Key art for Conscript

Conscript: Jordan Mochi Talks About the Horrors of War and How it Influenced His Upcoming Survival Horror Title

When it comes to the horrors of war, the survival horror genre has typically kept their hands clean of the human tragedies that lie within. But that is not the case with Conscript, the upcoming survival horror title created by solo dev Jordan Mochi of Catchweight Studio will bring players into the trenches and streets of a battle ravaged Verdun during WWI. Fans of the genre will surely enjoy the tight gameplay or the fantastic atmosphere, and even those who favor history more than horror may be able to find a reason to take a haunting trip back in time. 

Conscript is another game that has been on my radar for quite a while now, so as we neared release for the title I wanted to get to know more about the work that had gone into it. To get in touch, I sent a draft letter to Jordan over Twitter, and I was able to enlist him for an interview shortly after Gamescom 2022, where Conscript was featured on the show floor. After talking with Jordan about the care he put into the title as a history major, and as a fan of the genre, I had gained a new respect for his work, and a rejuvenated excitement for its impending release. 

Right out of the gate I made it clear to Jordan that I didn’t intend to ask him questions about the mechanical aspects of his title, as a cursory glance online will net you dozens of interviews all centered around the gameplay aspects of Conscript. I intended to discuss the historical aspects of the project, and the work that went into that side of things.

Jordan Mochi: Oh thank God, thank god. Yeah, I just came back from Gamescom where like, all day, every day, I was just repeating the same script.

My first question regarding the historical elements of the title was the choice to cover WWI. More specifically, I asked Jordan if it was always his plan for this title to take place during a war, or was that something he had settled on during development?

JM: Let me think, let me think, it’s been so long. So I first started this about five years ago. And the initial kind of vision I had from the get-go was history-based survival horror, or history-based horror. And for the longest time, I hadn’t really settled on a WWI theme, to be honest. I know you said you played some demos, but I don’t know if you’ve played this far back, did you ever play project Abel? That’s like for the OG fans from back from 2017. But that was my first kind of concept. I guess you’d call it a prototype at that point. Although at the time, I thought it was like the coolest thing ever. Looking back, it was a piece of shit. But that’s besides the point. That was my first kind of concept demo prototype. 

And basically, that game, the idea behind that game was like, you would be transported to different periods of history throughout the game. So it’d be like, it’d be a survival horror game where you have your kind of your hub world, and then you would shoot off into different historical periods. And long story short, that’s just too large of a scope for my first project, so I had to decide on the historical period, because you can’t just create all the assets for five different historical periods and all that kind of stuff. So I settled on WWI because to be honest, that was just my favorite, favorite is the wrong word, you know what I mean, the period that I was most interested in, I guess you could say. Because, yeah, it was just so horrific by nature and just seemed like a good fit. And also, because no one had really done it before. If I was gonna go straight into WWII, like, there’s a billion WWII games, it just kind of seemed right.

Hearing about how much emphasis Jordan was putting on historical accuracy, I was curious as to what he used as the inspirational foundation for the sights and sounds of the warfront, knowing that it is meant to embody the spirit of the survival horror genre, and seeing as there is a lack of real time combat footage from WWI in HD. So I asked him if there were any specific pieces of media that helped inform the way he designed the sounds and visuals while he was working on Conscript?

JM: I want to touch on your first point about historical accuracy. This is something that I’ve been thinking about. I guess my motto is kind of like, ‘you can bend the rules a bit, but you can’t break them’. So like, I’m not going to do something absolutely ridiculous. Like, I don’t know, what’s an example, I can’t even think of one. I’m not gonna go crazy with the historical inaccuracies. But if it serves the greater purpose of the gameplay and the mechanics, then I will kind of bend the rules a bit. Like, someone even mentioned a few days ago, some history nerd like myself, that some of the uniforms of the characters are inaccurate, because the French army basically swapped the uniform every year. Like they went from red to blue, and then to another version of blue, basically every year of the war. And so, my game takes place during 1916, and some of the characters I’ve decided to have them wear, you know, the 1914 variation. And it kills me to knowingly have historical inaccuracies as a history major, but sometimes you have to make concessions for the gameplay, and I want all my NPCs to look different, so they can easily be recognizable, you know what I mean? Especially because the style’s kind of low resolution. So yeah, that’s just one thing I wanted to touch on. But what was the other? I’ve already rambled? What was the other?

I reiterated the second half of my question, asking if there was any media that helped inform the way he designed the sights and sounds for Conscript. 

