Plead with the Elder Gods: An Odd Chat with Jay Marksman of Potentially Odd Games
As a true spelunker of hidden horror happenings, I am always on the hunt, so I have been aware of Plead with the Elder Gods, and the game that proceeded it for some time now. A while back while scrolling through the depths of the itch.io horror tag I came across a PSX-styled horror title. To be frank, the title of this game had me: Plead with the Mountain God. The eldritch-sounding title was in no way a red herring as this game, albeit short, does contain some fantastic world-building and a dreadfully beautiful ending that gives emotional weight to a game that when boiled down to it’s core mechanics is more akin to an N64 era platformer than a traditional PSX horror title.
Seeing that there was currently a sequel in development, titled Plead with the Elder Gods, I was curious to learn more about the project and the development so far. With my thirst for eldritch knowledge left unsated by the trailer, I hopped on the board and surfed the net trying to learn more about the people responsible for these macabre platformers, and in my search across the endless sea of information, I came across the personal Twitter page for Jay Marksman, one of the leads on the upcoming title.
I asked Jay if they would enlighten me about the deep secrets of the Plead universe that they had begun building. Jay was more than happy to oblige to my request for an interview, and through the magic of the world wide web, we were able to get together to have a conversation about his works, his influences, and his future.
I took a moment to thank Jay again for his time, and proceeded my first question with an observation I had made about his career. For someone who was attempting to market a full game, it was hard to find any work he had done before, aside from the previous short game Plead with the Mountain God, and the upcoming arcade title GhostDusters. So I was curious to learn more about his journey as a game dev that had led him up to this point. And if this was Jay’s first time working on a “full” single player game?
Jay Marksman: “You could say that, yeah. I have a couple of things on the backburner that I haven’t really worked on for years… I have another itch page, which is my personal page, since I work with one other person now”
After linking me to the itch.io for his personal works, we touched on the downfall of one of his previous games And So It Was for a moment. From what I was seeing it looked like a polished game, worthy of being shared on the steam store, but unfortunately in the world of game devs, the proof is not always in the pudding.
JM: “It was actually a commercial game but it was a long time ago, it was on steam at one point but I had to take it down because the company that I had, I had to close it for some unrelated reasons, so I couldn’t keep it up there but it is free on itch now… but also It was a great learning opportunity, I think I started off a bit too big, like most people do (laughs) And I got it done, so it was the first bigger thing that I finished, so it was a good experience even though monetarily speaking it didn’t do much for me.”
Jay had told me that aside from his personal works, he had also been a part of the team at Frozenbyte that handled development for Starbase. Curious as to how the shift from making a solo project to being in a group setting was, I asked Jay if he had any troubles adjusting to the group dynamic?
JM: “In terms of working in a group, I think it helped that I had experience working on a full production by myself… so I kinda knew what everyone else… was doing on a basic level. So it makes it easier to communicate with other people when working”
It seemed as though, at least in Jay’s case, that even when working with others, he still preferred to have a much more hands-on approach with the direction of the games he worked on. I wondered if Jay would ever return to a position with a larger developer, or if he was set on creating games within the indie space for the foreseeable future?
JM: “I am hoping that Plead with the Elder Gods, and maybe if we make some other smaller projects on the side, that we can get some money… enough to continue working, just on a really small scale, in terms of team size, so I really wouldn’t want to go back to working for other people I guess, but there are pros and cons to both, depending on what kind of projects the came around or if… for example if I got an invitation or if people wanted me to work on some game that looked interesting to me, I don’t think I would opposed to that, necessarily, but one of the reasons I quit frozenbyte … was to work on my own stuff as a creative lead, instead of work under the creative lead.”
Thankfully it appears as though his time to rise up the proverbial game development mountain has come, offering himself along with Potentially Odd’s upcoming title Plead with the Elder God, which is now available to wishlist on Steam. But for people who only see the steam page, they may not be aware that this game is a sequel, so I took to some time to address the first game, it’s influences, artistically, and mechanically, and it’s story, I started by asking if the game had been envisioned from day one as a classic PS1-style game?
