The Miskatonic (not to be confused with abandonware of the same name) is an upcoming 2D point and click adventure game (additionally purported by the developers as being a visual novel) set in the Lovecraftian universe. The project is under development by newly formed team ‘Rapscallion Games’ consisting of Sythra4, who is the lead developer overseeing the coding, and Jack Cayless – who is in charge of the art direction.
Sythra has been coding games since 2012, when he finished his first hangman game, Deathman. Since then he had released RogueCPU (another hangman game with an attempt at more story) and Radioactive Pong (a Pong clone). Unfortunately all of these games are no longer available for download, since they were not designed to be played in the browser, so their quality can’t be verified. A fourth game, a 3D shooter, was being worked on but was left unnamed with no source suggesting that it is unfinished and (due to working on The Miskatonic now) probably abandoned.
Jack Cayless has been working on webcomics since 2010, his most famous work being the Chimneyspeak series. In the first quarter of 2014 he attempted to relaunch the series on a new website to host all of his work, Bumrush Comics. However both Chimneyspeak and Bumrush Comics were taken down due to the cost of maintenance by the end of 2014. Despite this, Cayless’ current work may still be found on his Deviantart and Tumblr accounts – the art style very similar to the one being used in The Miskatonic.
The game itself is navigated through a 2D sidescroller screen, with the protagonist Charlotte LeStrange being able to traverse to different screens through doors in the background. The player may converse with characters, pick up some items (which can then later be used to solve puzzles) or observe the environment (Charlotte is capable of taking items and examining the background from across the room). Unlike interacting with objects, conversations require Charlotte to be fairly close to another character. Upon entering an exchange both characters’ portraits are brought up with the dialogue shown below, much like how visual novels are often arranged. However unlike most other visual novels (although it should be noted that there are some that tend to be more linear), The Miskatonic does not allow any choice in dialogue; Charlotte has preset dialogue that she will exchange with other characters.
Cayless’ art lends itself particularly well to The Miskatonic. The idea of a cutesy Lovecraftian setting is not particularly new but Cayless’ blend of light hearted horror retains some of the grotesque elements traditionally associated with Lovecraft rather than abandoning it outright. Although the characters aren’t animated, they do have several different stances based on what they’re doing – in the pre-release version it is simply (for the most part) whether they are talking or not.
Something that The Miskatonic revels in are its many references, whether it is in relation to Lovecraft or other horror genres ranging from Evil Dead to Deadly Premonition. While initially endearing, it can quite quickly become grating due to the frequency and accessibility of these ‘easter eggs’. Ultimately it hinders the game more than adding to it since The Miskatonic fails to establish its own identity, there are no memories of playing the game – instead they’re of Lovecraft’s short stories. To the game’s credit there is an underlying story about the protagonist’s past as a Shoggoth tamer that is lightly touched upon which will hopefully be prioritised over pop culture references in the final released version.
With the general lack of accountability of the developers, due to them not preserving their past work particularly well, it is understandable to be sceptical about a final release of The Miskatonic. However as of the 25th February, Rapscallion Games have received the crowdfunding amount that they requested to develop the game. Further news about a release date or whether the developers will attend any conventions this year has not been disclosed, but a Steam release is planned.