Lost Circus: A Retrospective
Lost Circus is an all ages stealth horror game with a horror-cute aesthetic. We wanted to be able to scare and challenge the player without having any blood or gore, or anything more than cartoon violence.
Killing the monsters wasn’t an option, so avoidance had to be a major part of the game.
We developed two major sensory systems for the game, sound and sight. Monsters would hear sounds and be attracted towards them, and then once they arrived if players or toys were in sight, they would begin their pursuit.
Sound Objects are prefabs that represent the hearing range of any sound. Active toys create Sound Objects on use, while the player has a continuous Sound Object attached to them.
When the player isn’t moving, their Sound Object radius is minimal, but it increases as they sneak, walk and sprint changing the distance that monsters detect them at.
Horror often uses sound as an information source, but players often have trouble recognizing the direction and source of sound effects. Some players cannot hear at all.
Kevin tried to develop VFX for sound that was readable, without drowning out the rest of the gameplay.
In addition to sneaking or running past monsters, the player is aided by lost toys. These toys are set up as Pikman style minions that can be used to distract enemies and solve puzzles.
- Don-Key can open locked doors.
- Automatiger can lure away enemies.
- Naviseal shows the path to the next objective.
- Boxy Bear traps and stuns enemies.
When activated Don-Key seeks out the nearest locked door (all locked doors are tracked by the door tracker). Should it find one in range it creates a sound object then starts to pick the door.
Lockpick progress is showed by an updated VFX.
Kevin designed the VFX to clearly show that a door was being opened and the progress of the door.
If the Don-Key is destroyed before the door is opened progress is not lost.
Lockpicking progress is stored on the door itself.
End Encounter Design
Kevin’s first design for an end encounter involved a race where Don-Key opened up a difficult door and you had to try and distract enemies long enough for Don-Key to finish.
During the trial, additional monsters would race in from off screen while additional toys you could use to distract them fell from the sky.
It wasn’t fun.
If the player knew an optimal strategy it was too easy. If the player didn’t know, it was nearly impossible to complete.
It also didn’t fit with the rest of the game, instead of a slower methodical stealth encounter, you had to constantly throw out distractions.
So we started from scratch.
The New Encounter
The final encounter had to allow stealth as an option. It needed to have multiple objectives. It needed to take existing systems and put a twist on them.
The first new objective was to rescue your friend.
Your friend and the remaining two tickets each were set with an obstacle to overcome.
- A monster car guarded your friend, ready to attack if the lock was picked.
- A sentry stood over one of the tickets, ready to shoot as you approached.
- A Jack-in-the-box ambushed you as you got the third ticket.
The twist for the end level was that you couldn’t freely find toys, you couldn’t grab them from a toybox. You had to steal them.
Two enemies patrolled the outside of the arena, each followed by two kidnapped toys. To get new toys you had to sneak or run up right behind the enemy.