Seeing All Sides of The Church in the Darkness

In the 1970s, the Collective Justice Mission is led by the charismatic Isaac and Rebecca Walker, who preach a progressive message of integration and equality. Feeling threatened by the U.S. government, they relocate their followers to a place where they can create a socialist utopia: the jungles of South America. There, they build Freedom Town. But for the relatives left back in the U.S., no one knows what exactly is going on in the jungle.

That’s how we start our game, The Church in the Darkness. It combines action-infiltration gameplay with real-world subject matter, and a narrative that changes and shifts each time you play. Setting and world has always been super-important to me in the games that I work on – from the haunted prison in The Suffering to the post-apocalyptic rural Americana of State of Decay (which I got to collaborate on with the good people at Undead Labs). And though the Collective Justice Mission is fictional, it is based on research into a number of real-life radical groups. The people and places of The Church in the Darkness are intended to feel as real as possible.

The gameplay involves intense top-down action-infiltration, with lots of choices in the tactics that you use. The Church in the Darkness is designed to be highly replayable, with elements of the game procedurally shifting and changing to make every playthrough different. I like intertwining gameplay and narrative tightly, making them both as dynamic as possible. In this game, the choices in how you play has a major impact on how the story plays out. You can play the open map of Freedom Town any way you want; you can avoid detection completely, take on the guards using nonlethal methods, or kill anyone who gets in your way. And the town will react to you differently, depending on the choices you make.

We’re pushing the concept of dynamic narrative a step further: The personalities of leaders Isaac and Rebecca Walker will also change with each playthrough, leaving the player to try to figure out their true motivations… and whether they are dangerous or not. When we hear about “cults,” we tend to hear about apocalyptic groups that end badly, but there are plenty of radical, non-conformist movements that don’t go wrong – that just choose to live their lives differently. We may find them strange, but it’s their choice to live how they want. Both good-intentioned and more sinister groups often appear much the same on the surface. What’s cool about telling this story through a replayable game is that players get to see more sides to the story of the Collective Justice Mission.

The Church in the Darkness also gave me a chance to once again collaborate with one of my favorite actors, John Patrick Lowrie, who I worked with on The Suffering – and who you probably know as the Sniper from Team Fortress 2. While John plays Isaac, in the role of Rebecca we have John’s real-life wife, Ellen McLain, who naturally I knew from her amazing work as GLaDOS in Portal. I really wrote these characters with these actors in mind, which has led to one of the most enjoyable collaborations I’ve ever participated in.

Right now, we’re just releasing a teaser trailer (which you can watch above), and I’m glad to also say we’re bringing this game to the Xbox One through the ID@Xbox program. Later on, we’ll be talking in more detail about the gameplay and world of The Church in the Darkness, so come sign up for our mailing list at our official website, or follow us on Twitter and Facebook. I hope you find this world as surprising and intriguing as I do!