Lovecraft’s Call of Cthulhu, and the Game Maven Behind it

André Monteiro

André Monteiro

Call of Cthulhu, the official video game adaptation of Chaosium Inc.’s pen & paper RPG of the same name, unveils four new images today from Darkwater Island. It is a frightening place that players will have to explore during their investigation while Cthulhu, the Great Dreamer, prepares its awakening.

In Call of Cthulhu, players will control Edward Pierce, a veteran and private investigator in 1920s Boston. Edward Pierce will be investigating the tragic and mysterious death of Sarah Hawkins and her family in Darkwater Island. Today’s images give you a first glimpse of the locations players will have to visit: from the sinister docks to the manor of the deceased family, Call of Cthulhu offers a dark and oppressive ambiance that shall pay tribute to Howard Phillips Lovecraft’s work and universe. Indeed, this banal investigation might lead you to more sinister forces and darker secrets buried deep within Darkwater Island.

The Cthulhu Mythos has grown to become one of the largest shared universes ever envisioned, delivering birth to countless stories, novels, and even movies ever since the original publication of Howard Phillips Lovecraft’s ‘The Call of Cthulhu.’ This official adaptation of Chaosium Inc.’s pen & paper RPG in video game form will offer an RPG-Investigation title, packed with psychological horror and stealth mechanics.

Call of Cthulhu all started in Janyce Hill’s home in Salinas, California, in 1981. Janyce Hill and her six companions huddled together in a stuffy bedroom, unraveling the mystery of a family turned into rodent-like creatures by a terrible curse.

Back then, Janyce Hill spent her days working at an office supply store. However, on the weekends, she ruled an alternate universe: one filled with terror and villains and magic. She and her companions were playing Call of Cthulhu, a table-top role-playing game, or RPG.

You have probably heard of its predecessor, Dungeons and Dragons. And, if so, you might be thinking of juveniles in a basement rolling dice and battling imaginary foes. Since Dungeons and Dragons first came out in 1973, publishers have released dozens of other games built around the same kind of collaborative adventure. Call of Cthulhu is one of them.

The mechanics are simple: There is no game board — players are in-character, and guided by a referee, in charge of scene-setting and direction. That is where Janyce Hill comes in. She is like this game’s omnipotent God.

That night in Salinas was only the beginning. Each game session Janyce Hill leads is like writing a new chapter of the same story, featuring a cast of characters invented and inhabited by the players. Moreover, the same story is still being played today, thirty-five years later.

On a recent Saturday afternoon in Janyce Hill’s North Oakland dining room, six players sit down to play the next chapter of the story. The table is covered in wax-sealed envelopes, spiral notebooks, many-sided dice and a bag of roasted garlic Kettlechips. The players range in age from their 20s to their 50s, and they are committed. Darling Butterfly, played by a middle-aged man named Edward Holtz, pleads her case to the group.

Call of Cthulhu is based on a short story by classic horror writer Howard Phillips Lovecraft. The game world looks a lot like ours, except it is set in the 1930s. Also, there is much supernatural material going on: Magical and other-worldly creatures interact with people all the time, like the Mi-Go. They are a crustacean-like race of extraterrestrials with a repugnant moral code. Alternatively, the Outsiders, another alien species with a taste for eating and possessing humans.

The storyline gets complicated notable quick. Especially when you think about how, over thirty-five years, there have been more than a hundred different players and thousands of hours of gameplay. Janyce Hill leads four different groups, with five or six players each, that meet every couple weeks.

Janyce Hill says she had no idea that the game she started back in that tiny Salinas bedroom would grow into an epic, world-spanning heroic journey. So exactly how epic is it? There are sixteen bankers boxes in her basement filled with papers, documenting the first fifteen or so years of the games’s history — and that is just the time before her first home computer.

Janyce Hill is unusual, and not just because of the longevity of her game. When she started, women just did not play these games, let alone rule them. But not anymore. Janyce Hill actively recruits women for the game — even leading women-only groups. Moreover, she raised her daughters to love RPGs, too. Her daughter Claire once told her it was the best childhood she could have ever had because she was surrounded by creative people all the time.

The same way her family is part of her gaming life, the people in her games have become part of her family. Now-married couples met around Janyce Hill’s dining room table. Some players spend holidays and birthdays together. They have built relationships around storytelling — just like humans have been doing around campfires for millennia.

Regarding Cyanide Studio, it is an independent and privately held video game studio. Based in Paris, France, it was created in 2000 and has risen to become one of the most productive game development studios in France. In 2007, the company opened a facility in Montreal, Canada with the total team of one hundred. The studio is best known for its Pro Cycling Manager series.

Cyanide Studio also boasts games drawn from a wide variety of universes including Game of Thrones (Action/RPG, 2012) and Of Orcs and Men (Action/RPG, 2012, in collaboration with Spiders).

Chaosium Inc., (kay-OSS-ee-yum) on the other hand, is known for publishing high-quality books and games, and for having a well-developed sense of fun. In 1975, the company was founded as The Chaosium by Greg Stafford, visionary game designer and creator of the world of Glorantha and the Pendragon roleplaying game, among others.

Back in the story, Darling Doctor, Henrik Mueller and the rest of the characters are safe, for now. However, everyone knows the stakes. The next alien incursion is slated to hit at the end of the month, and anything can happen in the quest to keep the world safe.

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