The Hell-Bound Heartworm: Vincent Adinolfi Opens up About His Upcoming Title
The Haunted PS1 community and their demo disk collections have helped to bring many low-poly horror titles out of the dark and into the public spotlight. One title that caught my eye was Vincent Adinolfi’s Heartworm, a short, albeit tense experience from the first demo disk that sees a young woman navigating a suburban area to learn more about the strange happenings in her life. While the demo itself does not offer much, the entire experience lasting less than 15 minutes, it does set the tone well and illustrates Vincent’s familiarity with the genre and the style of classic survival horror games.
Earlier this month Vincent had released the teaser trailer for Heartworm, and announced that another demo would be coming soon to feature the new mechanics and enemies that Vincent has been working on behind the scenes. After watching the teaser multiple times I had to know more, the game shown was so wildly different from the original demo that I had to know what changes, imperceptible to anyone outside of the dev team, had been made.
I tracked down Vincent and requested an interview by slipping a VHS cassette into his mail slot. Thankfully, we managed to find a time to get together before he took a trip out of town, and using the magic of the world-wide-web we were able to get together to talk about the project, its development, and how he uses game development to help him deal with his own problems.
While looking into the game again to prepare for the interview, I had seen that Vincent had listed the game as “Suburban Horror.” I was unfamiliar with this genre, so I started the interview by asking Vincent if he could elaborate on the meaning of Suburban Horror, and also if he could recommend any titles in the genre?
Vincent Adonilfi: I feel like I’ve kind of, I definitely didn’t coin the term, but like, I haven’t seen it used a lot. I was trying to find a way to describe my game, like elevator pitch style. The things I think of are like Donnie Darko, which maybe people would argue it’s not quite Horror, or the original Halloween, that kind of unease within suburbia, It follows, [movies] like that. There’s something about that setting that resonates with me, and that I feel like can be super creepy. But also super familiar, and therefore more creepy. So, yeah, I know that those are pretty big ones. I can’t think of any more at the top of my head that I would recommend.
Oh. As far as games go, I don’t even know, I guess like Silent Hill, like Silent Hill has a kind of more urban feel to it. It’s a small town, but it’s all apartment buildings, industrial areas, hospitals and schools. And I want something that like, feels more like it’s literally in your backyard.
Aside from the suburban decor of the title Heartworm makes it very clear from the jump that this game is going to be tackling themes of mental illness and trauma, as well as how they affect someone’s ability to recollect past events. Making sure to ask beforehand if he was comfortable discussing these themes and how they relate to his personal life, I posed my question: Was any of the writing in Heartworm auto-biographical, in the sense that the game is a way for Vincent to work through these things?
Vincent Adinolfi: That’s a good question. Yeah, I do basically struggle with all of the things that I put into that initial demo there, and I feel like all of the creative endeavors that I undertake are ways to try and deal with those things. So I guess it is autobiographical in that sense, but I don’t know. Like, I did, kind of, from the jump sought out to use this as a platform to express my feelings from dealing with that stuff. But I’ve kind of toned it down since the Haunted PS1 demo that you played. Just because, I don’t know, I kept finding myself struggling between, like, I didn’t want to come off as pandering or insincere and like… My struggle with mental illness is my struggle, right? And other people’s struggle may be different. I’ve seen how games handle it poorly. And I was like, so afraid of getting into that territory. So I’ve kind of made it less general over time and more specific, in some ways, but also more general in others… I realized that made absolutely no sense as I was saying it.
Disregarding the thematic elements of the title, the story is very light in both the HPS1 feature and the teaser trailer for the upcoming demo, curious to learn more, I asked Vincent directly how much would he feel comfortable sharing about the world and story of Heartworm?
VA: That’s a great question too. I feel like I’ve been kind of, I don’t want to say “secretive”. When I first put that demo out, it was really kind of about getting the atmosphere right. I knew what kind of game I wanted to make from a gameplay perspective and obviously, like, survival horror, fixed cameras, all that stuff. And then I had this setting in my head, this like haunted-ish suburbia, but like, I guess kind of liminal in a way, I wanted to get that in there with some surreal elements. And I didn’t have a solid narrative in place at the time. And again, like as time has gone on, I kind of have avoided putting together a traditional narrative, I guess. So it’s kind of like, the best way I’ve been able to describe it is, I really liked games in the past that didn’t, I guess, like, hold the player’s hand in terms of explaining the narrative. So very loosely, I will give my brief here, which is: Sam, the main character, is a young photographer struggling to come to terms with the deaths of those close to her. She reads an online message board, and stumbles upon a post about a house that supposedly can reconnect you with the ones that you’ve lost. And that is all of the exposition that is given in the beginning. And I don’t want to give too much more away about where that goes.