JM: “From the start it was definitely a ps1 style game because it was part of… haunted ps1 community, so it’s in the name already… you don’t have to make a ps1 style game but most of them are… if your familiar with game jams at all they’re typically 24-48 hours or one week… for me those are way too short and I can’t really work… in that short amount of time, but that jam was a month or so, so there was enough time to do some… designing and polishing, and not just jump into the game in a couple of hours”
If you want a deeper insight into Jay’s creative process, he does make his devlogs publicly available to anyone who wants to see how he works. This isn’t something that is particularly common for indie devs, so I was curious as to why he wanted to make these videos. Was it for other devs like himself, who may be looking for insights or inspiration, or was this for the prospective player, to see all of the work that goes into any game, let alone a 3D adventure platformer?
JM: “It’s a lil bit of both… mostly i tend to like that sort of content myself, i like behind the scenes kind of stuff, and getting inside into what other developers or… artists and moviemakers like that, I like hearing about how their thought process and design process works, so I wanted to do the same thing incase people were interested in how I do things, but if i’m being honest it is also a marketing thing, even though we don’t have many subscribers… I would like to keep on doing it and maybe get some more eyes on our project in a lot of different ways, so one of the ways is just making those kinds of videos and stuff.“
For the sake of those who haven’t played Plead with the Mountain God, I will be light on details, but it is no surprise that the game has a tragic or bittersweet ending depending on how much you explore. I wondered if players who had played the previous game before playing Plead with the Elder Gods would know what to expect, as far as the story was concerned. Or was the sequel going to tread new ground thematically?
JM: “I think it is different enough that people will be story-wise, satisfied and not just think it is the same story but longer. There are other things involved, like other characters, for example, in mountain the only other characters were monks you could basically get some exposition out of if you wanted to listen to what they had to say. but we will have many more npcs in Elden Gods and also a couple of bosses and stuff, because we have combat in that game, and Mountain was only platforming and exploration, so the combat… is tied in with the story. so I guess in that sense there is more of an action element… it’s not the same story, from the start it’s different… Mountain gods starts by bringing a body onto an altar but in Elder Gods was you can see in the trailer and first screenshots on steam there is already a grave there and that’s basically the start of game, so it’s similar, but different setup”
Even from the trailer, it is clear that Plead with the Elder Gods will be building quite a lot on the shoulders of its predecessor. With an expanded world and the introduction of combat, I asked Jay if he was at all afraid of losing the core platforming gameplay amidst the violence?
JM: “In my mind, there is no problem with that… if you think about games like Tomb Raider, the first one, or Soul Reaver, or even Shadowman… there aren’t really that many games in that genre, maybe the 3D Prince of Persia would also fall in that category. But basically it’s mostly half combat and half platforming, but I think we are trying to fit into that mold even though there’s not many games in that genre, as far as I know. I think the modern games like uncharted or the new Tomb Raider… those are a little but too much into the cinematic side of things instead of focused on the exploring and finding things on your own, they are more linear than we want our game to be. In terms of the platforming I think if had to choose between saying which one is the focus, combat or platforming, it’s still the platforming, and one of the reason is that I am not a very good programmer as far as programming combat, so it’s gonna be pretty basic, but we wanted there to be some other challenge other than just climbing. Because the world is so large that if it is only platforming… it’s not a collect-a-thon where there is coins all over the place to lead you, so we want other some challenges in there as well”
With games like Dark Souls and classic Metroidvania games as inspiration, I was left to wonder how much of this game-world would be traversable. I wanted to know if the player should be expected to explore for more than just items, but also for alternate paths?
JM: “in terms of the demo, it might not feel like exploration is that rewarding because we don’t have that many items so basically you find our equivalent of money, which is called petrified heart which is basically (laugh) well, the heart imagery is all over the place in these, both of these two games.. But one of our main design pillars is rewarding exploration, so we really want to make sure that if you think that there might be something there and you find it, then you feel like “that’s really worth finding”… in terms of level design, I mostly did the level design, in Mountain God, it also had a couple of shortcuts, which you didn’t need, but if you wanted to find all of the hearts then you could use those and go back once you get the couple of upgrades that you might need, so we we’re trying to do the same thing but on a larger scale.. Similar to some of the from software games we have a lot of similar level design in terms of you go the long way around then you find a shortcut… so you can explore at your own pace after that”
With so much care being put into the world, it seemed possible that a lot of players with destination-focused mindsets might miss out on a lot of the love and small details that will populate the world. With this in mind, I asked if the developers had put any thought into reigning in people who may have put the blinders on too tight, and missed all of the optional areas?
