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Taken To Horror School With Kraven Manor

Kraven Manor is a first-person survival horror game where players can be architects of the haunted Manor they explore. Built by a man named Lord Kraven, the manor has a sordid history that players uncover as they build the mansion and piece together the events that happened between the walls over the years. Kraven Manor is an indie game build by a group of students at the Guildhall at Southern Methodist University in Plano, TX. After winning a couple of awards at the Intel University Game Showcase, the game’s popularity has started to explode. If you like horror titles like Amnesia: The Dark Descent or Outlast, Kraven Manor shouldn’t be looked over. We talked with game designer Ben Roye about the game and it’s inspiration.

Who’s working on the game? How did you guys meet?
We met as students at the Guildhall at SMU in, a graduate school focusing on getting students into the game industry. Our little student project got some wonderful, positive attention in the indie horror community, so we have since formed Demon Wagon Studios to try to bring Kraven to a bigger audience.

The game was our six-month, final capstone project – arguably the most important project of the program. Something about our team clicked and a lot of love went into the project, despite the limitations of a small student team. For instance, 90 percent of the art in the game was created by only two artists.

What made you guys want to make this game?
We wanted to make a game inspired from a board game called Betrayal at House on the Hill. Betrayal is a very modular game. Players draw room tiles and place them wherever they want with the caveat that the house layout has to make sense. You cannot place a doorway against a solid wall, for instance. This allows players to essentially create the mansion's floor plan – it gives players a grand sense that they are the architects of their own game. It's a powerful emotion. We wanted to incorporate that emotion into Kraven Manor early on in the design process.

Betrayal also had haunts – objectives that, if satisfied, would satisfy the win criteria for the game. We had just enough scope to create one haunt, and tried to make that as scary and polished as possible. We had a lot of great ideas that we didn’t have time to work into the game. It would be interesting to revisit modularity in the future. That would only happen if Kraven did well though.

Can you give us some examples of how the puzzles in the game work?
Kraven Manor’s unique mechanic involves the player building the Manor itself. As they explore the house, they find room models that they can add onto an increasingly elaborate scale model of the entire Manor. Wherever the player adds a room to the model, they can travel to that location and find that the Manor has rearranged itself, mimicking the scale model.

Within each room the player will also find more straightforward puzzles that they must complete. Usually, the puzzles themselves are relatively simple, but as horror junkies, we like to inject anxiety and fear into those situations to make them more interesting. We found that players make tasks much harder for themselves when they are under duress, which creates this fun horror dynamic.

Who is this Lord Kraven guy?
If the player chooses to explore every nook and cranny during their journey through the Manor, they may discover notes and other clues that hint at the motivations of Lord Kraven and a history of sinister activities that occurred in the mansion over the years. There is a lot that we purposefully leave up to the imagination of the player. However, observant players will definitely begin to piece together an overall narrative behind Kraven Manor including what is going on with their adversary.

Why do you think horror games are popular right now?
We’ve found that the Let’s Play phenomenon on YouTube has piqued interest in horror titles. It is fun to watch people play video games, but it’s even better when you get to watch people jump out of their seats. Our success story started when we released a free Beta version of Kraven for playtest purposes last March. One by one, we started seeing Kraven Let’s Plays pop up. If you go to YouTube right now and search Kraven Manor, you will find over 36,000 videos have been created. We love that.

What do you hope to work on next?
All of the team members of Demon Wagon Studios graduated from the Guildhall in December. Some team members have already taken jobs in the game industry in Texas and California. The rest of the team is trying to break into the industry as well. Therefore, at this time, selling Kraven Manor is the sole purpose for Demon Wagon Studios. If Kraven does well, there may be an opportunity to continue onward in the Kraven universe or do something completely new.

Kraven Manor was successfully greenlit for distribution on Steam Greenlight, and the team plans to release the game for $10 sometime this summer, but you can play the demo for yourself and see if it deserves a full-fledged release.

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