Tuesday, January 27, 2009

BoRT #2, Jan '09 - The Black Cat

We're being given another round for this month's Blogs of the Round Table prompt. Which is good, because there have been some amazing suggestions by its participants. I highly recommend clicking randomly once you reach the drop-down.

I'm going to go ahead with the game that preceded the short story, 'The Black Cat.'

As with my previous post, the game will deal with spoilers in the story.

One of the most prominent factors in 'The Black Cat' is the narrator's ability to observe his mind and body turning against him. Not only that, but he eventually gives in, and embraces the damned being he's become. Naturally, that's one of the key ingredients to the game.

I imagine a first-person vantage point, to really put the player into the narrator's viewpoint.  (The Source engine would be more than enough.) During transitions and episodes of mental dissent, having a narrative voice-over should help provide the immersion I'm looking for.  Or at least, the foundation for it.

I don't think the game should take all that very long to play. In the beginning, as can be expected, you learn how to interact with the world. However, this is also a great time to provide backstory. (In retrospect, much like what Fallout 3 did.)  For instance, the narrator speaks of how Pluto, the titular cat, would follow along everywhere as his constant companion. Pluto would even try to walk through the city at his side. To build upon the setting, there would be a moment where the character finds himself outside his house one morning, to discover that Pluto has escaped and is running out to join him. The player must then simply scoop up the cat, and return him to the house, to proceed to the next part of the story.

During these simple exercises, however, a lot of minor details can be used. In the above example, when the player picks the cat up, a simple animation of the cat resting in his arms will be just at the bottom of the screen. When you approach the house, the character's free hand can automatically pet and scratch the back of Pluto's head, which in turn elicits a loud, obviously playful, and loving purr from the animal.

To drive home the point that Pluto is inseparably fond of the player-character, every brief 'tutorial' segment would have the cat in a blatantly noticeable, attention-grabbing position. Just as important, Pluto should seem content and happy with this arrangement, as should the character.

In 'The Black Cat,' Poe makes the narrator's wife second-string to Pluto. Despite being very complimentary to the narrator, that's all she really is. Her introduction should reflect how much of a side note she is, to the character. All that needs to be done is to have her mention, teasingly, about the superstitious connection between black cats and witches. A friendly banter, culminating in a verbal pat-on-the-head from the player-character. Then she'll return to tending to the various pets, and the player-character will look down to Pluto and give him a playful scritch along the neck.

Once the player becomes infected with the Demon of Intemperance, it will be time to get into the real horror of the game. By this time, the player should have a definite attachment to Pluto, so the character's desire to be with his cat should hopefully be easily transferred to the player. Coming home one night, inebriated and swimming through a visual filter of blurs, Pluto will avoid the player in the most annoying way possible. Sitting just close enough to appear catchable, then running just fast enough to avoid capture, then climbing high enough to further elude the player's efforts.

Eventually, after more than likely knocking several things over trying to escape the player, Pluto will slow down enough to be caught. The cat will be hoisted by the throat in front of the camera, gurgling a screech as its eyes go wide with fear. (Personally, I find this sight equally frightening.) Drops of blood will form as the claws dig into the hand. Then, the cat will be lowered, and the screen will fade to black.  The rapid beating of a heart should be very noticable, without anything on the screen.

I need to make a note about this scene. When first considering this post, I thought about the shock value of actually seeing the pen-knife referenced in the short story, doing its evil work. I then realized that 'The Black Cat' isn't really about violence. It's more about self-destruction. Besides, insinuated violence can affect the player more, when the moment is left to their imagination.

A secondary 'point' of the game could (and probably should) be the dangers of alcohol.  Making yourself a drink will improve your state-of-mind, which I picture as a status gauge similar to Indigo Prophecy's.  However, the longer you go between drinks, the more depressed you become.  It's a vicious cycle, and one that directs you towards the climax.

Chasing will be a central challenge of the game.  From the baby's candy ease in the tutorial, to the mechanically impossible later in the game, these moments will show the intensity of the narrator's emotions.  He loves Pluto.  He ends up hating Pluto.  He replaces Pluto.  He ends up dreading the new cat.  The player-character will ultimately have to run from the cat, as it chases you merrily, due to the massive emotional trauma it deals you whenever its in range.

Once your emotional state reaches a certain level, the player loses control as the character goes into a rage.  It will do everything in its power to either harm the cat, or leave the house.  The character's fast heartbeat will echo loudly. As the game progresses, it becomes easier and easier to rage.   Naturally, events will follow those of the book, with added context to the scenes.  Keeping to Poe's vague descriptions would feel far too sterile.

I imagine the murder of the narrator's wife to be dramatic, but over with very quickly.  The player-character randomly stumbles, and sees the cat take off. Rage takes over.  The camera looks over to a nearby axe, and automatically moves the character to it.  He'll pick it up, and be unable to drop it.  The player regains control, and will naturally turn around.  The wife will be there, and will attempt to calm down the narrator while grabbing for the axe.

The rage will return, and with one quick swing, down goes the wife.

The voice-over will demand that the cat join her.  While the player walks around the house looking for it, bloody axe in hand and vision tainted red, an internal monologue will explain its plans to wall-up his wife's corpse and avoid imprisonment.  Once this finishes, which will be connected to searching every area of the house, the scene will end.  

After the next fade in, the narrator will be sitting in his house, nursing a small drink, wondering to himself about his good fortune that the cat ended up running away for good, as it hasn't returned for several days.  A knock at the door will herald a party of policemen, and as they perform a search of the house the character's heartbeat will be subtle and calm.

When the search ends, the character's internal monologue will admit its growing pride, and the fateful arrogance will take over.  The ending moments would be a scripted event, with the tapping of the wall and resulting flight across the cellar.  The scream needs to be absolutely panic-inducing.  A noise that is otherworldly, and as such fills the player themselves with anxiety.  The narrator will back away, glancing at the fear-frozen faces of the officers, before stopping to watch them tear down the masonry.

The camera zooms in, as his wife's seemingly undead body falls partly out of the wall.  Then, climbing up onto her head, the emaciated and demonic-looking form of The Black Cat will appear.  The character's pounding heartbeat will follow the player into the rolling credits.


  1. That was one spooky entry! Poe is a difficult writer to make a game out of since most of his stories are directed inwards into the character's psyche.

    It is a bit unclear to me, though, what exactly the player would do. Would it be chasing/avoiding the cat? Also, it would be interesting to show the character's progression through that meter.

    For example, in the beginning it would be really easy to keep it up, just petting the cat or sitting down and would become more and more difficult as the game progresses.

    Anyway, great entry! :)

  2. Sorry for the confusion. This post was three times as long as it turned out to be, before I realized and started to trim.

    The player would chase or avoid the cat, depending on the character's state of mind. Perhaps as an incentive to chase the cat during rage, the character will take out its frustration on nearby breakable objects if left to its own devices.

    I do like your example of the emotional gauge. During the earlier parts of the game, it will be an obvious way of teaching the player what the gauge is for.

    Thanks for reading!