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Interview with There Swings a Skull: Grim Tidings Game Devs

There Swings a Skull: Grim Tidings is a narrative horror game developed by Quinn K. and Conor Walsh, with music by Leaf Let and additional graphics by z_bill. Set in the fictional city of Pareildas, where the sun can burn you to a crisp in a moment, and the tyrannical mayor regularly sacrifices citizens to appease it. The duo protagonists, Pyotr and his husband Anatoli, each have their own storylines that converge depending on your choices.

Pyotr is an insomniac artist (relatable) who goes out for regular walks. On one, he discovers the sewer systems underneath the town are vast and contain more than just an elaborate pipe system. Anatoli, on the other hand, works at a ticket vendor at the local train station—one that has seen zero customers for untold years. They are both dealing with an apocalyptic situation in their own ways, attempting to live a normal life as a couple while the sun destroys everything around them. A full playthrough including the five endings takes about two hours, which I consider the sweet spot for short-form horror titles such as these. I compare it to a novella, which is also my favourite length for horror fiction.

I asked Quinn and Conor a few questions concerning the game’s development and how the world of Pareildas came to be.

The Splash Screen for There Swings A Skull: Grim Tidings. The title is flanked by the main character, Pyotr and Anatoli on each side

Lor Gislason: First off, how did your collaboration come together? Did you know each other before starting There Swings A Skull? (I’ve played both of your previous works, so it’s fun to see how this team-up turned out!)

Quinn: Yeah, we did! We’d chatted before within the Haunted PS1 community (first prompted by my work on OFF’s English translation), and when that same community organized the Summer of Shivers Jam 2021, a desire to work together we’d previously noted to each other suddenly became concrete. The theme we chose was “PSA.” We had a brief back-and-forth about some ideas that came to me off the top of my head—we went through two of those until we hit upon the clay that would become There Swings A Skull. Our wish was to make a narrative game of the same kind as the small RPG Maker games of yore, and I think we succeeded.

Conor: I believe Quinn threw out the idea while we were in an HPS1 voice chat and I jumped at the chance. Each of us was familiar with the other’s work And The Rest Was History!

Anatoli stands at the end of the train platform. He says "The sun is a red-orange blot in the sky."

LG: Can you describe what parts of the game each of you worked on?

Quinn: I worked on the worldbuilding set-up for the story, nearly all of the graphics (some of my slack being picked up by z_bill later into the project), most of the coding and did some minor dialogue proofreading and editing work.

Conor: I handled the dialogue and the lion’s share of flavour text. Beyond that, I did some light scripting and audio design on the jam version of the game (though my work was of course superseded by the fantastic Leaf Let).

Pixel artwork of a city hall at night. A fountain sits to the south of the building

LG: Pareildas is such an interesting place, with hints here and there about how the city has degraded over time. Did anything in specific inspire it?

Quinn:  Pareildas took cues from the Italian city of Taranto—if that city wasn’t at the coast, but surrounded by a desert instead. Images of its urban decay and its old town ramparts served as visual inspiration. It was also inspired by the image of the hourglass: There’s a north part, a middle chokepoint, and a south part. In the worldbuilding, as well as the structure of the town, the many connotations of the hourglass also play a major role.

Conor: I’m a Californian, which I think speaks for itself. I kid, I kid…mostly. The worldbuilding of Pareildas wasn’t inspired by anything in particular, but I knew I liked the idea of exploring what it felt like living in a town that was looking down the barrel of a gun that might fire at any moment. Emphasis on “fire.” I wanted to create an atmosphere of unease, isolation, and loneliness without resorting to a lot of the typical horror-fare tricks found in other games. We made a horror game that mainly takes place in the daytime. I am pleased with this.

A wedding photo of Anatoli and Pyotr
Anatoli and Pyotr

LG: The playable characters, Pyotr and Anatoli feel so different yet compliment each other well. Do you have a favourite, or is it more like “they are a pair do not separate, I love them both”?

Quinn: I’m more privy to Anatoli personally, but…yeah it is a little like picking between our own children. Do NOT separate them, they would be miserable.

Their relationship is not a perfect one, but it is imperfect in the “have known each other for 20 and been married for 16 years” kind of way; the love and the devotion are there, just the anxieties of daily life create struggle.

Conor: I’m definitely in the “do not separate, or else” camp. Without Pyotr, Anatoli would most likely find himself swallowed up by his own head; without Anatoli, Pyotr would probably be a workaholic without a cause, and an unhappy one at that. And I suppose it goes without saying that they’d both be very lonely. As Quinn said, they’re not a perfect couple, but they are about as close to harmony as a pair can be, and that harmony characterizes them and gives them much of the reason that they go about their lives. Even if circumstances push them to use certain defense mechanisms, at their core they are all about one another.

Several burnt corpses lay on a train platform dotted with fire

LG: It’s hard not to think about media without applying the pandemic world we live in now. The whole city of Parelidas (and for us, the world) is going through horrible events and deaths on a regular basis. We have to hold on to each other and support each other. Hopefully, I’m not too far off!

Quinn: The pandemic had very little bearing on There Swings A Skull’s story in my mind, but I’d be interested in hearing what Conor’s thoughts are.

Conor: Hate to say it, but here’s the point at which I put on my little writer’s hat, wave my hands, and say, “Who knows?!” When it comes to art I make, I prefer to say as little as possible about authorial intent, because I like seeing how people interpret things in ways that I may not have seen; consequently, I’m glad you read it like an allegory for the pandemic. I won’t say if it’s right or wrong because I don’t think there’s such a thing!

Anatoli stands under a metal frame with a swinging, empty noose

LG: Any plans to collaborate again in the future?

Quinn: I would say possibly, but not until we’ve both had a long break. We work together well, but both have other projects and things to do. I will be working on more things, and we’ll most likely be helping each other where we are able to—proofreading or otherwise since we’re both writers—but it’s unlikely we’ll take on another project in this vein in the foreseeable future.

Conor: Every time I work for a long time on an indie project, I say “all right I am going to take a long break after this.” And then I do not. So who knows! Anything I say here could stop being true in a month. All I can say is that I’ve very much enjoyed working with Quinn, Leaf Let, and z_bill on this bad boy and I’d be happy to collab with any of them again!


Thank you to both Quinn and Conor for taking the time to answer my questions! There Swings a Skull: Grim Tidings can be Wishlisted on Steam, with the game dropping on September 15th.

 

If you enjoyed this interview, be sure to check these out too!

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Grimmfest 2022: An Interview With Adam Leader, Richard Oakes and Neal Ward About Feed Me

They/Them: An Interview With Darwin Del Fabro

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Written by Lor Gislason

Lor is a body horror enthusiast from Vancouver Island, Canada who can be found chilling with their two cats and playing farming simulators. Find them on Twitter: @lorelli_

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