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Why cults make for good game design in The Shrouded Isle

We talked with the lead developer of The Shrouded Isle to learn more about its cult simulator success.

Last week, Kitfox Games released The Shrouded Isle, a cultist simulator that invites players to make careful decisions about keeping a Lovecraftian cult in line to summon a dread Elder God. Despite its dour premise, it’s a neat, macabre little simulator that caught our attention this weekend because of its procedurally generated characters and unconventional choices. 

Today, we invited Kitfox Games co-founder Jongwoo Kim onto the Gamasutra Twitch channel to learn more about the game’s development and quiz him on his “cult experience.” While he fervently denied any personal experience with cults (a likely story), we were able to have a productive conversation about procedural game design and development, which you can watch up above. 

In case you’re busy selecting this year’s sacrifice (please only in a video game), we’ve prepared a few key takeaways from our talk for you to review below. 

There's joy to be found in ambitious simulation design

Kitfox Studios’ three commercially released games have all featured procedural generation in some fashion. According to Kim, the reason for making games this way is that “development itself becomes more interesting.” He said it’s risky on its own, but he called the effort a search for a “holy grail,” a game that’s infinitely replayable—a piece of an entire world that can emerge from systems-driven game design. 

There’s a demand for cult games out there

We couldn’t pass up the opportunity to ask Kim about how the game is doing after release in the year 2017, when over 200 games landed on Steam just last week. Kim himself was fairly calm about the subject, but for context, he brought on Kitfox Games community manager Victoria Tran. 

It turns out, Tran says the success they’ve been seeing with The Shrouded Isle is in part because of a demand for games about cults. The genre alone appears to inspire people to check out the game, and Kitfox Games is seeing success in territories like China, which they hadn’t anticipated. 

The Shrouded Isle is a self-contained box, not a spiraling simulator

During our conversation, we quizzed Kim about what makes simulation games fun to play, and not just a simple-minded task of managing meters and sliders. Kim says that, in The Shrouded Isle's case, the way to solve this problem was to anchor a “self-contained box” around the regular anchor of the sacrifice mechanic. 

Kim made the comparison to other simulation games where players gather resources, and said in The Shrouded Isle, because players start with all the tools (well, characters) they’ll interact with in a game session, it creates a game that’s more about balance than perpetual expenditure. 

For more developer interviews, editor roundtables and gameplay commentary, be sure to follow the Gamasutra Twitch channel. 

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