As a follow up I asked him, in the sense that every Silent Hill game has an ending that’s just like, “they made the whole thing up, bro.” if the world of Heartworm was physical like the world of Resident Evil, or more incorporeal like SIlent Hill?
VA: Yeah. (laughs) Yeah. It’s definitely probably, well, I guess it depends on, like… No, it’s (Vincent pauses to think for a moment) okay, It’s definitely more a Silent Hill than a Resident Evil in that regard. But it’s like, I’m not really trying to… I’m trying to stay a little further away from the Silent Hill style stuff… Obviously, I’m inspired, obviously, it’s a huge part of my gaming history. Like, I’m a huge fan. Lots of people are huge fans. But I want to make it maybe somewhere in the middle, if that makes sense. So like, leave open to interpretation, but also leave the possibility for some grounding in reality.
While the game does take a lot from Resident Evil and Silent HIll, the first thing players will notice is the distinctly low-poly look the game is going for. And while it does a lot to honor the games that inspired it, I wanted to know how concerned Vincent was with emulating the technical limitations of the PSX, or if his choice was one purely made for aesthetic reasons?
VA: …So I always wanted to make a game and I’ve, you know, I’ve dabbled with this for a while, and this is my first foray. But I was always super turned off because I was like,” Ah, how am I going to make a game If I have to make it look Good?” I’m a pretty antisocial person, so I don’t want to work with people. I don’t want to be on the team and I want to do what I want to do. But I can’t make high-poly, sculpted, realistic, you know, models, for everything I want in my game, that’s never gonna happen. And then I saw Puppet Combo. And I was like, “Oh, shit”, I was like, “people do this, like, you can just make a game that doesn’t look like it’s from this decade. And people like it?”… Me, I break a lot of the rules of the style. Or, I guess I should say, like, the traditional [style], people are like, “Oh, the texture is too high resolution” or, you know.
Being a stickler for the classic style myself, I let Vincent know that for me, it was how crisp the fog looked that made it obvious that this was never meant to run like a PSX title.
VA: Right? Yeah, exactly. Like, it’s more for me. It’s just about the vibe. I would call it a PS 1.5 game. It’s somewhere between PS2 and PS1, you know? I just feel like it’s a development tool. And also it kind of hits the nostalgia point that I’m going for.
On the topic of the crunchy graphics of PSX games, and they leave so much to the imagination, I asked, purely for personal curiosity, if the “requisite creepy painting” in the house was a painting of Ophelia?
VA: Um, oh shit, I don’t remember (laughs). It’s been so long since, it probably was, just because I like that painting, and I like everything, I like the name Ophelia. I like the interpretation of Ophelia. It probably was, I’m going to have to go back and look, because I totally don’t remember what I picked for that one. But that’s on me.
Moving beyond the demo and onto the upcoming release, there is quite a lot shown in the teaser trailer, so much so that I told him it seemed as though it was an entirely different game. With this in mind, I asked Vincent what he was most excited for people to see in the new demo and final release?
VA: Yeah, that is awesome to hear. Because I feel like it has become a totally different game. And I was worried that, I don’t know, that it wouldn’t come across well, in [the HPS1 demo]. But there’s a lot of stuff that’s different. I mean, I kept, like, some setting, and set peace stuff from the original demo, but I wanted to just push it… and like you said, I mean, the content was kind of not there in the original demo. So that’s something I’ve been working on. It’s like, it’s hard to tell this non-traditional or nonlinear narrative, and fit in all of the expected mechanics that I want to fit in. Like, there are puzzles, which, there were pretty simple puzzles in the [HPS1 demo] But I’ve kind of tried to evolve the puzzles. There’s actual proper inventory and inventory management which was non-existent. I have controller support now, there’s combat.
I guess there’s some people who would argue that like Resident Evil and Silent HIll had bad combat, but to me, like, Resident Evil had better combat than Silent Hill did, in my opinion. And I’m probably leaning towards the worst side of combat. It’s probably not going to be why people play this game if that is the choice that they make, you know, But I think it’s cool. And I’m glad it’s there. Because like, that was just not there in the demo. And it’s something I wanted. I mean, those are like the pillars of the genre. To me, it’s like puzzles, atmosphere. item management and combat. I think all of those have been expanded at this point, as well as just like, settings and, like set pieces and more, I’ve been building up those for the past two or so years that I’ve been making progress here.
