From Devolver Digital
and Phobia Game Studio
is a reverse-horror experience where you take direct control of an evolving and amorphous alien, err, thing. An entity with a thirst and hunger for the red stuff that makes up humans, in a side-scrolling puzzle-stealth-action game that draws inspiration from the Metroid
series. In addition to classic films like Alien
. But, it’s also one of those concepts that feels unlike anything else. And when you couple that with physics-based movement and interaction, it certainly plays like no Metroidvania we’ve encountered
With a demo currently available
as part of the Steam Games Festival
, we had the chance to chat with Krzysztof Chomicki, Level Designer, and Sebastian Krośkiewicz, Game Director and Programmer at Phobia Game Studio to talk about all things Carrion. It’s origins, the inspiration behind the core concept, and whether humanity is the real
Ultimately that will be open to interpretation, with the team noting, “It’s up to the players to decide who’s the real monster here”. Nice save. But perhaps the monster is the monster you control -- when asked about a potential Hollywood-style tagline that could sit on a Carrion poster (ala Alien’s iconic ‘In space no one can hear you scream’), Krzysztof and Sebastian agree that it would be “Man is the easiest prey to feast on”.
“The general idea that eating humans would make the monster grow was there from the very beginning...”
“The general idea that eating humans would make the monster grow was there from the very beginning,” the team tells me. “The final specifics of the system did indeed evolve over time - especially how the different skills are divided between different forms of the creature and how the players have to learn to manipulate its size to overcome various challenges. We believe this “mass-based class system” puts a refreshing twist on the Metroid formula, as it allows us to create more complex puzzle scenarios than if you had all the skills at your disposal at all time.”
This then led into Carrion’s unique look and feel with everything based on physics. “The monster’s movement is physically simulated, so most of its animations are procedurally generated based on those calculations - half of the final effect was achieved thanks to effective usage of point-based physics,” they continue. “The other half of the job was to make the creature look less like a set of meatballs connected by some noodles - which it basically is - by mixing it with some more conventional sprite animations that are quite efficient at masking the underlying shapes of the monster.”
In the Carrion demo made public you can feel this unpredictable yet realistic feel as the monster’s limbs and tendrils and bits of meat flail around the screen. Picking up hapless humans, smashing through vents or using metal grates as a shield. As its core the “mass-based physics” of Carrion is one where the idea is ‘eat to grow, take damage and you’ll begin to fall apart’. The bigger you are the more powerful you become.
To bring this idea to life the team at Phobia began prototyping long before putting together a full design doc. “As the monster behaves rather unusually for a 2D game protagonist, it was more or less impossible to predict what mechanics would feel “right” without implementing them first,” they explain. “The first months of development were spent purely on prototyping the core mechanics - seeing what works and what doesn’t when it comes to the tentacle-based movement, eating humans, and interacting with the environment.”
“The monster’s movement is physically simulated, so most of its animations are procedurally generated based on those calculations."
“That being the case, we figured it would be pretty much pointless to write down any elaborate design documents at that stage of development,” the team adds. “It wasn’t until we had finished the prototype demo that we started writing down the GDD [Design Doc] outlining the vision for the full game.”
And that document was where all the skill progression and mass-based class-system mechanics were, for lack of a better term, fleshed out. The alien and amorphous movement of Carrion was an ever-evolving thing for years, “It took multiple iterations to get it right, and it was probably the single longest-running task throughout the whole development,” the team confirms. “In fact, it was still being tweaked a good two years after we started working on it. What’s more, it also had a major impact on the level design of the whole game, as both height and gravity are no obstacle for the monster. It might sound like a trivial issue, but it’s a real paradigm shift in the case of what is essentially a 2D platformer. Additionally, the fact that the monster can grow and eventually reach both sides of the room renders numerous level configurations useless.”
A Metroid-style experience without a traditional character opened the door to combat driven by physics and puzzles that would take advantage of the destructive nature of the creature you get to control -- rather than Ability X for Obstacle Y. “Physics play a pretty significant role in combat,” the team explains. “Not only do you have to be wary whether any part of the monster’s biomass is exposed to attacks, but you can also use physics to your advantage - shield yourself from bullets with a ventilation shaft cover, tear out a door wing and throw it at your enemies, or even grab some humans and turn them into living baseball bats. The puzzles solving, however - although also somewhat physical and often destructive in nature - relies mostly on the abilities that you unlock over the course of the game, which allows it to have this Metroid-esque world structure.”
So then, the big question. Just what is this alien-thing, this monster, and is there a story being told. Will the alien find love, justice, or some measure of peace? “We give the players some clues regarding the overarching narrative of the game via environmental storytelling and some events that transpire throughout the campaign,” the team concludes. “Don’t expect lengthy cutscenes and exposition dialogues, though - the game is told from the monster’s perspective. Piecing the various bits and pieces of the lore together and coming up with your own theories about the exact nature of things is part of the experience.”
Carrion is due for release in the coming months across PC, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch.