Gregor Smith - Game Designer

Lil Athuun

Lil Athuun is a narrative game where the player is a scientist trying to help a baby eldritch creature escape from the laboratory experimenting on it.

With Athuun, the player can grapple around the environment to avoid the security systems triggered by Athuun’s escape. All the while they must avoid the sinister Doctor Weidler while he hunts for his precious test subject. Athuun can also create a shield to help the player get through Weidler’s most dangerous obstacles.

The goal with this project was to create a sense of fellowship and catharsis through the narrative and gameplay.

Design Process

The creation of this project started with the silly idea to have a game where the player is escorting a baby eldritch monster. The project restrictions were to create a game that evoked a sense of fellowship and catharsis, so I revisited this idea with the goal of creating a connection between the player and the baby monster then tear them apart to facilitate an emotional cathartic moment when they are reunited.

For gameplay ideas I worked top-down from the premise. I knew I wanted possession to be a part of the game as mind-control and external influence is a prominent part of eldritch stories and possession was a simple way to get that across without conflicting with the fellowship goal. If i’d had a more malevolent influence then Lil Athuun (as I’d come to call the creature) would not be as likable as he ended up being. Secondly, I felt that tentacles were a more physical and less conceptual part of eldritch storytelling that I could use as a mechanic.

Wanting to keep it simple, I took only those two. Possession and Tentacles.

The latter was a lot easier to work with. Athuun has tentacles. What can he do with them? A grapple was an easy and early idea that sounded like a fun system to experiment with so I went ahead with it. As I had limited time and technical knowledge I restricted the grapple system to only pull the player to specific points. Given more time, I would have loved to have Athuun be able to grapple up to any ledge.

Possession proved a little harder and changed a lot over the course of implementation. I had some difficulty figuring out how to make it a mechanic so I referenced back to the project requirements. Fellowship meant I needed the player to feel reliant on Athuun in the gameplay. I decided to have the possession take the form of a shield, suggesting that Athuun enters the players mind and protects them from threats. This beget some enemies for the player to be protected from so I created simple turret enemies that would shoot at the player when they see them. Athuun could then, at the touch of a button, shield the player from the turrets attacks.

Following on from this idea, I wanted some way for Athuun to be reliant on the player. Narratively, Athuun cannot get anywhere without them but that wasn’t enough to evoke the sense of fellowship I was aiming for. Since I had turrets that threatened the player, I decided to create some that threatened Athuun instead. These ‘Anti-Eldritch Machines’ would create an area in which Athuun would slowly start to dissolve, putting pressure on the player to find the machine and destroy it.

With that I had gameplay systems that would help me evoke a sense of fellowship between the player and Athuun.

The cathartic moment proved largely narrative dependent. I created an antagonist character that would separate the player and Athuun toward the end of the game. Due to my limited time and art ability I decided to have this character represented by a Walkie-Talkie the player finds and through which the antagonist speaks. This proved a good decision as the emotional impact of losing Athuun and having them replaced by a grey Walkie-Talkie was very effective. The child-like humor of Athuun contrasted well with the harsh, corporate talk of the antagonist character to create a genuinely cathartic moment when you find Athuun again. This was enhanced by the locking of all the player’s abilities while they have the Walkie and not Athuun.