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‘Silt’ Interview: Surreal Sepulchral Horrors Between Marlin And Machine

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‘Silt’ Interview: Surreal Sepulchral Horrors Between Marlin And Machine

Silt is deep and disturbing. As an adventure-puzzler with a stark colour scheme punctuated by filaments of shadows fastening themselves to the edges of your vision, the setting is equally entrancing and off-putting. Exploring more and more of the depths explicates the peculiar connection between the silent diver and the strange sea life. There's this feeling of being watched by something much bigger than you. The best case scenario is that it is mildly interested by your movements. The worst case scenario... well... let's cross that bridge when it comes to it. In short, Silt's rather good.

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At WASD Live earlier this April, I spoke to Spiral Circus’ Tom Mead about the artistic and technical anchors that situate the game as one of the ones to watch out for this spring. 

Check out the trailer for the game right here!

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The fact that Silt is situated underwater doesn’t come from a coincidental stylistic choice or something to delineate it from other scary games. “As well as [anthropomorphobia] I have thalassophobia,” explained Tom, meaning a fear of deep bodies of water such as the sea. A shift in his art from perpetually staring characters with offputting features towards the infinite darkness of the ocean was the outlet for Mead to contain the crushing concept of drowning. “I'm absolutely terrified of this,” he continued. “So for me, it's like a massive thing for me to be able to like to try and draw and paint my fears. And that is kind of cathartic for me to do— it won't help with my terror. It hasn’t helped by the way. I'm still terrified of it.”

Silt / Credit: Fireshine Games
Silt / Credit: Fireshine Games

It’s a curious thing, seeing that horror games are a form ofrecreational fear,” and act as a channel to reinforce what is human and what is anti-human. In his work, Tom leaches the vitality from the subjects with the scratchy yet dainty lines of pen, ink and pencil, and in Silt, the contrast between the sinking dark shades and the light creates this eerie sense of purgatory. Indeed, the easiest comparison to the game is Playdead’s Limbo. However, in Limbo, the boy has no choice but to walk to the other side of whatever monster or peril may linger there. In Silt, the diver’s affinity with sea creatures lets them possess their body and use their abilities to overcome puzzles.

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Silt / Credit: Fireshine Games
Silt / Credit: Fireshine Games

The character is suspended limply in the water as you swim hither and thither, becoming a part of the background. Things in the sea have a strange inclination of evolving to look a lot like bits of the body — consider the very literal brain coral or feather stars whose arms wave like a set of expensive lashes. Spiral Circus have done the same here with sections of the level that seem to be organic or machine or a composite of both, fluttering columns of seaweed in front of your eyes to cast doubt over that distinction. 

It’s not only the visuals that are captivating in Silt. The soundscapes lure you in, selling this alien setting, drawing you deeper into the weirdness. Of course, there’s a certain specificity to creating these effects, but it’s best that I hand over to sound designer Nick Dymond for that. 

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Silt / Credit: Fireshine Games
Silt / Credit: Fireshine Games

“It’s not wanting it to be too on top of the listener’s head,” he said, which sounds contradictory when you think of the immense pressure that our diver must be under submerged in the briny blue. “So it's got a lot of drones and textures and rumbles, but then also washing stuff way off into the distance. You get the same thing with the visuals that have front to back depth that you get with the different layers and the fog and stuff like that. It's kind of trying to match things up, sonically, with what you're seeing spatially and specifically on the screen.”

Silt / Credit: Fireshine Games
Silt / Credit: Fireshine Games
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“One of the things I did was I bought an aquarium and filled it with water, and bought hydrophones [underwater microphones], and built an underwater speaker so that I could replay stuff through the body of water and just make these weird sounds,” continued Dymond. “It doesn't sound like you expect it to sound,” he explained of his experiments. “It's all distorted and like high frequency, like noise and weird echoes and stuff like that.” Layering these through the soundtrack, he cited György Ligeti’s and Dario Argento’s influences as well as the Texas Chainsaw Massacre being a touchstone for this esoteric puzzler. 

Silt / Credit: Fireshine Games
Silt / Credit: Fireshine Games

“And in terms of the actual sound design and the ambiences, there’s a lot of David Lynch on various odd animations. In terms of the foley, we’re trying to keep it a bit light and a little bit comic,” he said. “Things like the scissorfish, it’s got a little bit of scissors actually snipping and things like that.” 

When you consider the curiosity that Silt has accrued over the course of its development and the trepidation that rises as it approaches its release, it’s fascinating to know that the game is the fruits of the labour of only four people. “It's been a hell of a journey, because we weren't a company, obviously, when we met,” elaborated Tom. 

Silt / Credit: Fireshine Games
Silt / Credit: Fireshine Games

In a movie-like series of events, Tom had bumped into one of his old friends, Don, at a New Year’s Eve shindig a handful of years ago and they caught up on each other’s goings-on. Don was a research scientist at the time, and Tom showed off his latest artwork, plunging his subjects into the ocean. “Both of us knew that we wanted to get into games. And we just had this ‘meeting of minds’ moment when both of us met and we realised that,” said Tom. “So it was all just a project that we were working on. And I was part time, self funding.” As Silt started to surge in its potential, the team sent off their concept to Stugan. To the uninitiated, it’s a non-profit accelerator program that invites a very small group of developers out to the woods of Sweden to produce their dream project in a window of eight weeks. 

Silt / Credit: Fireshine Games
Silt / Credit: Fireshine Games

“A lot of Silt was actually drawn in a hammock initially,” smiled Tom. “Lying in the sun, drawing really dark creatures, which is ironic. Who knows if that helped.” Stugan was vital to the viability of Silt because the work allowed them to bring a fully-fledged demo before the Games Finance Market. This then caught the eyes of publisher Fireshine Games and the rest (conveniently for the end of this sentence) was history.

As I chew over Silt and the things I've learned from Tom and Nick, I come to the conclusion that it's like the cousin of ABZÛ. That one, doused in bright and beautiful blue hues, showed you a fallen civilisation at the bottom of the sea, their ruins now home to disinterested fish. I dread to think what we will find in the depths of Silt. I hope it's weird.

Silt will be released for PC.

Featured Image Credit: Fireshine Games

Topics: PC

Imogen Donovan
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