Insane Decay Of Mind: The Sound Of Silence – A Trip Through Act I.Features
‘Katherine – Katherine – Are you alive? Katy?’
A flash of white, a quick glimpse of my own bruised hand and I was off. As I looked around in an attempt to take in my surroundings for the first time, I was met by an on-screen prompt – indicating controls to be used, a blip to follow to the next point of progression and a handy notepad that demanded consulting lest I lose all sense of what I should be doing. And consult I did right away; in one neat, pencil-written line it read – ‘I must find a way out of here.’ Neat.
Here was lifeless; drab, sickeningly bare walls against a solid wooden floor echoed but the sound of my footsteps in unison with the gentle hum of a single overhead light surrounded by flies. I took a peek around the immediate corner – pitch black. Just as I took my first step into the darkness the lights came on with a resonating clang, illuminating a corridor similar to the one I was in prior only this time, with a flashing door by the corner at its end.
As ushered, I swung it open, catching yet another glimpse at what were my battered hands. They weren’t as bad as I presumed them to be – the injury seemingly concentrated around the tallest finger, the blood over which had nearly dried itself black. The door swung open to reveal a room not much bigger than a dozen feet in length and width; a set of old, rusting lockers lay on my right flank – a raven black as death itself perched on top of them. It nibbled at something, breaking only to sneak a peek at the room opposite it. Somebody had left its door ajar, but even that hadn’t grabbed my attention, no. My gaze instead, had fallen on the man that stood by the windows at the other end of the room.
Clad in a dark brown overcoat and oversized trousers to match his gut, he bowed his head to take one long drag off a cigarette. As he moved his head up to exhale, I expected his face – that had up until now been obscured by a fedora – to contort or at least react in my presence. It didn’t; even as I stood less than an arm’s length away. Just as I began my retreat a voice emerged from the room to the left – ‘I don’t care what you do to her, I just want you to make her inoffensive.’ There wasn’t much sense to it nor would the door open to reveal what was going on behind it. I resorted then to the lockers hoping to learn more of my whereabouts, only to be greeted instead by nothing bigger than a bleeding, lifeless rodent.
The next few moments involved turning a few more corners, stumbling over the occasional discarded written note or two that seemed to report on ‘patients’ past and an underlying mental situation; It began to dawn on me that the structure I was in was perhaps an old asylum of sorts. As my thoughts raced I stumbled upon what seemed to be the game’s first offering of a puzzle; a T-junction where three corridors, each with a door at its end, met. To my right sat a woman – dressed in an outfit that seemed to resemble that of a peon’s – sobbing – oblivious to my presence just as the man had been.
I took the door behind her, coming to yet another crossroads that seemed strikingly similar to the previous except this time, the lights were switching themselves off one at a time with loud, resonating clangs. Now tn total darkness, half expecting to be startled to death, I took to the first interactive room that stood beside me; an office with a large desk at its centre replete with a blotter, other office stationery and a table lamp that was still on. Newspaper cuttings littered its top, speaking of Wars and Politics and just as I peered over them to ascertain their usefulness, my eyes fell over a glass-enclosed model of a manor that stood adjacent to the door.
A closer look revealed it to be that of a St. Angor Manor – dark, grey and ominous, was this where I was? I moved on, getting back out on the crossroads and opting for the corridor and its door at the center. The lights had now begun to come back, one at a time with the same clanging as before, alerting me not only of the fact that I had returned to a similar three way corridor as the ones prior, but also of a presence seated bang dead at the junction’s centre.
Clad in an all back suit, a tie to go with and a grotesque skeletal face stared right through me with a posture of the living. I winced, not knowing if I should move forward or refrain from, until I realised to my relief that he too, couldn’t see me. I picked the corridorto the left this time, entering a room with only one interactive door in sight and a grand piano on its other end. All I had to do was approach before it began playing a tune so chillingly moody that I decided to quickly moved to what lay behind the blinking door and not linger any longer; Yet another corridor that ended with a 90 degree corner to its left.
As I made my way through the two hospital styled beds at the turn, the screen froze; the character I controlled looked to both her sides as if aware of a presence I was yet to fathom, before looking back around the corner at the corridor I’d come from. There, pale white and clothed in black, a woman stood below the fly infested overhead light with her eyes set dead on me.
