If you’ve followed IndieHangover for any amount of time, you know how big a fan I am of Pathologic. Successfully Kickstarted back in 2014, Russian Developer Ice-Pick Lodge have been steadily working on the complete reimagining of their 2005 surreal survival horror game, and as time has kept marching on, it’s gotten more and more ambitious.
Today, Ice-Pick Lodge are making free to the public their stand alone preview called The Marble Nest.
We had a chance to meet with Ice-Pick Lodge at PAX East and pick their brains about the decision to make this stand alone story as a form of preview:
The Marble Nest, a separate game set parallel to the main story, was previously available only to backers of the Pathologic Kickstarter campaign. The several-hour-long experience is designed to give players an introduction to this strange town, destroyed by an ungodly plague.
I have already played an earlier version of The Marble Nest, having reached out to Ice-Pick Lodge when it first became available to Kickstarter Backers, and can safely say it’s an incredible window into what Pathologic can be. It’ll take you about two hours to play through the story of the Marble Nest, and while it isn’t the most optimized experience (my computer CHUGGED through the game, and there is no way to save your progress, so you’ll need to play it in one sitting), it’s a fantastic mood piece, giving you a marvelous sense of how Pathologic is likely to feel as a full game.
For Ice-Pick Lodge, every game is some investigation. Each time we invent some very strange idea, we have to test it. We implement some unusual game mechanics, and unusual ideas which aren’t always clear to us ourselves. We have to understand if they work or not. Mostly, these are not the ideas about simple game mechanics, which are rather obvious and clear. It’s the more liquid and strange things like atmosphere; what’s it made of and how does it work?
-Nikolay Dybowski, CEO Ice-Pick Lodge
In The Marble Nest, you play as a doctor in a town that has been struck by plague. It’s your task to try and save the town, to try and maintain the quarantines around your makeshift hospital (nicknamed The Marble Nest), and to hopefully identify patient zero of this surreal disease . You’ll have to explore the town, while keeping an eye on your hunger, thirst and health, and interact with the citizens and refugees inhabiting it to gather information, acquire the necessary medicines, and disparately fight Death.
The Marble Nest is, first and foremost, absolutely dripping with surreal atmosphere. The characters you meet and environments you interact with are cryptic and full of weird personality. The town has a thick fog of dread and impending doom draped over every inch of it, and the UI and menu art fits everything perfectly. It’s incredibly engrossing and pulls you right into the experience.
The mechanics of the game are very much bare bones, but all work fine. Exploring the town is a slow process, but that somehow feels appropriate. You’ll be able to interact with certain elements of the town, pick through trash bins and dumpsters for items (as you do in this genre of game, doctor or not), and talk with just about every NPC in the environment, though some are more talkative than others. The dialogue in the game is rich and full of strangeness, and the gorgeous character models are a joy to look at.
Survival feels a bit harsh at times. You’ll not have two much trouble with things at the beginning, but I found myself succumbing to hunger towards the end of my time with the demo, have to scrounge walnuts and beetles from the dumpsters. This is, however, intentional, and the Pathologic/Marble Nest experience is not meant to be an easy one, and the final game will have even more elements of survival to contend with:
” I want the player to feel that he suffers. Like a real man in real life, he has to care for his body, he has to care about his time, and he has to weight his time and his attention to the things that take care of us in real life. So I want [the player] to feel like he live, because your main opponent in this game is Death. As Death is your main opponent, and you are the doctor that fight death, you fight for life, you must feel the harshness of this life, and that life is hard work for you as well”
– Nikolay Dybowski, CEO Ice-Pick Lodge
I was able to to talk with both Ivan Slovtsov, the game’s producer, and Nikolay Dybowski, the CEO of Ice-Pick Lodge at PAX East and was blown away by their absolute fervor and passion for the project. It’s not an unusual thing for independent developers to be incredibly excited and passionate about their project (in fact, it’s kind of necessary to go indie), but the Ice-Pick Lodge team was so thoroughly committed to their vision of Pathologic it was stunning.
I mean, look at their booth:
Yes, that’s a steppe yurt you enter to play the demo, and the picture doesn’t really pick up the number of weird symbols painted on the tent and the charms hanging from the entrance. They had to bring all this to Boston from Russia. (Ivan confirmed that they were held in customs for inspections more than once).
I was particularly struck by my conversation with CEO Nikolay Dybowski about the role of theater in The Marble Nest and Pathologic. It’s clear after playing only minutes of The Marble Nest that there’s a massive role for the concepts of theater in the game, but I had no idea about their background, or how heavily the game’s roots were tied to theater:
“I was raised in theater. My parent were theater directors and sometime I know that to build an emotional thing, you must find and make some strange artisic decisions, atmospheric decisions, sound decisions. The height of the ceiling. The texture of the floor. If the scene should play as you expect it to. [The Marble Nest] is letting us test such things…In the world of Pathologic, there is a very thin wall, a very delicate balance between reality, the logical explination of what is going on, and the surreal. The Space of the stage, proven by centuries of experience, has some very smart solutions of showing things in both ways. When you can implement several ideas is just one gesture, or one person or one thing might appear as both a real man and his soul, or an item can be shown as a living being, performed by a living actor. I like those themes very much, and want the to appear in video games too.”
– Nikolay Dybowski, CEO Ice-Pick Lodge
Being able to meet with Nikolay and Ivan was a fantastic experience. Not only was their passion for Pathologic evident, but it was infectious, and learning more about the concepts that grew Pathologic and The Marble Nest, as well as their background and how it informed the game have certainly increased my understanding and enjoyment of their surreal creations.
You can try The Marble Nest for yourself on Steam now.
Pathologic is still in production, with no ETA at this point, but I will still be waiting eagerly.
Expect video coverage of The Marble Nest soon on IndieHangover’s YouTube Channel.
Want to learn more about the games we saw at PAX East 2017? Check out this page, which lists all the game’s we saw, and we will be updating with links to our coverage as we complete it.