JM: “one of the ways, and I know all players aren’t going to appreciate or engage with this, are the npcs… for example me as a player, if I play Hollow Knight or Dark Souls… Where there are people, basically we do the same thing, where they are just standing around (laughs)
And when you come back they might be standing or sitting in another place but mostly they are the same as in Mountain God so you can just talk to people and they give information about the world, so that’s one way to give a little bit of direction so they might tell about a place or an item that they saw somewhere but they couldn’t get to it but now because you have the upgrade you realize you can or something like that… that’s one way at least, and the other is that the structure is similar to a metroidvania… you’re free to go anywhere but you can’t go everywhere… a wall that you can’t jump over yet because your jump isn’t high enough… or a wall that you will be able to break later, those are ways that make it feel like you could go there, but you can’t go yet… We’re trying to guide the player into certain directions but there is more freedom than a single route.”
In the previous game, none of the NPC monks were very concise with their words. Will the NPCs in Plead with the Elder gods be a little more helpful to acclimate new players to the larger world, or will their dialogue still have an air of mystery for the player to interpret?
JM: “Most of it is going to be like that, if you don’t pay attention at all it might feel like a lore dump but if you a pay a little bit of attention you might realize that it’s speaking about what you can do as the player… trying to balance that so it doesn’t just feel like speaking to an instruction manual, but gives enough information that it is useful in gameplay as well. But there will be some people who guide you in a more direct way, just to get things going… not necessary like PRESS A TO JUMP (laughs) we’re probably going to have that as well, but that’s going to be non-diegetic so it’s only going to be for just the player, and not in the game world, but on top of that some people might guide you… but not like “straight up, go here, do this, come back” “
With everything I had heard so far, it seemed like Plead with the Elder Gods was going to be a fantastic tale of triumph at a great cost. I asked Jay what compelled him to create the grim stories told in the Plead games?
JM: “In terms of the mood, I think I’ve just always enjoyed, this might sound a little bit weird, but I’ve always enjoyed sad tales for some reason… There have been tragedies ever since ancient times, so there is something people like about them, and I happen to be one of those people and I’m not sure why, but I guess there is something kind of beautiful about being in a completely hopeless situation but seeing a glimmer of hope there as well…”
Excited with all the arcane knowledge that I had acquired about the work being done at Potentially Odd games, and the history of Jay Marksman, I asked one final question about the future of the Plead games. If the second game does well, would he be interested in making a third?
JM: “I’m not sure yet.. We have talked about other games in the series, or like spinoffs, for example there is going to be a character who is kind of this recurring miniboss, so you will fight them a couple of times during the game, and we were thinking that maybe we could make kind of a small prequel [where] you would play as that person, and then there is a completely different setting with the same ideas so we were also thinking about setting a game in something like ancient Egypt, just as an example, we haven’t really figured it out. I would say that after Elden Gods we are probably going to make something a little bit different just because we made the jam game, Mountain God and this is going to take a long time… before this, as a prototype… we were trying to make a Resident Evil slash Silent Hill kind of game as well… so that’s something we might work on after this, but nothing is decided yet.”
I thanked Jay again for his time, and wished the Potentially Odd team the best on their endeavors. Frankly, I am very excited to play Plead with the Elder Gods. I am extremely fond of both the classic and modern influences Jay had listed as being the inspiration for this title, so I will most certainly be picking this game up at launch. As for you, dear reader, if you enjoy the dark themes of gothic horror and the fantastic worlds of eldritch monsters, then this game is a must get, as it aims to deliver these things to you in a 64-bit adventure platforming parcel.
While you grow increasingly mad waiting for the elder gods to grant your wish, you can wishlist Plead with the Elder Gods on Steam, and wait for the release of the demo and the full title, as the steam page says “when the gods will it so” the first title, Plead with the Mountain God is available on itch.io. Be sure to check out the other titles listed on their page and follow Jay on Twitter. Also, be sure to read more about the latest and greatest in ghouly or gory games at DreadXP,