Games

How ‘Carrion’ Built Empathy for Its Fleshy Monster

The best way to understand something, it turns out, is to be it.
August 14, 2020, 12:00pm
A screen shot from the video game Carrion.
Screen shot courtesy of Devolver Digital

In most video games, you are being hunted by grotesque things that linger in the dark, and part of the magic in Carrion is having the roles reversed, with players tossed into the role of the fleshy beast. Equal parts The Blob and The Thing, Carrion is a unique horror experience, where the science experiment gone wrong has been cast into an unexpected new role: hero.

Or maybe not? You might be the main character—and underground scientists trying to hide their work from the public usually means they’re up to no good—but by making players into the “monster,” it reframes the player’s relationship with the world. It feels slightly different to be the one whipping those massive tentacles around the corner. (It feels great.)

While absentmindedly playing the game in front of my daughter after an encounter went horribly wrong, she observed the creature was in pain. It’s this strange tension that prompted me to send a few questions in the direction of Carrion level designer Krzysztof Chomicki, where I asked Chomicki about making Carrion and building empathy with monsters.

Oh, and we also talk about using USB cables to make monster noises?


VICE Games: When I was playing Carrion recently, my four-year-old daughter expressed trauma when the creature was shot up and became tiny. Direct quote: "Where did his legs go, daddy? He looks so sad." And so that got me thinking: how do you build empathy for a "monster?"
Krzysztof Chomicki: That’s some terrible parenting—you should’ve let your four-year-old daughter play the game herself, instead of spoiling it for her. Don’t be surprised if one day you find out she’s used your card to donate $20,000 to Twitch streamers!

As for building empathy for a monster—just make the creature an absolute badass, while portraying the humans as being rather incompetent and somewhat unpleasant to the beast, and you’ll see people start naturally rooting for it. And if you let them actually play as the monster? Now that’s a winning recipe.

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Also, the creature’s simply kind of cute, what with all of its blood-soaked tentacles, eldritch eyes and uncountable mouths, isn’t it?

Do you remember the first monster you were sympathetic to? Why'd you fall for them?
I’m pretty sure it would have to be the Predators. Their imposing looks, impressive weaponry and the surprising twist of them having an elaborate Code of Honor make the Yautja an absolute favorite of mine.

Here I have to point out that the fact that you could play as a Predator in the Alien versus Predator games (I’m talking about the 1999 and 2001 ones) definitely took a major part in making me sympathetic towards the creature, which again answers your previous question—if you want someone to feel empathy for a “monster,” just let them play as one.

An image from the movie Predator.

The "Predator" creature was was of the first monsters the 'Carrion' designer was crawn to.

My favorite part about meeting a new monster is hearing what they sound like. The voice of the creature in Carrion is really distinctive. What was the process of coming up with it like?
We had our dedicated sound designer, Maciej Niedzielski, working exclusively on Carrion throughout the whole development process, so he had a lot of time to perfect the creature’s voice, employing classic horror movie-making techniques. The roars and hisses were mostly a combination of animal sounds Maciej recorded (mainly two dogs and a cockroach), but there was lots of foley involved as well, especially in the monster’s skills and movement department. For example, the SFX of the tentacles the creature uses for traversal was made by cutting the air with a USB cable—probably not the first thing you think of when you hear that sound.

Contrary to popular belief, though, no chickens were used in the making of the monster’s voice.

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Bonus Question: Please tell me your favorite monster voice.
Definitely Godzilla’s contrabass-string-rubbed-with-gloves-soaked-in-pine-tar roar.

Sometimes telling a horror story is about working through something that scares you. Is that true of Carrion at all?
No, not really. Carrion was all about exploring the other point of view, this power fantasy of letting you experience the game as its de facto final boss. It’s a reverse horror game, so its goal is to make the players feel scary instead of scared. This is why Carrion utilizes an overabundance of classic horror tropes and clichés to an almost comedic effect. The idea was to make the experience exhilarating and awesomely disgusting, but absolutely not horrifying to the players themselves, so we deliberately avoided crossing that thin line.

Have you thought about what it would be like to be munched on by the Carrion monster? Talk me through what happens and which part of your body is the first one to go.
Alright, I get it—you’re a vore guy, aren’t you? Carrion is a lighthearted piece of entertainment aimed at the whole family, so I’ll refrain from making any official statements that would put it into the NSFW category. After all, the game’s basically a spiritual successor to Kirby, you know?

Follow Patrick on Twitter. His email is patrick.klepek@vice.com, and available privately on Signal (224-707-1561).