Discussing Diversity And Design With Song Of Horror Developers

The journey that players embark on in Song of Horror, through haunted manors, abandoned psych wards and churches, has been carefully crafted by Protocol Games for many years. Initially revealed in 2015, Song of Horror made it clear that fans of classic horror titles from the likes of Alone In The Dark, Resident Evil and Silent Hill would want to direct their attention towards it.

With 5 episodes, 5 unique locations, and over 13 unique characters to play as, Song of Horror is filled to the brim with content—content that I was able to delve into recently with its developers. 

Spoilers ahead, obviously.

Song of Horror takes inspiration from a variety of games—Silent Hill, Fatal Frame, Resident Evil and even Life Is Strange, to name a few. Would you say there is one specific game/franchise that influenced the creation of Song of Horror the most?

If we had to pick just one game, it would clearly be the original Alone in The Dark. What we wanted to convey in Song of Horror was the sense of threat and tension present in that game—something we felt was missing from many horror games these days. That unnerving atmosphere was tightly elaborated through design choices, like the fixed camera angles, the tank controls, the enemy behavior, or the excellent environmental music and sound effects. We built upon several of these iconic mechanics with our own twists, The Presence and the permadeath, which we feel add even more feelings of dread to Song of Horror.

Looking further into inspiration and influences, would you say there are specific horror films that were noteworthy in the creation of Song of Horror?  

The Ring’s premise of audiovisual media directly interacting with the outside world was an inspiration for the tape puzzle in episode 3. Other movies we could cite as having inspired us at least a little are Cape Fear, Darkness and Babadook, to cite a few. A Quiet Place is often cited as an inspiration to us due to The Silence event, but its case is a bit different: we came out with the idea for The Silence before that movie aired, and decided to throw in the nod in the form of an achievement, seeing that the movie and our event had the same theme to them.

The entire cast is of the game is very diverse. Would you say diversity was an important factor when creating the cast of the game?

Song of Horror is a game with 13 playable characters (and more if you count the Finale’s cameos). What that means is that total character exposure is, on average, 13 times lower for each character than it would be if we had one single protagonist. Having a diverse, multi-layered cast adds a very powerful distinguishability factor and helps the player quickly grasp who’s who. It also offers players a chance to connect with characters that are very different from each other: not only in terms of age, ethnicity, or sexual orientation, but also in terms of personality.

Erica Farber won the character popularity poll that was hosted to determine which character would appear an additional time in the game. Why do you think she won in popularity?

The cast of Song of Horror is older than other horror games. Erica stands out among the rest of playable characters because of her youth and her quirky, out-going personality. She also has one of the most compelling reasons to join the adventure, especially after the events of Episode 2, which turns her search for answers into a very personal endeavor. 

Introducing Erica’s apartment in Episode 2 allowed us to flesh her out even more. If you play as her and explore her apartment, she reveals several details about her personal life, which includes many quirky hobbies and dramatic anecdotes. Her tragic background and nerdy interests hit close to home for players around her age, who make up the majority of Song of Horror’s fan base. She is also one of our favorites, too, so we are not surprised!

Throughout most of the game (save certain events like the basement in Episode 2), the real danger of Song of Horror is in the form of dangerous events that players need to succeed in skill-checks in order to survive. Was there a specific reason you wanted to keep the danger as event-specific hazards?

There were several reasons that brought us to this: first of all, The Presence is not a physical enemy per se, although it interacts with the physical world in a limited capacity, dictated by The Song playing. Time and space have no meaning to it and, being that so, constraining it to very obvious physical limitations was against its design. 

Another very powerful reason was making a virtue out of necessity. We did not have the resources, manpower or know-how to implement a combat system and enemies up to par with today’s standards, so we ditched it completely and opted to have a take on danger which didn’t require us to embark on a doomed journey.

What do you think is the scariest part of Song of Horror, and what part of the game did you have the most fun creating?

Fear is a very personal feeling, and different people are scared or unsettled by very different stimuli. For us, particularly, the ending is the scariest part: when all of the pieces click together, and the true dimension of The Presence’s cosmic horror is revealed to the player.

About what was the most fun for us: creating the various dangerous events (we call them Hauntings), designing each episode’s playthrough and crafting the ending.

Throughout each chapter, the narrative of Song of Horror touches upon the slow descent into madness that is caused by those exposed to The Song. This seems to reflect Daniel’s struggle with alcoholism and trying to recover from that dark point in his life. Can you elaborate on what the main themes of the game are?

When we say Song of Horror is a horror game, we kind of mean it. The game was designed to be dark in tone since the very beginning. Futility, unsurmountable odds and loss are everywhere in the game. We could summarize it as a tale of what happens in the real world when David goes against Goliath: Goliath tends to win, and David had little to no chance from the very beginning.

Continuing from this, the ending itself drives home another of Song of Horror’s themes: the crushing of hope. The antithesis of epic and glamour, which, in the real world, is much more common than its triumphant counterparts.

The ending seems like it can be either very-open ended, or very closed and complete. Could you elaborate more on the ending, or is it mostly up to each player’s own interpretation? What is the fate of the other characters who survived up until the final chapter?

We feel Daniel’s ending is as closed and definitive as it can be. He wasn’t only doomed from the moment he listened to the box, but literally from the moment he was conceived. Ariadne knew, in 1920, what would happen to him, and to everyone else who would, in time, listen to the Song. The Presence is revealed to lie outside of time so, to it, past and future are like left and right.

As for the rest of the cast, we wanted the player to imagine how the entire ordeal affected them, and how (or if) they would go on with their lives.

Lastly, the soundtrack is stellar! Do you have any plans on releasing it for purchase or streaming?

This is something we have talked internally during the months leading to the launch of the game, since we noticed there’s certainly an interest from our fans. There are several authors involved in the soundtrack, so we need to make sure everyone is on board, whether we sell it at a fixed price or share it for free, which is a possibility. We are also working on the PS4 and Xbox One ports, which is our main priority at the moment.