On the topic of the “pillars of the genre” mentioned before, I bluntly asked if the item management was something to remind us of the games that inspired Heartworm or will the player ever find themselves truly worrying about how to use their supplies?
VA: Um, I do, like, it’s hard to say right now, because I don’t have that, like, I’m focused on this updated demo. A part of the final game, but like, a slice of it. My plan is that for the full release, I want that feeling.,.. when I used to play Resident Evil when I was younger, I was so nervous that I was going to run out of bullets. And I just remember, like the feeling of dread… my experience playing that. Just like knowing that your resources are unlimited, I feel like it just adds another level of tension. And I want to have that be a thing. I mean, right now, resources are limited. And I think you do have to use them. So I think I’m close to that. It’s probably not where I want it to be yet, but my goal is to get it there.
Aside from the combat mechanics, the new teaser features several different monsters. The trailer makes it abundantly clear that the scary static stalker and it’s red counterpart will be the primary enemy for the title, but I wanted to know if the other enemies shown, specifically the spider, the hooded man on the staircase, and the golem at the end of the trailer would be recurring enemies or if those were bosses to be encountered once before moving on to the next zone?
VA: So yeah, the static monsters, those are kind of like common Resident Evil zombies, so to speak, although they do have, like you said, there are variants, so they kind of each have a different kind of profile as to how they approach the player and how the player interacts with them. The spider, the cloaked figure and the larger dude, at the end, they are bosses, but you see them, It’s not like a Mr. X type deal. Like, you’re not going to see him that often. But you run into them in non-hostile encounters, I guess is what I’ll say.
I followed up by asking Vincent if he would compare it to the T-rex from Dino Crisis?
VA: Yeah, it’s like, that’s a pretty good way to put it. It’s, I guess, in this sense, I feel like in my case, it’s more foreboding than scary moments that they pop up. Like, when I think of the T-Rex, he busts through the window and you’re like, “oh, shit”, like, and they don’t really… (Vincent pauses for a moment) you know what? It might be more like the T Rex. I was thinking It’s less abrupt. But there are actually a couple of moments where you probably don’t expect it’s gonna happen. So it’s hard, I just feel like I know everything that is happening. So it’s hard for me to think about it from the player’s perspective sometimes now.
Outside of the game itself, I was curious about the public reception of the title, as Vincent had shared to his twitter page some of the less-than-stellar opinions people had about his title. I asked him if this was a constant he had been dealing with since the launch of the original demo?
VA: No, I’m just like, I’m just a generally pretty sensitive person. I mean, like realistically, I know that people just say whatever the fuck they want online, and they don’t feel the consequences of it. But like, it’s just like… anyone who puts any creative effort into anything, like they’ll get, you know, like 50 people saying, “Awesome, that’s great”. And then you get one person who’s like, “actually, I think this sucks”. I fixate on that one person. “Why do they think it sucks?” And like, 90% of the time, it’s just because they suck, you know? Or they just weren’t interested or like, it just doesn’t matter. But, I just fixated on those. I haven’t had a lot… I think generally people have been supportive. I just remember, there were like, a few streamers. And they’re followers. I feel like there’s this trend of people who play games, but like, they just like… to make fun of them. And that is maybe the one that irks me the most and has just followed me. Like, every time I watch a playthrough from my old demo, and I see someone who starts to go down that path. I just immediately close it down. I’m like, “Okay, I don’t need to I’m not interested in this at all.”
I could not remember the exact quote, but this seemed to mirror the sentiment that the critic has the easier job than the artist.
VA: You know, like, I don’t want to say it. But yeah, I think you’re right.
I brought up the constant comparisons he had received to similar titles, and asked about the frustration of having people compare his game to others based solely on an aesthetic choice? I likened it to comparing Jacob’s Ladder to Friday the 13th because they both have characters with “J names”
VA: Yeah, I guess the comparisons that people draw, at first, I was like, “Oh, this is kind of cool”. And then I was just like, just the first thing you think of, you’re like, “Oh, this is like that”. No, it’s just that was just the first thing you thought of, like, it doesn’t mean they’re similar. It just means that that’s what your synapses fired on. It’s not like Babysitter Bloodbath. I don’t know. I love Babysitter Bloodbath. That’s the game that made me think I can make a game… I worry about that a lot. But ultimately, I know, I’m just gonna make what I’m gonna make. And I hope it’ll find the audience. I think it will. But it does kind of irk me when these people make ridiculous connections to things like saying it’s like, I don’t know. Like the character, [they say] the character looks like Tomb Raider. It’s like, she doesn’t look like Tomb Raider. She’s just a woman, you know, like, she has boobs. What other connection could be made?
