Hollow Ponds have released a video detailing the real-world inspirations behind their 2020 puzzle game I Am Dead, a game about a ghost returning to their hometown and view it through new (dead) eyes. The cultural specificity in I Am Dead becomes clear as the two lead developers, Richard Hogg and Ricky Haggett, discuss how the British seaside town of Hastings influenced the creation of the game’s fictional setting Shelmerston. It's 25 minutes long, but it's a lovely watch.
Hogg and Haggett give insights on the various buildings, objects, and jokes from Hastings that infiltrated their way into the game. The video shows off previously unseen concept art, photography, diagrams, maps and mood boards that were used in the development of I Am Dead. You will also learn a lot about the town Hastings.
The developers comment that they didn’t always intend to base the game’s seaside town specifically on Hastings, but it became difficult not to considering Hogg lives there. “If I want to put some interesting buildings in a game and I live in a place that has interesting buildings, then it makes a certain amount of sense for me to wonder down the hill from where I live,” says Hogg. He remarks that many of his sketches were done in and around Hastings, outside or “in a coffee shop or a pub… I love pubs.” A quintessentially British attitude, that. The pub in the game, The Camel, was even modelled after the oddly small pubs in Hastings, such as the one Haggett and Hogg are sitting in during the video.
During I Am Dead players can slice their way into many different objects, looking into a radio to see the intricate interior, or looking into a boat to find a sailor smuggling alcohol. Hogg explains that “the game is about stuff because it’s literally about objects," and the mini-documentary delves into some of the objects in the game and the stories behind them. Hogg explains the origins of the red, decommissioned World War II mines featured in the game, which can be found in a lot of seaside towns across Britain in real life, repurposed as charity boxes that people slot coins into. In Shelmerston, slicing these mines reveals a load of coins bundled within.
The most random anecdote to make its way into Shelmerston was Hogg’s “Buddha in hoover story”, referencing the miniature Buddha statue you can find inside one of the game’s vintage hoovers. Hogg explains that he had accidentally hoovered up his own Buddha statue and when he found it two months later, the detail made its way into the game. He is also pretty opinionated on the size of the game’s hoover bags: “there’s no way I’m accepting a bag that flaccid in my video game, it has to be nice and full.”
The state of Hastings' community also found its into I Am Dead. Hogg and Hagget break down the different type of people you can find in the game - alongside the classic sailors and residents of Shelmerston, the player can find different groups of tourists, here for birdwatching, yoga and drinking, as well as “package tourists”, and andromorphic birds who seem out place in the quaint town as they wave their selfie sticks about. There’s the fascinating fish people who Hogg thinks “may be analogous to native people in a country like Australia.” Some of these fish people wear human clothes and live within the main town, while others choose to live on the outskirts. Then there are the artists, some of whom have weird designs like an apple in the place of a head. Even though Hogg is an artist in Hastings, he separates himself from the fruit kind: “in my defence, it’s for a video game.” The diverse groups in the game are “touching on this kind of tension that you get in communities like Hastings”, says Hogg.
It’s clear that the culture and history of Hastings has permeated every part of I Am Dead. Alice loved Annapurna’s 2020 title, calling it a “tonic for these trying times.”