She lurched forward; I didn’t walk anymore, I ran, turning corner after corner in quick succession as she stayed hot on my heels. The corridors went on forever until a door finally arrived, revealing behind it a forest enclosure that for some reason – was in monochrome. An anxious look through the rain behind affirmed that the pale woman had not followed me through; Thankful, I carried on along the only visible path before arriving at an opening within the enclosure. Through the foliage, I’d noticed a couple – a man and a woman standing emotionless by the shadows as if awaiting my arrival. ‘Mum! Finally – I thought I was lost’, exclaimed our protagonist in relief, leading me to believe that the horror had subsided for the moment. ‘We’re leaving Katherine. We’re going to London – your aunt cannot host you any longer.’
What? Why? And what did that have to do with me being here? ‘This isn’t funny Katherine’, announced the man – of course it wasn’t and they weren’t helping any. Unsure of what came next, I moved to look for an alternate path through the forest – I’d turned around when suddenly, my heart skipped a beat. Standing there, staring right at me with glowing, yellow eyes was the protagonist herself – ‘Katherine’ is how the subtitles referred to her as she simply said in the same child-like voice that had opened the game, ‘Goodnight Katy’ before the screed faded to black against a blaring shrill. What the – ?
Hard as it may be to believe, all of the above narrative was encompassed by the mere ten to fifteen minutes that comprised Insane Decay of Mind: The Sound of Silence’s prologue. Inspired by ‘One Foot Wrong’, a disturbing tale of suffering and repression by Australian novelist Sofie Laguna and conceived by independent Italian developers GoManga Interactive, Insane Decay speaks of Katherine Watson – a woman who finds herself trapped within what she recognizes as her school of old. Promising a riveting tale that would be equal parts novella and interactive, the game itself has been immersed in the thick of development since its inception back in 2014.
And yet through it all, GoManga have managed to keep fan interest stoked; releasing its first playable teaser back in October, 2014 that acted as but a short amalgamation of a several sequences from the game and another in April this year, that showcased but an older version of the prologue that I’ve spent the earlier half of this article narrating. Now over a year since its first teaser, Insane Decay stands not only with a pumped up version of said prologue, but with the entirety of the First of Three Acts that are to comprise it fully functional as well. With changes and updates being made daily in preparation for a crowdfunding campaign by the end of the year, we were more than anxious to take a whirl of said version of the Act, more so given the limited amount of visual material we were exposed to in its month’s tenure on the community.
Shortly after the pandemonium of the prologue, a quick introductory credit roll had commenced a recurring pattern within the Act – one where the narrative would oscillate between Katherine’s current predicament and her past, the latter of which predominantly involved the Act’s ‘exploratory’ portions. These exploratory portions were in effect ‘flashbacks’ that served to delve deeper into Katherine’s past in school – the very same manor – and the events that had finally culminated in her current plight. More than provide a backstory however, these exploratory portions played an important role in maximising user engagement by breaking away from the adrenaline rush and having players perform a set amount of ‘quests’ or tasks to progress within the narrative.
These tasks mandated interacting with the students and the supposed faculty of the school, performing errands for either party across the manor. Disappointingly though, these exploratory portions quickly turned out to be the lowest point of the game’s offered experience. The reasons for this were uncountable; for one, the tasks themselves came off as absolutely pointless and rather murderous of the brilliant pace & tone the game had set for itself in the beginning. A peer would require Katherine to distract a faculty member so that the rest could steal food from the canteen, a ‘teacher’ would ask for a lost book to be sought out amongst the students’ rooms, another would ask for a notorious student’s clique to be determined while someone else would ask for help on a speech.
To be fair, these tasks were creatively challenging in their own right. The two storey portion of the manor within which the exploratory portions did take place was rather drab and minimal in furniture and layout in the absence of any map/compass, forcing players to rely on the sign-boards beside each door to indicate which of the canteen, reception, office, warehouse, garden and so forth lay behind them and guide their way forward. Hints were kept at a minimum to keep finding that way forward stimulating – offering players the option to avail of one within a task only when the game realised you were dilly-dallying for too long, which I had been doing quite a bit.
In this way, the exploratory portions encouraged the use of wit in completing its set of tasks but also destroyed it on account of its own design; one of the alpha’s most prominent flaws was its poorly written dialogue and voice acting. While that of Katherine’s and the others during the prologue were mediocre, those of the students and faculty in the exploratory sections were abysmal. This, coupled with the fact that the alpha did very little to explain what I should be doing next made it difficult for me to understand how I was supposed to, say, find out who was talking about my friend Ian’s secret ‘rebellion’ to a certain Ms. Hudson .
