Incendium Games’ Phantom Halls has another big update coming September 18th. The update further expands on its Evil Dead-themed content. “Evil Dead 2 x Phantom Halls” comes complete with new quests, environments, enemies and traps from the Evil Dead movies for Ash to battle through. This also includes the infamous Evil Dead cabin, meticulously recreated in the game’s papercraft style, and even battling the possessed Henrietta! In conjunction with the update, we had an opportunity to talk with Incendium Games founder and Phantom Halls creative director, Llexi Leon, about the game and its inspirations.
How did Phantom Halls come about? What was the inspiration behind it?
For a couple of years I had wanted to make a horror game that wasn’t necessarily reliant on gore or jump scares, but was more of a love letter to the genre, from the universal horror classics through to the B-movies of the 80s. There was also a desire to do something that all ages could enjoy, to revel in the humour of horror, so there’s something there for you whether you’re reading “Goosebumps” and watching Tales From The Crypt or you’re more into The Evil Dead and The Conjuring universes.
We developed this papercraft aesthetic, which gives us a unique lens to view the world of horror through, and it all has this stylized toy-like appearance, but with enough mood lighting and bloodshed to keep things suitably morbid.
What were some of the technical hurdles the team faced in bringing the game to life?
We’re a very small indie team and there’s always a restriction on time and budget in that scenario – we wanted to have cinematic movie lighting so the spaces could capture the horror atmosphere of our favourite movies, and so there was a great deal of tinkering to get the mood right. In terms of gameplay you can control up to three characters at once, each with their own passive, active, and equipped abilities, so there certainly are challenges around the control layout and this unique mechanic – but we’ve had great feedback from the community to refine that and now we have something that plays very differently to anything else out there.
What made you decide to base Phantom Halls as a squad-based game?
I’ve read so many stories about a group of kids entering a haunted house, it just seemed a no-brainer to make that into a game. From a writing point of view, you get to have fun and exaggerate the different characters’ attitudes and outlooks — some will clash, some will get along – we have a load of text based dialogue in the game and the characters all interact and respond differently depending on the scenario and who else is in their squad. In terms of play, they all have unique abilities, and you can chain those into some wacky combos – everything from headbanging your way through hordes of the undead to shooting basketballs at killer clowns.
We started out making it a turn-based game where each character would perform an action one after the other, and then the monsters in the house would counter. But then the idea came to control the whole squad at once, and it evolved into something we like to think is very cool and unusual!
What are your thoughts on Steam’s Early Access platform as a way for indie game companies to develop their games?
It’s a great way to get a working game out to players for feedback even if you’re not done with all the content and there’s still development work to be done. We were very up-front about the state of our game at launch, it really was just the core playable experience with a handful of characters and quests, but now it’s grown into something much larger and we’ve had invaluable community feedback to help improve the mechanics and the controls, and prioritise future content.
As with any new independent title, regardless of the medium, there’s a lot of content out there and it can be tough to cut through the noise. Early Access doesn’t necessarily do that much for you in terms of exposure, but it’s been a great way for us to build a community around our game and keep us on course with development.
Seeing as the game takes place within a haunted house, what are your thoughts on the “haunted house” subgenre?
It’s just a great blank canvas, really, whether it’s a creepy old house on a hill or it’s your swanky new build in the ‘burbs, there’s just so many ways you can depict a haunting and tonally you can go in a lot of different directions. It’s one of those genres that’s been heavily explored at this point, so there’s certainly a lot of cultural tropes, but there’s always someone doing something fresh with it.
I’ve always been fond of the house itself being an entity, giving the structure the appearance of a living thing or implying consciousness – it’s something we’re experimenting with in the game right now, in that once you’ve completed a mission and you’ve cleared out the creatures on your way to the top of the mansion, the house itself becomes the principle threat as you try to make your way out.
How did you manage to get Ash from Evil Dead 2 in the game?
It just so happened that our Early Access launch coincided with the anniversary of Evil Dead 2, and we’d met the rights holders at a licensing show, and they were keen on fresh interpretations of the Ash character for the event. We were thrilled to be able to play in that sandbox — Evil Dead 2 is probably my favourite horror movie.
Have you mentioned the game to Bruce Campbell?
Bruce actually approves his likeness personally wherever it is used, so we did get to send him through an early turnaround sheet with a set of expressions for him to check out, and fortunately he gave us the green light to go ahead. I wasn’t sure what he’d make of our origami-style Ash, but here we are!
Prior to the game’s release in Early Access, the press release mentioned plans to potentially bring more characters from the horror genre into Phantom Halls. Are those plans still in place?
Absolutely, we’re excited to be delivering on our promise to expand the Evil Dead 2 content beyond the playable character cameo from Ash, but once we’re happy with the full Evil Dead 2 experience in Phantom Halls we’ll be looking at the next horror movie collaboration. At this point we’ve done a lot with zombies and the undead, but I’m thinking something with killer dolls or puppets could be the way to go!
Thanks for sitting down and chatting with us, Llexi! Phantom Halls is currently on Steam Early Access. If you haven’t already, head over to the game’s Steam Page to get in on the action and madness.