‘The Mortuary Assistant’ Interview With Brian Clarke
When Rebecca Owens finishes her degree in mortuary sciences, she finds herself starting work at the River Fields Mortuary. Working for Raymond, things seem to be going well. Embalm the dead, pay your respects, and keep moving. One night Rebecca gets a call asking her to come into work. Unfortunately, things don’t go quite as planned, and soon she finds out she’s not alone with the dead. With a demon attempting to possess her, Rebecca needs to identify the spirit, figure out how to banish it from the mortuary, and not lose herself in the process. Just a normal night at River Fields Mortuary.
The Mortuary Assistant is a first-person horror game where you need to embalm bodies while avoiding possession. The game has you researching demons in a hurry, using various tools to find and identify them, and contains plenty of randomized scares that should give the player plenty to be frightened of.
When going into this game, as someone who lives and breathes horror movies and video games, I did not expect to be as terrified as I was! The first night I actually woke up in the middle of the night thinking about the game and had to shut my bedroom door. The Mortuary Assistant is seriously THAT scary.
Have you ever wondered what it’s like to embalm a body? You’ll get as close as it gets to experiencing it without touching a dead body or having a degree! Unfortunately for you, you’ll also encounter demons trying to possess you at the same time. The puzzle and hidden easter eggs in the game give even more depth to the story as well. The Mortuary Assistant has five different endings and no two runs will have the same scares. Talk about replayability! This is everything horror gamers have been looking for and it definitely nails every aspect of terror.
Be sure to check out Dread XP and darkstonedigital.itch.io/ for more horror by the developer and creator of The Mortuary Assistant. Take a look at what the creator of The Mortuary Assistant, Brian Clarke, had to say about the game with PHASR! More DLC in the works? New projects? Find out below, enjoy.
We are so excited to hear about how this absolutely horrifying game crawled off the gurney and came to life. What was the conversation with Dread XP when partnering together for this?
Brian Clarke: So originally, I wasn’t sure I wanted a publisher. They had reached out to me to work on DreadX Collection 5 and we started talking about how I had been approached by other publishers. I honestly wasn’t aware they published things outside of their collections yet since I wasn’t really looking and I knew they were a newer company.
Ted was very open and honest with me about talking to potential publishers and was very helpful. Abby also spoke very passionately about The Mortuary Assistant before we even got into talking about partnering up which I, honestly, didn’t get with other publishers. They very obviously care about indie horror.
It was around the end of that call that they mentioned they would be interested in talking to me too. They handled themselves in a way that was much more relatable than larger publishers I was speaking to. They’re built with a focus specifically on indie horror and the little guy. They basically started to specifically support indie devs with their DreadX collections. Their values very much aligned with my own so I was pretty well sold.
The Mortuary Assistant definitely isn’t your first title as we saw on the DarkStone Digital itch.io profile, however, it does follow your theme of solo horror gaming. Tell us, why was a mortuary your place of terror for this title?
Brian Clarke: This sort of came out of desperation. About two and half years ago I decided to challenge myself by doing a week-long game-jam. So with a week to make a game I thought of something as simple as possible and I landed on the idea of being alone in a room with a dead body.
Embalming became a good reason to be in that situation. The prototype I made is about five minutes worth of play. You simply walk around the room collecting the tools you need, set them on the side table, and while you do this, random events trigger. The concept technically was very simple but the idea caught traction when I released it on itch for people to try. So I knew it was the project I should focus on next.
I decided on embalming above something like autopsy because I feel embalming is rather intimate. Autopsy, I see as very sterile while embalming I see as more of an art. You’re up close and performing tasks I think most people don’t realize are done.
As someone who has never embalmed a body, it seems so realistic in The Mortuary Assistant. What kind of research went into the embalming process?
Brian Clarke: A lot. My background is as a video game artist so I had very little idea of the technical side at the time but I knew if I wanted to do a real-life profession like this, it should be pretty accurate. So I read training documentation, watched all kinds of videos about mortuary sciences, read articles about all the tools used throughout the years, and basically anything I could find relating to the process of embalming at all.
My goal was to be as accurate as possible while still letting the game’s purpose drive everything. It’s a horror game first above all else. I aimed for it to be realistic enough that when people perform the tasks they wonder if that’s how it’s done and if they search for it they find that it is.
I chose to use a variety of tools across decades of embalming technology. Basically, anything that was either creepy or properly served a game mechanic. So you’ll find things like more modern pumps mixed with gravity techniques for cavity filling. I also abbreviated or omitted various aspects of the process for gameplay reasons. So it’s not 100% exact but it’s as close as I could get it and still be the game I wanted.
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The Mimic is by far the scariest spirit in the game to me. I was absolutely sweating and screeching every time they popped up somewhere and scurried off. Completely terrifying. How did you come up with the character designs in the game?
Brian Clarke: Everyone loves that guy. I had created my own demonology and other lore on how demonic entities function and part of that is the idea of lesser spirits that demons bond with temporarily to influence the living world.
I wanted to stick with the idea of things that were close to life to keep things relatable to people. So I started off with known ghost stories like the shadow man in the hat and the woman in white. I’ve obviously made up my own reasons for these spirits but I wanted them rooted in something everyone is at least somewhat familiar with. I’m a huge believer in the unknown being the scariest thing so I wasn’t worried about some grandiose monster design and was more interested in something that looks creepy out of the corner of your eye and is gone.
