Highlands, Deep Waters is a Lovecraftian Noir interactive novel. You will be able to craft your own story while investigating an occult-related crime in a fictional Scottish small town.
Many sources served as inspiration for this game, notably the works of H.P. Lovecraft (The Shadow over Innsmouth, The Horror at Red Hook) and Alan Moore (From Hell, Neonomicon, The Courtyard). Related works are also the American television series Twin Peaks and True Detective.
The game has around 340k words.
@Nerull and I started this project in May 2016 and finished writing it in January 2017. Since the first time we posted about this game, we’ve been producing new content, fixing bugs/typos and seeking improvements. We’ve taken all your posts and answers into consideration and we would like to express our sincere gratitude to everyone who contributed in one way or another to the development of the game.
System-wise, we work around a few but crucial stats and mechanics. Not all of them are available for the player to see, but still they have a considerable impact on the storytelling.
“We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far.”
― H.P. Lovecraft, The Call of Cthulhu.
Sanity impacts how you perceive the world around you—altering the narrative and the ways you can interact with the environment and with NPCs. Increasingly uncommon choices and weird descriptions arise as you delve deeper into the downward spiral of madness. This can modify your whole game experience, as a sane character will thread a very different path compared with an insane one.
How sane will your character be along the investigation? Can a sane mind grasp the hidden truths?
“What one man can invent, another can discover.”
― Arthur Conan Doyle, The Adventure of the Dancing Men.
Gathering evidence and making deductions is a core element of gameplay. You will follow different paths during the investigation by choosing options from a selected range of hypotheses. What was the murder weapon? Is there something amiss here? If your deduction is correct, you get an insight on the case. If you interpret your clues wrongly, you can be led to dead ends and cold trails, making it harder for you to discover what is really happening in Invernock.
“Maybe there aren’t any such things as good friends or bad friends―maybe there are just friends, people who stand by you when you’re hurt and who help you feel not so lonely."
― Stephen King, It.
Perhaps you’re a loner, a solitary person trying to fight back the demons inside your head, but you will have help. The game has a ‘buddy system’ that allows you to interact with characters with their own ambitions, backgrounds and subplots.
Buddies also have archetypes, possessing their own peculiarities and advantages. Will you prefer to have a contact inside the police? Perhaps a person who can tell you about drug routes and chemicals? Or would you be better off with the help of an expert in occultism?
… will your buddy be one of them?
“Now this is the point. You fancy me a mad. Madmen know nothing. But you should have seen me. You should have seen how wisely I proceeded…”
― Edgar Allan Poe, The Tell-Tale Heart and Other Writings.
Is your reality real? Can you trust the descriptions you read? Intrusive thoughts arise according to how the player decides to deal with the unfounded suspicions and paranoia he/she might stumble upon during the investigation. Intrusive thoughts get more and more frequent as Sanity lowers.
There are three Archetypes that outline the background of your character and the details he/she might perceive or comment on: the Detective, the Criminal and the Scholar. Each one unlocks a singular range of possibilities on how to approach some situations. Many in-game descriptions are only seen by specific Archetypes.
The Detective may perceive some details others wouldn’t. This insightful Archetype has experience in questioning suspects and has a considerable knowledge regarding police procedures and crime scene investigation.
The Criminal is familiar with the darkest corners of the streets. This resourceful Archetype is more capable of intimidating and fighting NPCs, identifying drugs and chemical substances and dealing with shady figures.
The Scholar can recognise and interpret deeper knowledge. This wise Archetype excels in analysing occult symbols, tomes and forgotten grimoires. Although lacking the social skills of the previous Archetypes, the Scholar is many steps closer to the hidden truths.
The narrative takes place in Invernock, a fictitional small town in Scotland. Real-world towns and cities can be accessed along the story, such as the isolated Fort William and the cosmopolitan Glasgow. The time span of this interactive novel ranges from 2006, when a private investigator deals with the aftermath of a bizarre murder case, to 2016, when the main story actually unfolds.
@Nerull, my co-worker, is really passionate about detective stories, has a Medical Science degree and is currently a fifth-year medical student. He also has a paper published on blood spatter analysis and spends most of his free time making believable crime scenes for his RPG groups or short stories. That helps us to bring some authenticity to the forensic elements of the game.
We chose Scotland as a setting for many reasons, but mainly due the fact that he lived there for about a year and started working on his blood spatter project at the same time, making small trips just to take pictures that would serve as reference to places in the game.
We think Scotland is quite a peculiar setting and it really fits our intentions. There are many elements of Scotland’s geography, history and culture that were just begging to be used, and these elements fit really well in the genre we are working on.
As mentioned earlier, we have been inspired by works like The Courtyard, Neonomicon and the works of H.P Lovecraft. Some games also helped us in adapting the game mechanics, like Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines, Sherlock Holmes: Crime & Punishment and This Is the Police.
Our intention is to prioritise the roleplaying experience above all else, giving the player the opportunity to solve the problems the way he/she feels more comfortable with and to create many unique branches that can cause butterfly-effects consequences along the narrative.