Geek Interview: How Southeast Asian-Themed ARPG Ghostlore Is Shaping Up With Developer Andrew Teo

There are horror iconographies gamers have become so familiar with, that they have become hackneyed at this point, and we’re talking vampires, zombies, ghosts, and werewolves as the usual suspects. Even with the occasional subversive takes on these creatures, the ideas tend to be drawn from the same spring that’s quite drained by this point.

But those who love horror and know of the various legends and folklore around the world realise that there are treasure troves of horrors that remain yet untapped, and what better way to explore them than in the world of video games.

Enter Ghostlore by Singaporean game developer, Andrew Teo. Over a year after the free demo of the game was released, the trajectory of the game has changed, and it is shaping up to be a more ambitious project than the 33-year-old developer initially planned. Since last year, the game has become a planned commercial release, and another developer, Adam Teo, has joined the once-solo team. As the name and pedigree suggest, Ghostlore explores the rich folklore and legends of Southeast Asian culture, which has been woefully underrepresented in the gaming arena.

Creatures of horror such as the pontianak and the orang minyak are but a small sampling of what players will fight against in the game, which just launched its Steam page. The pontianak is a vengeful female vampire spirit that is said to reside in banana trees, and the orang minyak is a creature that abducts young women in the night, and is coated in shiny black grease that renders him too oily and slippery to be caught.

The action role-playing game (ARPG) dubs these creatures Mogui (魔鬼), which might sound familiar for fans of 80s cult classic, Gremlins, and borrows from the harrowing legends from the region. Still, the Southeast Asian influence isn’t restricted to just the Mogui, as the game also explores the setting and the lore.

“I want to introduce people to these great stories from the region,” Andrew said, “and put Southeast Asia on the map, so to speak.”

The game isn’t inspired solely by Southeast Asian culture, as gameplay elements are reminiscent of the Diablo franchise, and Andrew also cited the anime and manga series, Jujutsu Kaisen, as another source of inspiration. The thematic flavour also extends to the player characters, with a skill that places down mandalas that can buff player and allies, talismans as a weapon type, and another skill that turns the player character into a weretiger.

Despite the horror elements of the legends, Teo made a deliberate choice to lean more heavily into the action side of things so he can preserve the vibrant, tropical atmosphere of Singapore. However, that doesn’t mean that there won’t be any spine-chilling elements though, as there is a day/night system in-game, and when it’s nighttime, the game environment does have quite the spooky atmosphere.

Andrew is still juggling a full-time job as a senior game artist at a mobile game company, and the already demanding nature of game development has become even more arduous as the project grows.

“I keep a tight schedule, doing my full-time work from 10am to 7pm, and then working on Ghostlore from 8pm to 12am,” he said, “but luckily I have no family commitments, and still live with my parents who are both in good health.”

“However,” he admits, “I don’t have much of a life outside the project.” Andrew is so dedicated to seeing the game through that he spends much of his weekends on Ghostlore as well.

This disciplined and committed approach is necessary as Ghostlore evolved from a planned free browser game into a full commercial release. This switch is partly due to the sheer potential of the story, which references the legend of Redhill, a macabre tale of an entire hill dyed red by the blood of a young boy. It is also partly driven by the positive feedback and enthusiasm netizens have shown regarding the project.

The change in plans for the game also gave Andrew new challenges to overcome.

“Marketing is difficult. A lot of admin stuff, outside the game, can be quite tedious,” Andrew said, pointing out how the workload didn’t just increase in terms of volume, but also in terms of variety. As Andrew is primarily a digital artist, he credits his collaborator, Adam, heavily in keeping the project rolling.

“And expectations. Because now players will be paying for the game, so I need to make sure they’re happy with it. Suddenly, there’s pressure. Now I’m not just trying to please myself.”

To aid him in the game development process, feedback is actively sought from players.

“Thankfully,” he adds, “ever since the Steam page and Discord are up, reception has been pretty good.”

If the full playthroughs that Andrew uploads onto YouTube are anything to go by, it’s easy to see why feedback has generally been positive.

When asked how Andrew decided which Mogui to use as a boss monster, and which to use as cannon fodder, he said: “The boss monsters are described in their folklore as quite large and imposing. Like the Hantu Raya, which literally means ‘big ghost’, whereas the pontianak is just human-sized.”

However, he’s not one to shy away from taking creative license to enrich the game. For example, the Rafflesia, which is made into a boss monster that players can fight against in the free demo, isn’t a monster from folklore or legend. Rather, Andrew was inspired by the appearance of the parasitic flowering plant, and its distinctly Southeast Asian nature, since the plant is native to the region.

On the game’s Steam page, the word “eastpunk” is used to describe the genre of the game. This is a term coined by Andrew, and it is meant to capture the unconventional and subversive aspect of all things “punk”.

“But really,” he said, “I made up the word ‘eastpunk’ because I thought it sounded cool.”

Andrew and Adam are trying to get Early Access for Ghostlore available in the first quarter of 2022. They are also looking to price the game at between S$15 to S$20, after a survey with players in their Discord channel. Follow the game’s Facebook page and Twitter for the latest updates.

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