For the mimic specifically, he’s based on a lot of footage I’ve watched of closed circuit television recordings. A lot of spooky white faces with sunken eyes and blurred features that disappear from view quickly. From that, I thought of the idea of a spirit whose torture in hell is that it longed to be human but its best attempt to look human is its cracked almost mannequin-like appearance.
The use of “jump scare” tactics was used so incredibly well in The Mortuary Assistant and at the best times. As I mentioned, I’ve never embalmed a body before, so when I got the hang of it and got the steps down, I would really be focused on simply just doing my job as a mortician’s assistant. THAT’S when the jump scares really counted and you nailed it. Which horror movies and games did you take inspiration from for the jump scare horror and gaming style of the game?
Brian Clarke: The jump scares are driven by a pretty elaborate system that monitors the player. It’s where the bulk of development time went to make sure things played out that way as much as possible. I’m really into found footage horror and concepts based on real events. I love all horror really but digging into The Mortuary Assistant I found myself going back to relatable, more real-life horror situations.
Movies like Paranormal Activity always stick with me for a while after watching and
ideas like the movie It Follows where it doesn’t matter where you go, you’re always cursed, have been my favorite concepts. There’s no leaving the house to be safe or anything. Those concepts are mostly what drove me with The Mortuary Assistant. Events where the viewers see something the characters in the movie don’t and that on-edge feeling of something about to happen is really what I wanted. I love horror games but movies are really where I draw inspiration from. I wanted to try and bring that suspenseful feeling I love from a film into my game.
The Mortuary Assistant is similar yet very unique from your other game titles such as Our Secret Below, Kohate, and The Subject. What are some challenges and successes you came across while making this game compared to your others?
Brian Clarke: The Mortuary Assistant is very much a culmination of my other projects. As I mentioned earlier, my background is as a video game artist. I had to teach myself to program before I could really get into creating my own projects. Each game is a stepping stone basically. The Subject is very much my first game. It’s not horrible but it’s very much my first solo project. Our Secret Below is probably where I started to really get into the concept of smaller packages with replayability being a focus.
The Mortuary Assistant is set apart from my other projects for me in that the desire to make a rather fluid system for driving haunting events took me far out of my comfort zone. What started as RNG events turned into a pretty elaborate system that randomly chooses a haunting event based on player progression, then checks the criteria of that event against the player’s current situation. If the criteria is met, the event fires which then can sometimes trigger another set of subsystems to check what the player is doing on a granular level such as facing direction, items they have, are the lights on or off, etc.
This project was a turning point for me in really leaning into code to drive a greater more, I guess, artistic concept. So wrapping my brain around concepts that felt way above my skill set was originally extremely daunting but it was worth the struggle I think.
For now, the multiple endings will keep players going for a while. Replayability is a huge part of the gaming industry so we were impressed by the 5 endings, secrets, and achievements players can attain. With that being said, will there be DLC or added content to the game in the future?
Brian Clarke: Absolutely. I’ve put so much of myself into this game that there is no way I won’t support it with more. Right now, I’ve been working hard to get all the bugs ironed out but after the dust of launch settles I will be adding more bodies and haunting events.
After that, I plan to work on some additional story aspects and just general content additions as well as alternate play modes such as embalming only for people who just want to chill in a spooky atmosphere and embalm bodies.
Then I will start dreaming up some new, larger, DLC. I have some plans sitting in the back of my brain but I’m waiting to really pay attention to them until things are all squared away with the launch.
Your itch.io states you’re “heavily inspired by film, the paranormal and horror of all kinds. That inspiration shines through in the foreground of the game and we appreciate that. Tell us your favorite paranormal story as well as your favorite paranormal horror movie.
Brian Clarke: For movies as we touched on earlier. I think Paranormal Activity really sums up what I like in horror though all of horror is great. Not that all movies have to be Paranormal Activity but rather the feeling it gives the viewers. I think any movie can achieve that really. That’s what I wanted too is the feeling of unease throughout.
I actually have a few personal experiences with paranormal stuff. One was when I was a bus boy a million years ago working at a restaurant in a supposedly haunted old house. However, what really stuck with me was having sleep paralysis when I was younger.
I would have nightmares and wake up frozen with whatever creepy thing was in my dream standing outside my window in full view until I could wake up as well as the usual shadow people pushing down on you. All that good stuff. It happened often so I eventually just accepted it. I think it really forced me to become less scared of it and more analytical of it and maybe that’s helped with this project, who knows.
Do you have any new projects in the works you can tease for us?
Brian Clarke: Actively in the works? Right now The Mortuary Assistant is the focus but I do have some concepts on the back burners waiting to be fleshed out. I want to circle back to my old projects and give them some love but I have a few new concepts rolling around.
One of the main ones is what I’m calling “pirate horror”. It’s a really loose concept right now but it focuses on a shipwreck in an uncharted bay. I have another sci-fi concept but it’s entirely too loose to even really mention more than that. Either way, I do have a collection of concepts sitting in my notebook.
We want to thank you so much for such an amazing game as well as for sharing some insight behind the scenes. Where can everyone find you on social media and where can everyone learn how incredibly disgusting the sound of wiring a dead body’s mouth shut is and play this game?
Brian Clarke: Thank you so much for chatting with me! You can stay on top of what I’m doing with The Mortuary Assistant and future stuff on my Twitter @DSDigitalDev and The Mortuary Assistant is out now on Steam!
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