I had a chuckle to myself and commented “News Flash, buster: Lots of woman wore black tees and shorts in the 90’s”
VA: Yeah, (laughs) like Yeah, that one gets me.
On the topic of things I had read on his Twitter page, I had to make note of a particular string of tweets where Vincent lamented his inability to end the Resident Evil and Silent Hill series before they ruined themselves. Curious as to which he believed had a brighter future, I asked him: If he could stop one series from ever putting out another entry, would it be Resident Evil, or Silent Hill?
VA: Oh, that’s a really tough one… so in this hypothetical, with one we’ll never have anything come from it ever again, and we can rest assured, with the other one there’s still the possibility, is that it? Ah gosh, probably, if we’re saying what I want, I feel like my instinct is to say Resident Evil I would be totally happy if they never made another Resident Evil game ever again. Like I think they’ve far overstayed its welcome… They’re good. But they’re just, I don’t know, to me, they’re not Resident Evil games anymore. Maybe that’s just like my, you know, the nostalgia tinged memory… I liked the older games too much. And I wish they were like that. And obviously they’re not going to be, because time moves forward and people move on. But I mean, I played Resident Evil: Village, it was good, I liked it. It felt like a, I don’t know, it felt like a first person shooter. It’s not to me, that’s not what they are. And as much as I know that, like nothing good will ever come from the Silent Hill franchise. If I had to give one the opportunity to redeem itself, I would give it to Silent Hill because, I mean, I don’t even need to say this, but like Hideo Kojima could have done it, would have been good. I don’t even need to play it. I know it would have been good. But if I’m killing one to give the other one a chance I’m killing Resident Evil to give Silent Hill a last chance.
I added that I felt his pain, as much as I loved Resident Evil, it was odd how they were retconning things from 60 years back to introduce new villains in Village.
VA: I totally agree… I felt that, like, they’ve continuously done that kind of retcon, throughout the series. They’re like, “Oh, we just thought of this way to make this story fit into the”, you know, the master storyline and like, “yeah, see, William Birkin. He was hanging out with, you know, like, whoever” Okay, I get it. We’ve got to tie it in. But at what point are we going to be like, this isn’t a Resident Evil game anymore? And again, totally enjoyed it. Thought that seven and eight were great games. Super fun. But it’s not [Resident Evil]
On the topic of Silent Hill, I had a laugh when I saw that Vincent had purchased the URL Silent-hills.com and made it redirect to his page, out of curiosity, I asked if he had been keeping track of the traffic, and if it had helped send people to his webpage?
VA: You know, if I was a more marketing centric person, I probably would have done that. I probably have it somewhere in my domain back end. But I gotta give a little bit of credit to the New Blood guys just, like, totally, I was like, “Oh, I’ll use that. Yeah, hell yeah.” And then I saw it was for sale. And I was like, “fuck it. I’ll buy this.” Like, “that’s fine”.
On that topic, making a joke about another string of tweets he had sent out, I jokingly asked if the reason he did not move forward with Boobs Fog Camera as a title was because he already had the domain for Heartworm?
VA: (laughs) You know, I haven’t checked if Boobs Fog Camera is available, but I know what I’m gonna do after this interview.
With all of my questions exhausted, I did have one last inquiry before we ended the interview. In the demo for Heartworm the player will find a journal wherein a man recalls his attempts to further his life beyond his own mortal coil using his art. So I asked bluntly, using the language the man in the game used, if Heartworm was Vincent’s attempt to persevere beyond his life and “salvage something from the great dance of death”
VA: I feel like… I almost didn’t want that quote or that snippet… It’s kind of a repeated theme throughout the game as it’s evolved, and it felt kind of on the nose, but like, yeah. I mean it really is, I think we’re all just like in one way or another trying to salvage something. From what you know, what we all know, is inevitable, and you know, we do all of these things hoping that they’ll last. And they probably won’t, but you know, for some reason, for me, it gives me the drive to do it, you know, along with the other immediate satisfaction I get. I have always felt that drive, even though everything logical in me tells me to do the opposite. So, yeah, I guess it is. Yes.
With that I thanked Vincent again for his time and let him return to his busy schedule of getting the demo ready for release sometime in the near future. It was a fantastic conversation and I am glad he was able to fit it into his schedule before he became too busy.
If you want to learn more about the title you can visit the webpage for Heartworm or you can visit Silent-Hills.com to wishlist it on steam. If you would like to keep up to date on the latest in Vincent’s life you can also follow his personal Twitter page.
And as always if you are absolutely fiend-ing for more horror happenings, be sure to stay on DreadXP and read more of our frightful features.