For which I wandered around aimlessly, knocking down doors and looking under every table until I found a note lying in a room that alluded to a certain Oswald being the rat in question. Overjoyed, I returned to tell Ian – being as he was the one who’d set me on the witch hunt – only to realise he couldn’t be interacted with. Perplexed, I consulted Katherine’s notepad, which only said ‘It is Oswald. Oswald is the one talking to Ms. Hudson!’ What was I supposed to do now? And how was I to progress? I wandered some more until a blip appeared on screen signalling me to a particular area of the manor.
There stood a woman motionless, whom I assumed to be Ms. Hudson given that I could interact with her. Choosing to do so had me complain to her about Oswald and divert her attention to his misdeeds. Leave alone the task coming across as being of unworthy of any time spent over it, things could have been made so much more easier had there been more comprehensible dialogue from Ian that said, ‘Katherine, you could try looking through the others’ rooms or eavesdrop on conversations; and once you seem to learn who the rat might be, get back here and let’s discuss what comes next ’, or at least if the notepad alone alluded to it more firmly.
This would soon prove to be a massive angst builder – as tasks similar or even worse than these piled up with no sign of a reward, rhyme or reason to justify spending half an hour trying to figure out what to do next. Interestingly, certain tasks did offer the benefit of choice in either choosing to support or defy a peer or task provider over certain morally challenging actions – as was with the Oswald task wherein I had the choice of both supporting Ian and informing Ms. Hudson of Oswald’s misdeeds or betraying Ian and warning Ms. Hudson of his actions. Unfortunately, the results of my moral choices weren’t witnessed within the first Act, adding all the more to my frustration. At the end of it all, neither could I relate to Katherine nor think like her anymore; making it seem as if I was in control of a bot subjected to pretentious little tasks for the sake of progression within the game.
Naturally, my troubles were brought to the developers’ notice who had been monitoring the alpha’s performance as I played it throughout. It was one thing to bring down the pace for the sake of a good narrative but to take it in a new direction altogether with meaningless, poorly written tasks was disheartening, I confessed. They weren’t meaningless, Director Francesco Squillante explained. ‘ The choices made within the Act do affect its course – you may unlock a enw area of the manor, quests and even notice changes in Katherine’s behavior. The effect those choices have however isn’t as profound or noticeable as it will be in Act II though – Every choice, every decision you make. while it may not seem so now, will radically change the manor over the course of the Second Act. These tasks were meant to serve as but a warmup to the next Act’s quests.’
Squillante also stated that the team was aware of the game’s poor state of voice acting and dialogue. ‘The first thing we’re considering is perhaps making the game’s dialogues open source and allowing our fan base to make changes and even translate them to new languages.’ This if anything, would help tackle several of the typos and sentence construction issues that plagued not just the subtitles but the loading screens that showed off quotes from Katherine as well. ‘If the changes made are drastic, we’ll go back to dubbing. As for voice actors, we’re definitely in need of new ones.’
To add to my momentary dismay, the alpha refused to progress after completing all quests – which thankfully, was narrowed down to a Quest line error and rectified within a moment’s notice by the development team. Fortunately the game’s novella and horror roots continued to stay alive when I wasn’t forced to explore and do others’ bidding; the game would return to the present after performing a set number of quests, subject me to a quick thrill that would raise even more questions, before reverting back to the past.
By the end of the second exploratory section, the narrative had picked up; Shedding more light on Katherine’s personality as a school child and an event that may have subsequently left a scar on her mental being. This quickly culminated into the Act’s finale sequence that was by far the most engaging and enthralling portion of the alpha yet. I was exposed more than once to the unexpected – interactive encounters with dark entitites, jumps, scares and an eventual cliff-hanger that succeeded in fuelling my anticipation for Act II.
It was then that I realised that the terrible writing of the game’s exploratory sections aside, Insane Decay was – at least judging from what was played the Act’s prologue and finale – a very innovative and intelligently conceived horror tale that could very well rival the if not surpass some of mainstream gaming’s horror offerings in terms of a primary plot. A large portion of this feat is achieved via its unpredictability and suspense not just in its storyline, but in its gameplay as well.
