hellblade videos right from the first time I found one, years ago, while the game was still in development. I cant speak to anything but the first 5 mins of the game, but that’s what you want to be aiming for – namely stuff like how they did the voices, or how it looks when she first speaks to someone who “isnt there.” What you want to move away from is Layers of Fear. Not because it’s a bad game, but because it’s a perfectly decent game hamstrung by its inability to deliver on a promise it never needed to make, and didnt seem to take very seriously. Or maybe they did, but just figured they had seen enough movies that when it came to mental disorder they could wing it. Like, if the Layers of Fear devs came on here and told me, having played the game, that their game was made out of a genuine desire to portray mental illness because of their close experience with it, I would tell them: “total fucking bullshit.” Because words are words, and the game is the game, and in their case, the game is self-evident. But I think the devs must have received some backlash for that claim, cus they seemed to kind of disown it after awhile. Which I guess is better than sticking with it, but…

        Anyway, I think you know what I’m saying. I’d like to see more projects succeed at this goal, but what I see here doesnt give me anything to be charitable about. I appreciate that there are narrative constraints, but if you want people to react any differently than they have in this post, you need to show us something other than what’s in the trailer. Cus the thing is, in the trailer I see a perfectly intriguing game, I love some of the ideas I see at work there, like the HUD. But when you make claim to what you do, a competent game isnt enough. Like you say, much of this “mature treatment” will have to occur via narrative… so find some way to show us something of that. It was a mistake to omit in the first place. I’d love to see something solid enough that I can show it to friends by way of explaining my own experiences. That would be an incredible item to hold in my hands… or my Steam library. And I want to believe you’re busy making that. But even with all this wanting to like it, I still cant, not for anything I see in the trailer but rather what I dont. And that’s a big problem for you guys. If even the people who are inclined to like it are finding that they cant, well, that drastically shrinks the pool of people who like it. I mean I dont need to explain this ffs, you get this. You see what I’m saying here.

  5. Nucas says:

    saying a game whose character is receiving supernatural visions of the future has “a focus on mental health” is *quite* a stretch there. game seems interesting though.

    “lovecraftian” seems to be the new meme designator for indies now, though. the only game i’ve played that really delivered on that was Conarium.

  6. Dangerous beans says:

    Is it just me, or are Lovecraftian and supernatural not really compatible with hard scifi?

    • Stropp says:

      Depends on what part of the Lovecraft fiction you’re considering. Cthulhu is pretty much all about alien beings so ancient and vast that they can be considered as gods, but even so they kind of fall into the realm of the natural. That could be considered SciFi, though perhaps not ‘hard’ SciFi.

      If you’re looking for a treatment of Cthulhu-esqe fiction with a far more Sci bent, I heartily recommend the Laundry series by Charles Stross. There’s now eight books in the series that deal with a secret UK government agency that deals with threats of an eldritch nature. Definitely worth reading if you’re into Lovecraft.

    • Zanchito says:

      One could argue that Alien is actually quite Lovecraftian in spirit.

  7. Freud says:

    “You’re astronaut Shane Newart”

    His friends call him Shart.

  8. Shirsh says:

    I can’t unsee a Pip-boy =[

    • Darth Gangrel says:

      Haha, me too! My first thought (unfair and probably ignorant) was that I hope Bethesda don’t think the same thing, because then they’ll send lawyers that’ll make Cthulhu seem quite reasonable.

  9. CaidKean says:

    Well, call me a techno-zen hippy and I’ve been called that before but there’s a dead man hovering in front of me in the Boulevard St Michel. I can hear him speak, in my mind.

    So, we’ve got reanimation, telepathy and levitation. Now I call that downright supernatural. An alien haunting.

  10. 9of9 says:

    All the Lovecraft adaptations are starting to feel a little bit old hat (Lovecraft in the future! Lovecraft underwater! Lovecraft in spaaaaace!), but this looks like it’d be quite ripe to drop some Bradbury influences into.

