Welcome everybody for this opening post on our dev blog! This and the very next issues will be about our vision and the workflow we’re building for Sahara Expedition, we’ll keep you up to date step by step (we’ll try our best!) about news on production and design.
Many things have happened since sign-ups opened, and we have worked hard to keep to our production schedule.
But now, let’s start from the very beginning: backstory and concept.
What is a “backstory”?
A backstory is a set of events invented for a plot, presented as preceding and leading up to that plot. It is a literary device of a narrative history all chronologically earlier than the narrative of primary interest.
In acting, it is the history of the character before the drama begins, and is created during the actor’s preparation.
It is the history of characters and other elements that underlie the situation existing at the main narrative’s start. Even a purely historical work selectively reveals backstory to the audience.
In our opinion, the most important feature in this phase of the design process has been creating a tale true to the mood of H.P. Lovecraft’s novels, and more accurately to the “cosmic horror” or “classic horror” mood. When people talk about this kind of story in Lovecraftian tradition, the tastes and styles are basically two: “pulp” oriented or “cosmic horror” oriented.
Even though some say that the Pulp genre was created by Quentin Tarantino, Pulp itself has its early roots in the 30s. It’s a literary genre coming from novels and comics appearing in (more or less) popular american magazines, the most famous of which is Weird Tales.
Without getting into the specifics, we could say that pulp novels (whose name comes from the low quality paper on where the magazines were printed on) are full of feats of adventure, often have a surly loner of a leading character, take place in exotic contexts and are filled with combat and action. Conan the Barbarian, Indiana Jones, and John Carter are popular icons of the pulp-genre.
Even though Lovecraft did publish his novels on these magazines, his style steps aside from the pulp genre and immediately becomes something else. Something more. The most beloved atmospheres of the stories developed in his universe are those in which horror becomes enormous and in which, through the courage of a cultured professor, a shy librarian or a curious local chronicler, we are shown the true face of reality, so that our entire conception of the world crumbles to dust.
The protagonists of Lovecraft’s stories are almost never Heroes, they are people who encounter horror and are forced to face it. But they also have to deal with the narrowness of their condition. Just about every time, these characters are fated to die, lose their mind or obtain a victory they know is only ephemeral. Often these stories go back to remote times, entwining with twists and turns of history and people, up until they warp back to reveal themselves to the protagonists.
This was exactly the feeling we wanted to convey and capture with our backstory. We have studied a pile of books and lost much of our mental sanity on old and dusty tomes, in order to create a backstory that could convince us and make our experience richer, but at the same time in line with the Cthulhoid style we love. The style inspired by the most mature and terrifying among Lovecraft’s pieces (such as “The Colour Out of Space”, “At the Mountains of Madness”, “The Call of Cthulhu”, “The Shadow over Innsmouth”). We want to recreate the same mood of psychological horror in which the very act of discovering the truth hurls those who seek it into the depths of terror.
Since the beginning we have willingly avoided themes which, even though held dear by some larp traditions, are not suitable to the kind of story we wanted to tell. Physical clashes and fighting, or a competition between factions in which it is possible to win or to lose are not fit for the dark and suspenseful atmosphere we want to recreate, and neither are “battles against monsters”, which have little to do with Lovecraftian horror stories.
In the vision of cosmic horror, humanity is on the brink of an abyss of which most people are unaware and only some, at the cost of their sanity, begin to see the dark plots that the gods weave for men.
What we really wanted to address was the themes of discovery, ambition, exploring anxiety, madness, exploring the psychological aspects of the characters, their relationships, their drives, their traumas and ambitions. The hidden plots of the divinities that pull the strings.
But also to experience the dimension of exploration as something concrete and real, not only as a “fake” background, like a cardboard scenography. The technical and physical challenges, research, caravan movements, scientific research missions and much more will be an integral part of the gaming experience.
Obviously we can not reveal anything more about the backstory, but we are very happy with how it came out and we are sure that it contains all the ingredients we love in this kind of story.
Sahara Dev Team