Become a scholar of the unseen arts. Search your dreams for sanity-twisting rituals. Craft tools and summon spirits. Indoctrinate innocents. Seize your place as the herald of a new age.
Cultist Simulator is a narrative game that lets you play a seeker after unholy mysteries, in a 1920s-themed setting of hidden gods and secret histories. Perhaps you're looking for knowledge, or power, or beauty, or revenge. Perhaps you just want the colours beneath the skin of the world.
What you find may transform you forever. Every choice you make, from moment to moment, doesn't just advance the narrative - it also shapes it.
I'm Alexis Kennedy. If you've heard of me, it's probably because I founded Failbetter Games, where I made Fallen London (RPS: 'the bestest best words in gaming') and Sunless Sea (PCGamer: "Haunting, sad, exciting and energising by turns... there's nothing else like it"). Since I left Failbetter, I've been a guest writer at BioWare on Dragon Age, at Paradox on Stellaris, and Telltale on a mysterious R&D project.
Cultist Simulator is my first solo commercial release since Fallen London. It's as peculiar and experimental as Fallen London was back in 2009, but without the grind or the F2P business model. I've got a lot of it done, but I could use your help to make it sing.
EACH HOUR HAS ITS COLOUR. EACH FLAME HAS ITS FUEL. DON’T TRUST YOUR DREAMS.
Pluck at the surface of the world of Cultist Simulator, and you'll find succulent horrors wriggling beneath. The history we know arises from the struggles of the secret gods called the Hours: the Sun-in-Rags, the Red Grail, the Mother of Ants, the Witch-and-Sister, the Lionsmith...
In dreams, you can speak with the servants and aspects of the Hours. You may acquire inhuman appetites. You may find the doors of the Mansus, the place where the gods live and the dead go. They may join the ranks of the Long, the enigmatic immortals. They may rise much higher than that.
Some Hours are malevolent. Some just embody passions too strong for human life. All are very dangerous. The Sun-in-Rags seeks to conclude endings beautifully. The Door-in-the-Eye illuminates the way, but is not compassionate. The Red Grail wants to devour and be devoured. The Lionsmith makes monsters, that he may grow strong and stronger. Get mixed up with any of these, and the authorities may find you locked in your own attic, daubing paintings of impossible beauty on the walls. Or you might be the one to open the sky, and bring the cutting rain.
There's some Cthulhu Mythos in here. But there's less cosmic nihilism than Lovecraft, and more perilous longing. The setting also looks to the novels of Roger Zelazny, Mary Renault and Umberto Eco; to Anglo-Saxon poetry like The Wanderer and The Dream of the Rood, and mediaeval Welsh texts like The Battle of the Trees. And if you ever played the Mr Eaten content in Fallen London, or Salt's Song in Sunless Sea, you'll feel right at home.
Unlike my previous work, CULTIST SIMULATOR may not feature cannibalism. It will however absolutely feature the ability to fling your sanity into your Great Work like coins into a well; and to destroy the world.
Cultist Simulator is a narrative crafting digital card game, for release on PC, Mac and Linux. Choose an action, like Explore or Dream. Choose an object, like a Murmuring Amulet or a Captured Investigator or a Moment of Contentment. Combine it with other objects to find new secrets and build up your resources.
You'll start with very little: your Passion, your Reason, some Funds, and a mysterious package from a benefactor. But you'll learn to combine them to unlock snippets of story, and grow your powers. Craft the Rite of the Crucible Soul. Recruit Believers and promote them to Disciples to serve as burglars, researchers, cat's-paws. Locate and pillage the Star-Shattered Fane or the Tomb of the Long. Penetrate the realm of the Hours, and win a place in their service.
The dangers are many. The Authorities have departments dedicated to suppressing supernatural menaces, like you. Investigators will track down the rumours of their loved ones' disappearance. Rivals will challenge you for occult pre-eminence. The Dead and the Names of the Mansus prey on unwary souls. And your own altered Appetites may force you to act abominably.
The material world has both challenges and temptations. At the beginning, you'll need to make rent while you're haggling over forbidden tomes and transcribing your dreams. By the time you're running a mystic order, your disciples may keep you fed - or you may feed on your disciples.
There's a playable prototype here! This is early work - it has some placeholder graphics, placeholder audio, placeholder content, and only a fraction of the final content and mechanics. It doesn't have a save/load game option, it doesn't have variant starts and legacies, and there will be bugs. But it's a proof of concept.
