An interview with Lesser Evil Games’ Tamara Persikova
We recently had a chat with Tamara Persikova, designer and co-producer on The Executioner, a psychological horror RPG in which you fill the shoes of the royal hangman as he struggles to keep a grip on his waning sanity.
The Executioner is a horror RPG that challenges the player to make complex moral choices in a world coming apart at the seams. After your father is beheaded for treason you inherit his grim duty, a significantly heavy burden to bear. It’s now your job to get confessions and execute criminals in front of baying, bloodthirsty crowds. In a city besieged by rival armies you’ll have to obey your King and execute his enemies, but not before extracting the information you need, by any means necessary. Persikova told IIG a little bit more about The Executioner’s story.
“The game world is a blend of XVIII century France with a grim medieval fantasy. The plot revolves around goings-on in the capital of a large kingdom that has been regained from pagans by the champions of One God and his faith. Hunger, sickness and wars are ubiquitous, and the opposition uses that to fuel people’s discontent at the monarchy. They say the Royal bloodline is cursed, and the King’s days are numbered.”
“Admittedly, our protagonist is not a people person. It’s hard for him to even remember someone’s name. So at the forefront is the conversation between him and the city itself. Theodor Grim’s keen senses let him see the world very differenеly from us, hear the true story of the capital, and act with this special awareness.”
The Executioner is a game that intends to question your moral code and test your boundaries. Your job is to extract confessions, the way in which you do this is really up to you. Do you psychologically break them down using their fears and weaknesses to get that signature? Or do you utilise the wide array of macabre instruments within your torture chamber to leave them a quivering mess ready to divulge their sins? In this way, The Executioner is a game about the price you pay for both cruelty and mercy, it tests how much you’re willing to sacrifice to get the truth. Will you give the bloodthirsty crowd what they want? Will you obey your exalted employer? All these difficult decisions you have to make will have consequences and an impact upon your slowly eroding mental stability. Persikova had this to say to IIG about the origins of this medieval tale of woe.
“There’s a few articles on the lives of real executioners around the web. They paint a picture of an outsider who’s forbidden from touching others, buying food on the market… There are also mention of the «black market of bodies», a place where the executioner played an integral part. Our game designer thought this was a terrific foundation for an RPG. After that other sources of inspiration emerged: “The Hangman’s Daughter” by Oliver Pötzsch, “Master” by Henry Lion Oldie, “The Shadow of the Torturer” by Gene Wolfe, the movie “Unthinkable”. But that first collection of articles is what started all this.”
In this way, The Executioner is a strange addition to the horror game genre. Its goal is not to terrify you directly through more traditional means such as jump scares, but to unsettle you at the thought of what you might be capable of. In The Executioner you are the monster, your own ruthlessness is the thing to be feared. One of the key mechanics of the game is the use of your torture chamber. In a bid to exact confessions you will have to inflict harm upon others in the most brutal of ways. Your actions here, as well as in other areas of the game will affect your overall mental state and the world around you in various ways based on six paired variables. These are Rational vs. Mystical, Monarchy vs. Revolution and Humanity vs. Sociopathy. There is also a seventh variable called All-encompassing Chaos, which let’s be honest, doesn’t sound good at all. We asked Persikova what she felt was the most interesting aspect of the game, here’s what she had to say.
“Our favorite thing about the game is the protagonist, Theodor Grim, and his peculiarities reflected in the game’s mechanics. For example, the investigative part of gameplay and the art we use incorporates the Royal executioner’s power of synesthesia: he can tell truth from lies and has a keen sense of the things that go undetected by others.”
“The graphics also reflects the hero’s strange perception. The map of the city and the gallery of NPC’s will be black and white with key color elements to convey atmosphere and hint at some special feature a location or an NPC might have. This, coupled with the music and text formatting is used to constantly remind the player that this game’s protagonist is different. And lonely because of that.”
Whether it’s dealing in body parts on the Dead Flesh Market or dabbling in the occult, The Executioner is an unusual game that doesn’t quite fit the usual horror game tropes. You could draw comparisons to games like Papers Please here, in the sense that they’re horrors related to the seeming cruelty of life’s random situations and realities. Indie games give players the opportunity to explore these strange situations and raise questions about the injustices that still persist in present-day life.We asked Persikova how she viewed the emerging indie game industry and the difficulties of marketing a game in such a crowded genre.
“Oh, it is accessible. Too accessible perhaps. There’s dozens of games released on Steam every single day. It would take many lifetimes to play through them all, and it’s tough for players to find something that would click with them in such a bloated market. With that in mind, we believe taking risks, exploring controversial themes or using mechanics that aren’t ‘fashionable’ is one of the ways to get noticed.”
“As for our chosen genre, it’s hard to find and even harder to make a horror game that’s more than the sum of its jump scares. And this is exactly the kind of game we’re trying to create.“
If you’re interested in exploring your inner demons than you can check out The Executioner’s Kickstarter here. If you want to get more of a taste for the game than why not give the playable demo a go, which is available here.