The Independent Gamer: David Lynch Meets 'Silent Hill' in Folklore Horror Game 'Mundaun'

Courtesy of MWM Interactive
Ethan Stearns, evp of publisher MWM Interactive, talks about finding this game from one-man Swiss studio Hidden Fields, and why the concept was so compelling.

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Video game company MWM Interactive is preparing this month to launch its first game as a sole publisher, the folklore inspired horror experience Mundaun from one-man Swiss studio Hidden Fields.

Set in the Swiss Alps, the game follows a man who has received a letter from the local priest telling him that his grandfather has died. He ventures to the small mountain village where he grew up to find out mor and comes in contact with a devilish character who appears to have a magical grip on the town. The player must then figure out what's going on by solving puzzles and making decisions on the way to facing the entity.

"We definitely classify it as horror," Ethan Stearns, evp of MWM Interactive, tells The Hollywood Reporter, "there's some fear-inducing moments in the game." He adds, "But I think what is so unique about it is the tone it sets, partially because of its visual presentation being very odd — it almost feels like someone has built something out of sticks and rocks and is doing a little puppet show for you... very odd, yet cohesive."

He describes the game as David Lynch meets Silent Hill. "In the way the game presents itself; not in a jump scare, but making your skin crawl a little bit the whole time."

Mundaun is a real place in Switzerland, though Stearns notes that it's probably unknown to those in the West. "It is strangely familiar in that it seems like a real place, but the folklore [Zielger] pulls from makes it feel a bit alien and ancient, but modern at times," he says.

Stearns says that the team, who are focused on narrative-driven content and previously co-published Flight School's Creature in the Well, met Hidden Fields' Michel Ziegler "back in the day when people would travel and go all over the world" during the Game Developer's Conference. There, Ziegler was showing a demo of Mundaun along with some of his hand-drawn work. "It was obvious that the artistic process for how he was building the game was important to him and important to what made the game stand out," says Stearns, adding that Ziegler was doing all the programming and art himself and had a singular point of view that was beneficial to development.

The team from MWM began a conversation with Ziegler about his game, which they followed up with a trip to Switzerland to learn more. Ultimately, the company initiated a partnership with the developer that allowed him to finish the game, receive structural support, iron out the production schedule and bring the game to consoles. "He could really do anything on his own, but at [this] scale he couldn't do everything all the time, towards the end," Stearns explains, adding that engineer developers were brought in for periods of time. The biggest role that MWMi played, Stearns says, was managing the publishing process to platforms, especially for Xbox, PlayStation and Nintendo.

"It's really interesting to look at what's going on in the larger game industry right now and where a group like ourselves could provide value to the ecosystem," Stearns says. "Big AAA games of service — Fortnite's and Destiny's — we see more and more of these every day, mobile is growing and becoming more optimized. It's difficult for us to be meaningful in those spaces."

In its early stages, the company would look at what Devolver (Gris), Raw Fury (Call of the Sea) and Annapurna Interactive (Telling Lies) were doing in terms of story-driven games with varied structures. "We thought that that was an interesting space for us to stay true to our ethos of supporting creators and building new IP's," says Stearns. He also recalls how the digital distribution marketplace and modern marketing allows games such as The Pathless to be found by potential consumers. "Year over year we're seeing games like Ori and the Will of the Wisps or Celeste or Cuphead — things that rise up as IPs at the top level of games." MWM's mission is to continue artful and innovative work in games, finding stories and individuals that are unique.

"I think that narrative exploration in video games can not just take the structure of a Telltale game," says Stearns. "There is an opportunity to put more of a magnifying glass on what a story can mean and be."

Mundaun releases March 16 on Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, PC via Steam and the Epic Games Store. a Nintendo Switch release will follow in April.

Skybound to Publish Game Where Players Use Their Eyes to Navigate the Story

Los Angeles-based developer Goodbye Games will launch debut narrative game Before Your Eyes, in which players navigate the story of a ferryman shepherding souls to the afterlife using their own eye movements and blinks.

As the user blinks, eye movements are detected by the game's webcam, which will advance the story by jumping forward in time.

The game is published by Skybound Games, a division of Robert Kirkman's Skybound Entertainment. It will arrive on PC via Steam on April 8.

Scribblenauts Developer Launches New Strategy Game

Bellevue-based studio 5th Cell released on March 3. the free-to-play competitive strategy game Castlehold for PC via Steam Early Access.

The game features a cataclysmic event that shatters space and time, with champions from all eras of history – vikings, knights, cowgirls, druids, cyber soldiers and more — struggling to survive.

Nintendo Indie World Showcase Title Launching in May

From publisher Nighthawk Interactive (My Friend Pedro) and new developer Toyful Games, led by former Disney and Universal devs Tim Fitzrandolph and Chad Cable, Very Very Valet is a co-op party game that tasks players with managing a chaotic valet station.

The game drops physically and digitally for Nintendo Switch on May 25.

Remake of First Strike Launches on PC and Mobile

Swiss developer Blindflug Studios is launching First Strike: Classic, a remastered and expanded version of 2014 nuclear war strategy game First Strike: Final Hour, for PC and mobile on March 10.

Among the new features will be a social hub, new artificial intelligence behaviors and a refreshed user graphical interface. Future expansions are planned for the summer of 2021.

Coffee Talk Creators Launch New Game on Switch

Narrative adventure game What Comes After is described by publishers Fahmitsu (Coffee Talk) and Rolling Glory Jam (Rage in Peace), and publisher Flynn's Arcade, as "a love letter to all those who think they are a load for other people."

The game launches April 1 on Nintendo Switch.