My Therapist Sent Me to Hell To Cure My Dysphoria and All I Got Was This Stupid T-Shirt
They Speak From the Abyss is a dungeon crawler horror RPG. You play as Vanessa, who’s been transported to a strange, hellish dimension known as the Abyss. Your only choice is to explore, meet (and struggle against) its strange denizens, and maybe try to find some meaning in all this suffering, or at least an escape. You’ll find yourself walking through halls of meat moss that squelches beneath your feet and tangled hairballs of… Tendons? Veins? The meticulously detailed creatures, environments, and soundscape makes for a visceral experience from start to finish. When I had the opportunity to talk to Nikki Kalpa, the sole developer behind this little-known gem, I couldn’t pass up the chance to get to know her more and pick her brain about her debut title.
DreadXP: Would you mind introducing yourself?
Nikki Kalpa: Hi I’m Nikki Kalpa AKA TheFifthKalpa on itch and Twitter, I recently made a game called They Speak from the Abyss, the teaser demo is out now!
DXP: Can you tell us a little about yourself, as a person?
Kalpa: Well there’s not much to say about me. I’m trans fem, I grew up in the middle of nowhere Alaska and I really only saw a city whenever I turned 20. Which is interesting, like coming from a small environment that you knew for your entire life and then coming to like a big city is genuinely surprising… And I like to make games, that’s also something!
DXP: How long have you been making games, actually?
Kalpa: Oh I started making really shitty GameMaker games when I was 14 in the old old versions of GameMaker, like GameMaker 6 or 8, and I’ve been making them ever since. I just recently moved to using Unity as my primary engine like two or three years ago.
DXP: So how long have you been making horror games?
Kalpa: Oh, horror games? I’ve been messing with it on and off from the start, like from the early times where I was making really bad Doom maps in GameMake. They weren’t good, they were terrible and I thought they were the scariest thing in my life. (we laugh) I stopped, then for a while I was on the RPG Maker bandwagon. RPG Maker is a great engine. I love it. There’s so many good horror games on it but I was like, no, I want to do the stereotypical JRPG.
I wanted to go full on, like full force, “this is going to be on the scale of Final Fantasy”. Which now, me knowing feature creep as I know it now, [I realize it was] a terrible idea. (laughs) But as for horror games specifically I guess I only really started whenever I joined Haunted PS1. Like back in, I think it was early 2021, I started to work on horror games again.
DXP: Can you tell us more about what They Speak From the Abyss is about?
Kalpa: Well, without giving away too much, it’s about a woman named Vanessa who’s having some issues in her life right now. Those issues kinda manifest when she’s sent to a hellish world called The Abyss by a mysterious figure called Germain. That’s pretty much where most of the game takes place. It’s her confronting different elements of trauma and issues that she’s been facing, literally in monstrous proportions
DXP: How long have you been working on They Speak From the Abyss?
Kalpa: I’ve been working on it for, I want to say about a year now? I started making the early prototypes sometime last year, actually right after I joined Haunted PS1, and that was really cool. I started working on a dungeon crawler and I was like, oh this is cool. What if this was a horror game? What if you just saw scary shit? And just made a bunch of horror sprites and I threw it in and I was like, oh this is kinda cool actually.
DXP: Wow, so it was born from an experiment, right?
Kalpa: Yeah it was more of an experiment and I was talking to another game dev friend of mine, I was talking with her about one of her other games and she was saying “yeah this is kinda like my trans vent project”, and I was like you know what maybe I should have one of those! And then lo and behold after the pieces started flying together I was like, oh wait, oh wait this is it.
[We didn’t go over this during the interview, but I want to note at this point that two of the main characters, Vanessa and Killer, are trans. Vanessa is trans feminine and Killer is trans masculine, and this is important to the themes of the game, even if it isn’t explicitly stated in the demo.]
DXP: So this game is relevant to you as a trans person?
Kalpa: It’s very much an exploration of- So the area you see in the demo is The Flesh Forest and I used it to sort of mirror an issue of hating yourself, hating your own body, hating your own flesh, seeing it as something to be feared. And just kind of expressing that self-loathing in a physical form. And that frustration sort of gave way to the body horror hellscape that the demo is set in.
(At this point the interview is interrupted because Nikki needs to put her cat in another room.)
I lost my train of thought…
DXP: We were talking about flesh forests, monsters, and trans rage.
DXP: I’ve been really curious about this, this is the reason why They Speak From the Abyss was on my radar to begin with: the visuals. What were you thinking about when you were designing the monsters and environments in the demo?
Kalpa: Okay so with the monsters I wanted them to fit with the theme of what the level was, and with the Flesh Forest obviously my first [idea] was I should make a bunch of trees that morph into the silhouettes of bodies and just have that be a representation of feeling yourself becoming part of this self-loathing and self-hatred that is all around you.
As for the environments, I can’t justify a lot of it so it was just stuff that I thought would look cool, I got to be honest.
DXP: Do you have any particular inspirations?
Kalpa: Yeah actually I’ve been really inspired by the work of Junji Ito which I know that’s- I mean you can see it in some of my work. I actually had somebody on stream before say how they were noticing a lot of Ito inspirations and I was like “okay, I guess you’re right huh?” I like how he sort of takes the organic form and twists and mangles it.
DXP: I can totally see that in what you make. It makes me think of the thin monsters in the Flesh Forest?
Kalpa: Yeah they’re very much like, tendons, that you can- You can almost feel it, the warmth from it, the gross- Like I’ve heard a lot of people call my game “wet”. (I laugh) Like it feels very damp and I kinda get it.
I also kinda pulled from classical depictions of Hell and just how it’s depicted as a place of suffering and even like the old Greek Hades, how there are souls piled on top of each other.
DXP: We’re starting to come to the end, is there anything else you want to say?
Kalpa: I do want to say, a lot of people ask me whenever I was developing it, “are you sure that you actually need combat?” I’ve always been a staunch believer that this is a game that requires you to fight because I feel like it’s very reflective of you struggling through a condition. You have to push yourself and fight through your issues and try to come out a stronger person in the end. I want that to be reflected in the game. Like yeah there are a bunch of monsters around you but you have to take the ones that want to help you and use your strength to fight off the ones that wish you harm and become a stronger and better person in the end.
DXP: Why is that important to you to have in the game?
Kalpa: Because I just feel like that’s the message: personal growth. Like that’s the reason why [Vanessa] is there, is to grow as a person and I feel like [leveling up] is a neat little reflection of that.
DXP: What’s your cat’s name?
Kalpa: His name is Puck. My roommate named him after the cat from Re:Zero.
Big thanks to Nikki for taking the time to talk with me about her game! You can follow Nikki Kalpa on Twitter for development updates and play the They Speak From the Abyss teaser demo on itch.io. You can also check out DreadXP for more content about They Speak From the Abyss and other indie horror games.