Mundaun Interview: Solo Creator Talks Folk Tales, The Shining, And Indie Horror Dev Advice

For any fan of horror games looking for something a bit off-kilter to satisfy that Scare Scratch, Mundaun is something you should keep your eye on. It’s an upcoming indie title that boasts a few unique aspects that will pique your interest if you’re growing bored of the typical recipe for horror games. 

TheGamer had the good fortune of chatting to Michel Ziegler – the sole creator and lead designer at Hidden Fields, the team behind this fascinating game – who offered some insight into its creative process, its scare factor, and some of its more unique qualities. If you’re a fellow indie horror developer in the making, Ziegler also has a tidbit or two of advice which may come in handy. Check it all out below.

TG: So on a scale of 1 to P.T., how scary would you rate Mundaun as being? And what sort of horror were you actually going for in creating the game?

Hard to say. I think it depends a lot on the player. There are genuinely scary moments in the classic sense in the game. But the sense of terror in Mundaun is created primarily by its oppressive atmosphere. It was important to me to have a contrast of terror and calm over the course of the game so the tension sometimes lets up and there are serene moments of beauty. I think it’s always hard for somebody to rate how scary their creation is, since they know it so intimately. People that have played it tell me that it is a scary game. I’m curious on how people will react to it when it does launch, as it is a pretty unique take on horror.

TG: I’ve heard that you drew a lot of inspiration for Mundaun’s setting from childhood experiences and feelings which you associated with the Swiss Alps. But what about that unique art style? What inspired that?

I’m very passionate about drawing. So I never even considered not hand-drawing the textures for Mundaun. My biggest visual inspirations for the look of the game include old photographs of daily alpine life, portraits and objects. The atmosphere these black and white pictures have, to me, is a window into almost a different world. So when I decided on doing a black and white game, the choice of pencils for the textures was a no-brainer. I just love working with pencils. By drawing everything, I can take imagery from all sources and distill it into a cohesive whole.

TG: What about inspiration from other sources in the horror genre? Did any films, other video games, books or so on lend some of their essences to your creative process?

I didn’t directly look for inspiration in the horror genre, as I wanted to bring something new to the table. However, I did try to pay homage to some of my favorites: I love the opening car drive in Kubrick’s The Shining, so that is reflected in the prologue of Mundaun. There is inspiration from folk tales and old Swiss novels like “The Black Spider,” but I wouldn’t really put those in the horror genre in the classical sense. Personally, I think it’s always interesting to get some inspiration from places outside the medium or genre. For me, the main inspiration was a place, a valley in the alps, and filtering that through the dark lens of folk tales.

TG: Is it true that you hand-penciled every texture we see in the game? If so, how long did that take? How big is the Hidden Fields team, and how long have you been working on Mundaun?

Yes, it’s true. I took a quick look at my crate of drawings and there are around 500 of them. While there’s a lot of work in those, all the other aspects of game development still made up the bulk of development time. A drawing is finished when it is finished. A piece of code will evolve, needs testing, debugging many times over until it is set in stone. I’ve worked on Mundaun since summer 2014, doing everything by myself. I am both an illustrator and software engineer, so it was very tempting to go solo. In 2019, Eric Lorenz came on board to do the sound design and in the last few months, I had some engineering help from a couple of programmers. The number of people involved in the project in some form has never been bigger than now.

TG: Lastly, do you have any tips or advice for the aspiring indie horror developer out there? For example, where or how to start, or how to craft a good horror experience that can leave a lasting impression?

Don’t think too much, just start creating things. Most of the tools of the trade and learning resources are freely available. Then, I would personally suggest not to look for inspiration and ideas only in the realm of games. Try to bring something unique, personal and specific into the mix. Once you have some crazy little idea, begin and then go where the game you are creating takes you. It becomes a living organic thing quickly. Trust your instincts. All of this sounds very esoteric. In the end, I think all it takes is passion and persistence, a lot of time and work, and a gallon of blood, sweat and tears.

Mundaun is currently slated for a spring 2021 release on PC (both Windows and Mac), Nintendo Switch, PS4, and Xbox One.

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Neuroscience student and massive nerd, currently based in Johannesburg, South Africa. Research interests include how neuroscience and user experience in video games interact with each other. News and feature writer for Other interests include anime and everything Japanese, fitness, and cats.

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