For instance, the T-junction sequence in the prologue would differ depending on the sequence or order in which each of the three doors were picked. This would lead to new areas, encounters and a few more interactive objects that not only served to shed more light on the Manor’s occurrences and past, but were also elusive in that one might quite easily progress to the next stage of the game without experiencing any or all of them. The Act’s finale illustrated more of the same randomness through different game-play sequences asserting that even in its alpha state, Insane Decay was showing remarkable replay value.
Through it all, gameplay remained relatively smooth and suffered a major dip in frame-rate only once during the prologue’s forest sequence. The basic structure of the manor and its claustrophobic, occasionally gory ambience in the prologue and Act’s finale came off as incredibly well-crafted – more so with the updated version of the alpha that was provided to me following the Quest line bug. Materials, textures, reflections, particle effects and lighting were more than effective in conveying a sense of dread, loneliness and looming danger.
That said, the Manor does deserve to be populated not only with sa larger variety of inanimate objects & furniture, but distinguishing features in each of its rooms & corridors to add to its mystery, variety and size. In its current state, several of the rooms, areas and corridors seem very much alike each other and while this might be part of its attempt to drive the player insane by causing them to feel they were travelling in circles – there’s no reason why its walls and corridors shouldn’t be populated with frames, tables, personal effects and other artifacts that would only add depth to the narrative and experience.
The exploratory sections though seem to demand an overhaul. Even though supposedly populated by children, as conveyed by a running sound effect of a crowd of children screaming, playing, laughing and yelling, the same failed to come through visually. Intricately designed as they might have been, the minimal number character models didn’t do much besides standing around by themselves against a wall like mannequins or sitting/lying down like toys in their rooms – which were rather drab as well. Of course, some of them could be seen interacting with each other or chasing each other around but these came off as rather unnatural given that there was barely any dialogue between the conversing parties.
This was also prominent during one other scene that took Katherine outside the manor to a circus. While the ambience brought about by sound effects and music was that of fun & frolic, NPC’s merely stood looking at suppossed circus performers who was an inanimate themselves. Perhaps this was meant to be to illustrate only the fragment of the scene that Katherine did remember?
Regardless, if said exploratory sections are to be improved, not only do they need to be populated to a greater extent but also filled with a greater variety of NPC animations and dialogue to truly create an atmosphere of being amongst Katherine’s peers. Moreover, rooms and corridors in these sections need to be detailed in a manner that actually conveys the presence of other children and faculty members at a time when horror was yet to enter the tale. Differentiating the Manor’s past and present interiors would go a long way in drawing players into the tasks and having them emote as Katherine does. Without a doubt though, the audio and SFX department (not considering the voice acting) is where Insane Decay comes into its own. The sound effects that accompany the sequential turning on/off of overhead lights in the prologue, the intermittent crescendos and subsequent musical bellows are undeniably classic horror material that significantly amplify the jumps and scares of the Act.
In terms of ingenuity then, Insane Decay of Mind excels at every avenue – construing a narrative and tale that succeeds at drawing a player in and encourages them to push forward in a desperate attempt to unravel the mystery and horror that shrouds it. The adolescent team of Italians have created for themselves what is quite possibly a lore with every potential of being an indie horror classic – provided its chinks, major ones at that, created by bad voice acting, subpar dialogue, overall inconsistency in writing and experience and an intermittent lack of detail are eliminated, which in its own right won’t be an easy task. They have the concept of a great narrative nailed, no doubt, yet only need to realise their immediate shortcomings and work to overcome them in a manner that does their tale justice.
Now, with Act two well into development, Squillante tells us that the team intends to make an all new demo of the game available to the public by the dawn of next year. The start of the year will also witness them debut Insane on a crowd-funding platform with three other Italian developers while progressing with the game’s core development as normal. If successful, an appearance at the Game Developers’ Conference in San Francisco and Game Connection is also on the books. And so, with them aiming to finish the second Act by April and the third by summer, 2016 – Insane Decay Of Mind is already gearing itself up for a late 2016 release.
As always, to keep track of everything Insane as they unfold, follow up on progress so far or simply drop them a message, feel free to stop by their Higher Eclectic Space.
This report serves to provide our members – GoManga Interactive – with constructive criticism and feedback pertaining to the development of their game. Every flaw, error and shortcoming has been personally conveyed to the team; improvements and changes may or may not be made as per their vision. Feel free to share your opinions on the same as well.