JM: I mean, the basic kind of surface level answers, I guess, are like the Silent Hills and the Resident Evils when it comes to sound design and gameplay. I’m trying to think, what else? I mean, everything is informed, not just by media, but by history. Like, I do my research and actually just came back from Verdun after Gamescom. I actually went down to Verdun for the first time and took a bunch of photos, got some sounds and even mapped out some areas in real life to try and make them more historically accurate. I’m trying to think if, I’m actually, believe it or not, not the biggest consumer of history movies, I play a lot of history based games, I guess, but I’m not really a big movie watcher in general. I’m not like the biggest, what’s the word cinephile? I kind of just watched the surface level basic things. I love 1917 and all those movies, but I’m not someone who like, really gets into it, I guess.

Staying on the topic of the sound design, I followed up by asking Jordan if he took extra care to ensure the weapon sounds were realistic to the era, or was he more concerned with making weapons that affected the player when fired?

JM: Yes and no. I mean, I would kind of do a quick YouTube search of the weapon being fired just to get a basic understanding of what it would sound like and how punchy it was. But everything’s informed from a gameplay perspective. Like, you want the shotgun to blow the players fucking off their seats, you know what I mean? You want the shotgun to be the most punchy sounding gun. So basically, what I would do in terms of making the shotgun sound would be to literally just get like, I think three or four of the most punchiest sounding shots that I could find and then I just combined them into one sound. And that’s kind of just a general secret to good sound design, in general. 

Go to your sound library or wherever you get your sounds from, don’t just select one sound and put it in the game, pick like three and literally just overlay them on top of each other. And that gives it like three times the amount of oomph so that’s what I did for the weapons that I needed to sound really kind of powerful. Obviously, if you’ve got a pistol or something like that, you don’t want it to sound as satisfying as a shotgun, because it’s a pistol, and it’s not as powerful as a shotgun. So you want to kind of demonstrate how powerful the gun is through the sound as well. So the pistol would be a little bit more pathetic sounding, but um, you don’t want it to be too pathetic. I know, some games really dropped the ball in this department where like, the guns that sound like they’re shooting peas or something, you know what I mean?

Moving from general sound design to music, I am always curious as to how indie developers meet their composers, as not all of them can be like Jasper Byrne, and juggle a life of making music and games. Wanting to learn about the music being made for Conscript, I asked Jordan how he came to work with Sonny Igusti for the soundtrack, and what it was like to bring him onto the team?

JM: So this is the story, I guess I’ve never really told it before. But for the longest time I was really kind of struggling with finding a musician… Actually the early demos had some, I wouldn’t even call it music, I’d just call it like, ambience that was made by me. And it was okay, it’s just one of those things that I’m not that good at, I can play music, but just not it’s just not my strength. In development, you really have to play to your strengths, you have to kind of admit, when your time is best served somewhere else? And so yeah, for the longest time I was kind of trying to find the right musician. And to be honest, when you’re a developer, musicians are the most, how do I say this? Well, it’s kind of oversaturated, like, you’ll get a lot of emails weekly from musicians who want to work with you, it’s just kind of the way it goes. Musicians and localization companies, they’re the two that you get the most emails from. And, you know, it’s not that their work was bad or anything like that. It’s just that I’m so protective of my project. And for me, to bring someone on board who’s going to do such an important part of the project, I need to trust them, you know what I mean? I really need to trust them. And I need them to see my vision as much as I see it. And that’s kind of hard to find in this [pandemic induced] online zoom environment, where you don’t really know someone, if that makes sense. Like, it’s hard to understand someone’s vibe over zoom, it’s something where you have to meet in person, I feel.

So anyway, I was struggling for a bit with that. How do I advance the story? Long story short, I train jiu jitsu. I’ve been training jiu jitsu and martial arts my whole life basically. And one of my good training partners at the gym, Sonny, I’ve been training with him for quite a few years. And you know, he’s a musician, and I just didn’t really ever put the pieces together. And one day he just asked like, “what are you doing for the music, with Conscript?” And I was like, “I haven’t really found anyone yet.” And he’s like, “you know, if you want me to put something together for you, you know, we can work that out.” And I knew instantly that he would be the right choice, because I know his mentality. I know he has the same kind of mentality as me where he’s not afraid of criticism. And if something’s not right the first time, you know, he will get it right, no matter how many times it takes. And he’s passionate about the project, just as I am, and it’s kind of like a perfect match. 

And so yeah, ever since then, he’s been absolutely killing it. And, you know, at first it was hard, because he’s never done a games gig before. It was his first games project. And not only that, but the brief that I gave him was quite varied. Like, if you think about the soundtrack of not just Conscript, but a lot of other games, maybe a lot of other survival horror games, you have some songs that are melodic, like, say the save room themes are kind of their own genre in a way, then you have more intense combat themes, then you also have like, ambience, it was just a very varied brief, which made it hard for him. But he’s been doing really well, as you can hear from the demo.