But if you find success in your career? What if your colleague - or the investigator seeking your downfall - becomes your lover? The time may come when you have to choose between victory outside the world, and victory within it.
You’ll face trials and temptations. You’ll be destroyed by inner demons, or torn apart by the red powers of the night, or ascend to the ranks of the Long and the Names and the Hours. But your heirs and students and victims may succeed where you failed.
The canonical way to succeed in Cultist Simulator is through enlightenment, ascension or destruction: learn the secrets of the Hours, become a higher entity yourself, or wreak vengeance on an uncaring world.
But there are other endings - some more victorious than others. Retire peacefully. Start a family. Die, but haunt the dreams of others. Disappear, but leave your journal for another seeker. Betray your kind to join the Suppression Bureau, which prosecutes those criminals whose crimes exist only in dreams.
Why would you do this? Often, because the story's led you to a place that feels like an interesting choice. But also, because it affects future characters. Legacies allow you to leave something behind for another character - a journal, a bequest, an orphan. The Adversary who destroyed you may remain - a threat but also a promise, like a story-driven corpse run. And you may become a Haunting - a shell of your former self, there to torment or assist the new character.
It’s common for Kickstarters to offer (for instance) an alpha-access tier, a beta-access tier, a standard tier and a bunch of extra-in-game-content tiers. On top of that some Kickstarter games do Early Access or some other sort of paid alpha for non-backers.
This is a perfectly decent way to raise a bit of extra cash. Lots of well-run Kickstarters (including Sunless Sea) have done it, and done it well. But it’s also a surprising amount of work – not just the admin of managing separate sets of keys and emails, not just the technical overhead of multiple builds, but also the work of communicating all this to the community. ‘Uh, I bought the early beta version. Does that mean I get the lifetime DLC guarantee? or is that just for Early Access?’
So Cultist Simulator has just one tier: Perpetual Edition. Perpetual Edition means: you buy the game before full launch, you get access to early builds and any and all DLC and expansions free forever.
If I release the game on Steam Early Access or itch.io’s Refinery or GOG’s Games in Development or anywhere else, that’ll also be Perpetual Edition. I’m probably leaving some money on the table by doing this, but I am also leaving a lot of confusion and busywork on the table. And it feels cleaner and more egalitarian.
Martin's digital narrative card game: www.noprophet.com
Catherine's portfolio: www.catherineunger.com
Tom and Sophie's D&D site coming soon: www.clockworkcuckoo.co.uk/inventory
Sarah's portfolio: sarah-gordon.com
30K is a much smaller total than previous Kickstarters I've worked on. Sunless Sea raised 100K, and Sunless Skies [with which I'm not involved! but my old studio is] raised more than three times that.
Cultist Simulator is a game of deliberately modest scope. The main purpose of the funds is to pay my freelancers (and to finance the few physical rewards). Any funding over the target will help make the game better.
But every game I've helmed has been made in the open, and has been better for it. The funding is important, but the active participation of the audience is even more so. I want to make the game. But I need you folks to help me find what you'll love.
And what you'll fear, of course, too. One of those things is stronger.
03/09/2017 - I said above: 'Any funding over the target will help make the game better.' I've spoken to the current backers, and the response was overwhelmingly 'We backed the project, not the possibility of stretch goals. We want the best game possible. Don't do anything that might imperil the project.'
Consequently, I've chosen ultra-low-cost extremely minimal stretch goals only... and a single slightly more ambitious one if we make it all the way to 100K.
Unlocked so far:
Risks and challenges
Pluses: My last Kickstarter (my third) was for Sunless Sea, which won awards and things, and managed an 81% on Metacritic.
I have eight years of game dev experience and almost twenty years experience in tech. I'm being careful about the modest scope of the project. There's already a playable alpha of the game.
Minuses: this is a one-person project. I have freelancers to help, but if I get seriously ill or am hit by a vehicle of significant size, they can't pick it up. This is the biggest risk.
I have two days of work still scheduled with another Kickstarter (https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/joshuameadows/alcyone-the-last-city-interactive-fiction-video-ga). But it's only two days.
It's possible that I may lose freelancers to other work. The thing about working with good people is that they're always in demand. Martin , my UI resource, is launching a game of his own, Nowhere Prophet, so his time on the project may be curtailed. But we're confident there should be enough time in his calendar, and I can always find another UI freelancer.
I also have a smallish child, and occasional bouts of depression. So there may be delays. But I built Fallen London eight years ago with a baby in the house and no money, so the precedents are good.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
- (30 days)