A Commentary by Paul Harrington
I've made a lot of OHR games over the last seven years. Some have been good, many have been completely disposable. I can't believe I've been working on games for this engine for so long, but I can honestly say that it's never stopped being fun, and is in fact even more exciting now than ever before now that the engine is changing into something far more powerful and customizable.
My most important game to this day is Walthros. In spite of some glaring flaws, it's the most well regarded title I've released, and I've been telling the tales of its heroes both in games and in comics for over fifteen years. It's true that today's version of the Walthros story only vaguely resembles what it did in May of 1992, and the story itself has been rebooted and retold more times than I can count, but it's a world I have never grown tired of. It makes me feel incredibly old knowing that the characters in Walthros have existed in one form or another for longer than some people who have played the games have even been alive, but that's a story for another time.
As far as individual projects in the Walthros universe go, there is none that I have worked on for as long as Surlaw Armageddon. I'm not talking about hours of work, but the actual time that has passed since I started work on the project. The original demo of Surlaw Armageddon was released in May of 2004, and the most recent in October of 2007. What's most surprising is probably that the newer demo is not significantly longer than the original. To be completely honest, no work was done from May of 2004 until this last September. I had been very enthusiastic about the project when it first started, and for some reason I quickly lost interest.
That's not to say nothing has changed. A lot of the game's dialogue has been rewritten, battle stats have been re-balanced, and there are five maps to explore now instead of just two. I also removed a flashback scene involving Gulob's post-Walthros fate, but don't worry; we'll return to him in a future demo. The game's plot has finally found its path, and I have decided on who and what Bob Surlaw will encounter on his journey. When I began work on this game in 2004, I really had no idea where it was going. I knew I wanted to make some sort of horror game, hence the bloody rooms and zombies that were present from the very start. I knew I wanted to make a surreal adventure, hence the Divine Slime, The Rabbit, and the abrupt jumps in time and space. Other than this, I didn't know what I wanted, and this is likely why the project died after the release of the first demo.
I find it appropriate that a game dealing with death and rebirth would be resurrected years later. When I resumed work on the game this past September, I had two major sources to draw inspiration from; Killer7, which was not released until 2005, and Stephen King's Dark Tower saga, of which I had only read the first two books before releasing the 2004 demo. A lot of the meta-fiction elements of King's story made me think about my own work, and my thoughts went back to Surlaw Armageddon. This is not, of course, my only incomplete OHR project. I never finished Super Walrus Chef 2, though I plan on doing so some day. I never finished Walthros: Mercenaries and I likely never will. There have been countless attempts at remaking the original Walthros from scratch, and that, while still a very long ways off, I am actually making progress with.
Surlaw Armageddon was an oddity in my game design career because it's the only piece that never really fit. It placed relatively little emphasis on gameplay compared to even some of my joke games, but it didn't tell enough of a story to stand as a narrative game. It's the only project I actually felt bad about abandoning, but I could never make any sense out of what to do with it. I knew that I wanted to finish this project, and that it was somehow important to me, though I'd be hard pressed to explain why. Only now, three years after work on Surlaw Armageddon began, am I starting to shape it into what it was meant to be; a surreal culmination of everything I have worked for so far. As ridiculous as it may sound, I wanted to find a way to connect all of my serious and not-so-serious games that I've released over the last seven years, and with the newest demo Surlaw Armageddon is starting to head down that path. It's sometimes creepy, sometimes funny, and it tells a story on its own, but more than anything it's an anchor connecting everything together. Players once again encounter Grimace, the popular McDonald's franchise character that I corrupted for Totally... Gihern. References are made to both Walthros and Walthrus: Return of the Crystals, though this game is not a direct sequel to either. Well, not exactly, anyway. I'm sure we'll see Super Walrus Man at some point in this game, and fans of Dinosaur Triple will be pleased. Even Martin from the Collaboration Contest may have a role to play.
The purpose in making Surlaw Armageddon extends beyond the game itself. I needed an outlet to release old ideas that deserved life but never found it on their own (Lanni and the third hero who joins the adventure were originally the stars of a very different game that I started in 2002 and never publically announced). I needed a way to justify the amount of time I've spent rebooting the whole Walthros universe. I also needed a way to begin experimenting with the OHR engine again before putting serious work into my latest attempt at a Walthros remake that I hope will be the high point of my amateur game making career.
It's hard to explain to you exactly what Surlaw Armageddon is because it's so hard to figure it out myself. I only know that working on this project is a cathartic experience and will be important to future games. Even though it's a revival of an old project, Surlaw Armageddon is, in a way, my way of starting over, which is ironic since my next project is a remake of my first. I can say that more demos of Surlaw Armageddon are coming, and fairly soon. I can say that you will meet some heroes and villains from nearly all of my previous games, in one form or another. I can say that the Crimson King is not the same as the one in King's story, and will probably be the most bizarre character in the game. I can say that you will not expect the story to go where it does.
I ask only that the people who play this game give me as much feedback as possible. I want this to not only be a surreal, nightmarish adventure, but also a balanced, well designed RPG, even if I am not following too many RPG conventions. I want to make a solid title that is as memorable to others as it already is to me, and I hope it can live up to expectations, both mine and yours.