It was very cool to hear how organically the two came together for the project. As a follow up I asked how long Sonny had been attached to the project?

JM: Um, I think it’s been, it’s been a year now. Because the first kind of work that he did was the, for the trailer, my 2021 Gamescom trailer, which was shown on IGN. That was his first kind of big thing that he did for the project. And yeah, he smashed it. And that was shown in front of like, tens of thousands of people. So that was cool when they liked it. So yeah, about a year now.

Moving back from the topic of sound design to the topic of historical accuracy, I asked Jordan if he could tell me, on a scale of historical accuracy, if 1 is Valkyria Chronicles, and 10 is the game Verdun, where you will be shot by your commander if you break flank or desert, where does Conscript rank 1 to 10?

JM: I don’t know, honestly, about a seven or an eight, I would say. Because like I said, I’ve just came back from Verdun, the game is very thoroughly researched in most things that it does, it’s just in the little things that I’ll kind of break the rules. You know, like the uniform thing that I spoke about, and also, putting an American shotgun in which, theoretically, probably wasn’t in Verdun. But it’s a survival horror game, and I need a pump action shotgun. It’s like the unspoken survival horror rule that you just need a good pump action shotgun. So I was thinking, How do I put this in and make it seem kind of accurate, and my solution to that problem was just to put the corpse of an American volunteer next to the shotgun, and so if anyone questions that, it’s like, that’s why it was there. And you know, that might have happened, maybe? Probably not, but it’s possible, I guess. So when I do bend the rules a bit, I will try and make it make sense. And also like, there’s a fucking merchant that sells you stuff. So I do lean into the campy nature of Resident Evil a little bit, but overall I would say it’s fairly, not accurate, per se, but it’s very well researched, I will say that.

As we spoke, I took a moment to reminisce on the many times I had shared his game on twitter with a caption along the lines of “I don’t like the art style for this game, but I am buying it on launch because it is mechanically outstanding”

JM: I one hundred percent understand that. Even for me it’s not my dream art style, it’s more a compromise that I had to make because I’m a one man team and it’s my first game. But trust me, when I look into the future, and I see this as a franchise and I see, you know, Conscript 2, 3, spin offs, which I do, I do see that for the future. All those games will be what you’d expect the logical evolution to be, you know what I mean? Like third person, or even first person, you know. So, yeah, I understand.

I commented that it wouldn’t be the first time a series had taken a drastic visual shift, a lot of people don’t remember that Duke Nukem started as a colorful Platformer on MS DOS

JM: I didn’t even know that.

It is true, dear reader, the first Duke Nukem was a platformer years before he was tipping strippers and shooting pigs. Similarly, in terms of massive perspective shifts, the first Wolfenstein was a top down stealth game.

JM: Is that true? Oh, shit, I didn’t even know this.

Bringing things back to the topic of Conscript, I brought up something Jordan had said when speaking with Played.com.au, he said “there’s nothing more terrifying than what humans are capable to doing to other humans” And that is extremely true, with this in mind, I asked Jordan if he did any research on the actual atrocities committed during WWI, or was there a desire to detach the game from the harsh and often unglamorous realities of war?

JM: I mean, everything is, like I said, informed by history. I mean, soldiers would go on trench raids with spike clubs, you know, they would kill each other. The Germans and the French at this point were gassing each other with poisonous gasses. This is where flamethrowers were introduced for one of the first times, spoiler alert, that will also happen in Conscript, not in the demo, but in the full game. All of these things happened, and that’s kind of the whole mission of the game is to illustrate to people that this kind of stuff is a lot scarier than, like, I don’t know, a zombie, like it just is.

And I get a lot of, not a lot, but I have had complaints from people in the fan base saying that… “it’s not survival horror because there’s no creatures”… I just can’t really understand that because that’s just your definition of survival horror. Like, to me survival horror is defined by gameplay mechanics. It’s not really anything to do with the themes or whether or not the enemies are creatures or not, like that doesn’t have anything to do with it. That’s just my opinion… Because then I was thinking, “Okay, is Doom a survival horror game because it has creatures.” It’s like, no, the creatures have nothing to do with it. That always kind of irritates me…

Can we all just admit that survival horror doesn’t even have a definition? Like, it doesn’t have a Bible, you know what I mean? Just look at the Resident Evil games, you know, all those games are so varied. But yet, I guess they’re all technically survival horror games. I don’t know, it’s confusing and a lot of gray area. So it’s like, if someone wants to gatekeep what it is. It just doesn’t make much sense to me.

