First-person story follows two orphaned siblings experiencing a dream-like train journey
At its heart, Blackwood Crossing is a game that tells a story. And when we started telling it, one thing became clear very quickly: it was going to be driven by rules and logic that did not apply to the real world.
As a team, we created our own set of rules that applied to our world and our universe. And we figured that as long as we continually referenced them, our audience would make sense of them and go with the flow.
It’s an illogical logic that exists because we say it does. And this is what helps to give Blackwood Crossing its unique character.
The word “surreal” is used a lot when talking about the game. So we wanted to share some of our thought processes behind this surreal magic so you can see what we’re pushing to achieve.
We’re not looking to create any kind of surrealist symbolism from the art itself. But what we are saying is that this game — its characters, its story — is surreal and madly creative, and we’re bringing you along for the ride.
This surrealism helps us to frame some of the more interesting art and style choices such as the game’s juxtaposed locations and the mysterious characters seen wearing masks.
It also, quite deliberately, helps with the story pacing. Having a surreal flavor to our narrative makes everything flow naturally, without us having to ask the player to go somewhere else or go somewhere different and break the magic and the illusion.
Our primary goal is to confound and delight!
Take the train, for example. It’s something that the player is going to become very familiar with. But trains are pretty… samey. They’re basically corridors on wheels. But we thought about them differently.
We really liked the idea of the player going into a carriage and things not being exactly as they seemed. We played around with childhood game ideas being played out within these carriages. And we introduce surrealist elements in small, bite-sized chunks. That way, when the player walks into the carriage and there’s a tree growing out of it, they don’t get spooked. It becomes the new normal, and you freely climb up the tree.
But we’re not deliberately trying to be avant-garde about this. The surrealism comes from the magic and the fantasy. Weirdness for weirdness sake doesn’t make for a great experience. That’s why internally we talk about dream logic.
The thing about dreams is that, when you’re in them, they make perfect sense. But outside of that state of consciousness, it’s a different matter.
What we want to do in our world, in Blackwood Crossing, is to keep you in that dream state so that everything hangs together. We want to help the player engage by confounding their expectations.
As part of our dev process, we interviewed people after they’d played through Chapter 1. We asked them to describe what happened and every tester would start explaining it and get halfway through before reasoning, “No, that sounds crazy! It all seemed to make sense to me at the time. But now that I’m reflecting back and trying to describe it to someone else…”
Surrealism deliberately doesn’t make sense. But our game experience does when you’re engaged and in the moment. And that was something that we worked very hard to deliver on.
See for yourself when Blackwood Crossing launches 4th April on PS4.