    • Nucas says:

      i’d love all that if it were so but we haven’t actually gotten ANY lovecraft adaptations except conarium and sunless sea. where is the cosmic horror? the unknowable fear? generic scary stuff isn’t “lovecraft” by default.

      • Daymare says:

        Amnesia’s plot is pretty much ripped straight out of the Necronomicon. Then there’s its predecessor-series Penumbra, but it’s old and wonky now. You also have SOMA by the same devs. Sanitarium, an old horror adventure game also features many elements of cosmic horror.

        And, of course, one of my favorite games, Bloodborne, is as Lovecraftian as it ever gets without straight-up calling Amygdalas “Cthulhoids”.
        I think most people simply forget about it because it’s an RPG and more closely associated with Dark Soul’s gothic fantasy-horror.

  11. plugmonkey says:

    Are any games these days not a ‘mature exploration of mental health issues’?

    Maybe I’m cynical, or maybe video games are just the ideal medium to explore the issue, but it’s starting to feel like a bullet point feature.

    * Insert worthiness here.

    • Ragnar says:

      I’m sure there are plenty of immature ones.

      But, seriously, I only recall a handful of games claiming to be that. And, honestly, if that is the start of a new video game wave, I’ll gladly take it over “Early Access open world survival with crafting”.

    • poliovaccine says:

      Are you kidding? Haha apart from a few recent releases, including some which utterly failed to live up to that promise and instead backslid entirely into hammy old tropes, *every* videogame portrayal of mental illness has been an immature caricature at best, and an absolutely denigrating and dehumanizing romp thru stereotype and/or ultraviolence at its utterly vulgar, typical worst. The amount of people in this world who think “schizophrenia” = “multiple personality disorder” is entirely due to ridiculous movies and games, written by people who see mental illness as a plot device, as “insanity,” as a deus ex machina, instead of as a real thing that really happens to people and which occurs according to its own internal logic, as having a comprehensible system of order to it, just like everything else in existence. I happen to have a friend with Dissociative Identity Disorder, DID, what people usually call “multiple personality disorder,” and he’s one of the sweetest and most intelligent human beings it’s been my fleeting, human privilege to know. He certainly hasnt serial-killed me yet anyway.

      Tho ultimately, my bristling at schizophrenia being conflated with “multiple personality disorder” (i.e. DID) is ultimately not because DID is anything innately bad, but rather because drawing such a shallow comparison just indicates a deep ignorance of both conditions, beyond maybe a couple of fuggin silly-pants movies. It also indcicates a perpetuation of these ass-wrong ideas of mental illness in general, as well as a conception as my diagnosis as being that of a monster.

      I didnt used to keep my diagnosis secret from the world. I only felt the need to do so when being honest with my friends was only losing me friends. Which kinda meant they were bullshit friends in the first place, but at the same time, people are weak and impressionable, even good people, and anyway people dont even have to be good to be your friends, so in a way, given how the world is, I kinda dont even blame those people for their puerile, ignorant reactions… because they had no counterexample to show them how to surmount that fear. But yeah, salient point is, it may be wrong the way they will think of me, but they outnumber me. So I keep mum about myself unless I absolutely have to explain, cus I just plain cannot trust people to understand (the obvious exception being here, in the odd anonymous folds of the internet where I do bother to explain because I think, actually, these particular people I’ve found really *are* capable of understanding).

      Maybe, though, with a few more Hellblades and other such games or other cultural/media* examples (*ever think about how those things are almost synonymous?) to give people counter-impressions, they will start to change this broad, public conception of “mental illness = insaaaaaaane! = whatever stupid supernatural exorcist shit the writers care to blat out in a warm heap today,” and etc, etc.

      I donno if I’ve been clear haha

  12. Alien426 says:

    “Olive and Spike”?
    As far as I know they first called it “Oliver & Spike”, then “Olivia & Spike” and finally “Oli & Spike” (presumably you can choose the gender). But it’s in various forms on their site and YouTube.

    The game’s site does not exist anymore. [https://web.archive.org/web/*/oliverandspike.com]