Hi! We’re called Ice-Pick Lodge, and we’re happy to announce that September 10th will mark the PS4 launch of Knock Knock — a creepy horror game with a rather unusual backstory.
What do you, a small-to-mid-sized indie studio, do when an e-mail pops up full of mysterious scribbles, notes, and audio files — coupled with a vague description of a possible game? In all honesty, more often than not you probably try to conjure up a polite and friendly response; perhaps discuss the sender’s ideas with them. But that’s not what happened at Ice-Pick Lodge studios in November 2011.
Instead of doing the sensible thing, we set to create a horror game that would incorporate the disturbing nature and the subtly sinister undertones of the .zip archive we were sent while also avoiding the genre cliches like gore, asylums, or jump scares.
It feels nice to give yourselves quests. Many innovative and charming games begin with an idea longing to be implemented, with a desire to try out a new mechanic or, say, combine certain traditions.
Knock Knock is not so different in this regard — it’s just that our quest was to recreate a place, a feeling, and an idea first captured in a set of disjointed snippets, bits, and pieces that we extracted from the archive. There were audio files that ended up becoming “Lodger speak” — the incomprehensible speech of the game’s main character, the Lodger. There were images and text files that made us realize that the game is set in a cabin lost in the woods. Finally, the very fact of making a game based on an archive from an anonymous source provided Knock Knock with its central motif: the fear of the unknown.
We were — and still are — a bit afraid of what we’ve done, you see. Even those of us who were positive it was nothing more than a prank. Why does it matter, anyway? Whether the cabin was located in some real woods or in the mindscape of a very peculiar person, it’s still real in the world of ideas. And the world of ideas was real enough for us to find a note saying “You’ve forgotten someone” when we later went to a forest to fulfill some of the Kickstarter backer rewards (Knock Knock has indeed been successfully kickstarted, and one of the tiers promised that we would plant a tree for the backer).
The Lodger’s fears spawn from his own close-mindedness, taking the shape of so-called Guests that visit his cabin and engage in a game of creepy hide-and-seek (Hide-and-sick?) with him. The only thing the Lodger needs to do to win is to survive until dawn. Is it true? Or is he supposed to break the rules created with his own fearful mind? What if it’s all merely a nightmarish prank? Whatever the correct answer is, we did our best to deliver it subtly. The cabin itself is cozy, and the woods you set to explore from time to time are picturesque.
So what is wrong with this place?
Most human fears boil down to the fact that we reject the alien and the unknown. We fear the dark because something may be there; we indulge in various types of xenophobia because there are a lot of things in this world that simply do not make sense to us. A cleaver-wielding zombie may be frightening as hell, especially if you’re fragile and lack the means to defend yourself, but we honestly believe that an inexplicable creature set about its own business is even more so. It may not even necessarily present a threat, but by god how does its shape even hold together?! That is not how bodies work at all!
Coupled with the fact that there may or may not be some twisted game going on with the protagonist being the main player, it works to recreate the disconnected mood of the archive rather well. And it’s not us patting ourselves on the back; after the game was first released, the spooky sender has contacted us once again, claiming we’ve made several mistakes, but got the general gist just right. Knock Knock is a pocket of chaos that serves as a direct contradiction to the belief that the world can be made sense of at all; multiple in-game systems (some of them suggested by our dubious benefactor — seemingly for no reason at all) overlap, creating an ever-evolving situation that keeps the player on their toes.
But chaos is unavoidably broken into patterns. That’s just how human mind works — including the mind of our poor protagonist. Perhaps this is what it’s all about.
And, well, that’s better than nothing. When you stare into the darkness, anything is better than nothing — even a doppelganger of yours staring back at you blindly. (That is, of course, not a random metaphor, but something that can be encountered in Knock Knock.)
The horror genre is extremely robust these days — and whatever the origins of the e-mail were, we’re more than happy that someone or something has given us a nudge to add to it while scaring ourselves witless in the process. Now we hope that the black box that is Knock Knock will continue to serve its purpose.
Whatever it is.