I was glad that Jordan had touched on the reception from the community, as I had intended to as him if he felt like calling it a survival horror game without having any typical spooky monsters or the like, would leave a bad impression with hardcore fans of the genre?

JM: To be honest, it’s not even 50/50, It’s a minority that complain, but most people that understand what I’m trying to do with the whole historical theme and illustrating the horrors of war, you know, even at Gamescom people were saying, like, “No, this is the right choice, this is different as well, it has a purpose.” Like I said, I’m trying to illustrate something with this. I’m not trying to just do it for no reason, I’m trying to illustrate what actually happened, so that’s why I’m doing it.

Touching back on something Jordan had said earlier, about turning Conscript into a franchise, I asked Jordan if he had any intentions on moving on to another war for the next title, and on that note, what he thought was the most recent war he would be able to cover while maintaining the style and tone of Conscript?

JM: That’s a good question. Well, first of all, I definitely want to be working on this for the rest of my life. And like, in 10 years time, I want this to be a franchise up there with the big dogs, you know? I want this to be a mainstay survival horror game, because I really do believe with my whole heart that this has so much potential. I know that, and I wouldn’t have been able to work on it for this long and have stayed motivated if I didn’t think that, you know. But my logical plan, you know, when I look into the future, I think it just makes sense to go to the second world war after the first game. But, you know, we’ll see what happens. It’s hard to say at this point, but we’ll see. Maybe I’ll finish the first game and go “aw fuck I never want do game development again, that was awful”, and just never do it again. I don’t know, I don’t think that’ll happen…

And a third game, you know, could be Vietnam. I think Vietnam is doable. The statute of limitations of like, what you can and can’t cover, you can definitely cover Vietnam, enough time’s past. Even I was thinking like, there’s just so much potential, like the American Civil War would be interesting. The American Revolution would be interesting. Like, there’s so many different wars that just, you know, have so much potential to be explored. But yeah, I don’t think I see anything past Vietnam, I think that’s still got red tape all over it to be honest…

This may be considered spoilers, I guess, but another one of my design philosophies for Conscript is that I want there to be a lot of moral gray area. And like, I don’t make it obvious throughout the game that you’re fighting just humans, but by the end of the game, it is made painfully obvious that you have just been fighting other humans. And that kind of leaves a lot of moral gray area, especially considering the first world war was very morally gray. I suppose the second was a little less morally gray, but for a lot of these wars afterwards. If I’m going to try and tackle them, It’s gonna be a lot of controversy if you leave things morally gray… We’ll see what happens. Right now, I’m just gonna focus on WWI where everyone can accept that it was morally gray, and that’s like a universal opinion.

I told Jordan that I was very glad to hear that he had buckled up for the long haul when it came to making survival horror games, as many developers have experienced a burnout of sorts and bounced off of a genre completely after spending half a decade working on one title.

JM: I get that it’s such a big investment, such a big time investment, I can completely understand that. But I feel like when you’ve got momentum, like if I was to release this, and have it be successful and worth my time, which I do think it will be, then I’ve got momentum. It would be kind of stupid to not capitalize on that. At least until I can, until the wheels completely fall off, and I crash. That’s how I look at things.

With that I had exhausted all of the questions I had prepared for the interview, but before I ended things, I wanted to open the floor up to Jordan in case there was anything I had neglected to talk about during the interview that he would like to mention.

JM: I mean, I covered a lot, this was actually a fairly philosophical interview in some ways, which was cool. But um, I guess just the basic things like, I’ve got a new demo out of steam, which I just released [at the time of the interview] so just give it a play. It’s definitely the most polished slice of gameplay, and you’d probably agree if you’ve played the previous ones. I feel like this is the closest I’ve been able to get to the visions that I had when I first started. Whereas the first few demos, I was still feeling my way through game development and still figuring things out. So I feel like this demo is really good. It’s a really good indication of the full game, and I’m really proud of it. So yeah, give that a play. If you like survival horror or history, you’ll love it.

Wrapping up the call with Jordan I thanked him again for his time, and for what must have been the sixth or seventh time, told him how excited I was to get my hands on Conscript when it launched in the near future.

If you want to know when Conscript deploys then be sure to wishlist the title on Steam, and if you want to keep tabs on Jordan and his game then be sure to visit his personal Twitter page and the website for Conscript and Catchweight Studio.

And as always, if you are fiending for more gossip on the latest and greatest in gruesome, ghoulish gaming, then head back to DreadXP and read more of our frightful features!