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Tuesday, November 3, 2020

How a Love of Slashers, VHS, and Survival Horror Fuels the Work of Developer Puppet Combo [Interview]

Among my favorite subgenres in horror, slashers hold a special place in my heart. Though slashers reigned supreme in the 80s, they’ve continued to see success in the decades since. And yet, there hasn’t been much in the way of slasher related video games. Sure there are games that include a slasher-like antagonist, but not many that pay homage to that golden age of horror cinema. 

That is unless you are playing a Puppet Combo game.

The developer is known for their 80s VHS era-inspired horror and retro game design. With such exhilarating titles as Babysitter Bloodbath, The Power Drill Massacre, and The Glass Staircase, Puppet Combo offers experiences that are chilling, wild, and tense. Part of this is thanks to the mechanics that force players into unnerving situations. When one plays Babysitter Bloodbath, they feel a surge of adrenaline as a crazed killer stalks them. This, along with the VHS and low-poly visuals, allows for a unique flavor of horror that has been missing in the medium of games.

I reached out to Puppet Combo with a few questions to learn more about the developer’s work, philosophy and passion for horror.

Bloody Disgusting: What inspired you to start game development? Was this something you attended school for or was it a passion you taught yourself and began exploring?

Puppet Combo: It was a passion of mine, no doubt about that. Remembering back to my times at the family computer and just downloading game engines, trying to tinker with them and make things work. But even before then, drawing game ideas or characters, stuff like that. There are a hundred things that fueled my curiosity about making games, even then. 

Thinking back to it, my desire was really just to see what a slasher film would look and play like if it were a game. There had been video games like Alone in The Dark and Resident Evil at the time, but nothing quite like the realistic horror of Halloween or Texas Chainsaw Massacre. So that’s what spurred me on to begin learning how to make games.

BD: What’s a horror game that really stuck with you when you were younger? May have been one you played as a kid or teenager (maybe even inspired your work today). Why has it stuck with you?

PC: Suppose it would have to be my favorite game, Countdown Vampires. Really related to the main protagonist Detective Keith J. Snyder. We both carry ourselves in the same way. 

The first Resident Evil as well… There’s just something about that game. It holds up and offers something even the other games in the series didn’t have – there’s something about the mansion’s design that really sticks with you.

BD: Why specifically focus on games pertaining to 80s horror and slashers? Are they personal favorites? What is it about these narratives that inspire you to create games based on them?

PC: It’s a genre I love and it hasn’t been done in video games very often. More so now, but when I made Babysitter Bloodbath and Power Drill Massacre, there were no Dead By Daylight style games out there. Since nobody else was making them, I had to do it myself. Regarding narrative, slashers are the only type of horror I find scary because they’re generally realistic.

BD: Your games are a call back to the golden era of classic survival horror – What do you feel this style of game design has to offer horror? How do you think it taps into feelings of dread and unease? Additionally, thinking of that golden era and today’s games, what do you think is missing in mainstream horror games now (regarding the horror component)?

PC: Ironically, I haven’t made anything that I would consider a classic survival horror game, but I have borrowed a lot of elements from them, such as tank controls and limited inventory. My intentions have always been to make the types of games I wish I had as a kid; I would have killed for Friday the 13th on PS1 rather than rehash the stuff that already exists. 

As far as a classic survival horror, I like the aesthetic and storytelling, so I’d put those as number one for why I find them compelling. Also, the non-linearity, placing the player in a small but open world to unlock. Lack of resources and the scripted nature of some of the encounters creates dread – you clear a room, let your guard down to explore, and suddenly there’s a zombie coming through the door and you have to act quick – this unpredictability goes a long way. 

As for modern horror, my experience is pretty limited, so it’s hard to say if there’s really anything missing. There’s still plenty of independently produced games these days that tap into those same kinds of feelings and design sensibilities, though.

BD: What impact do you feel the technology of VHS has on horror? And for any specific vibe or presence VHS may have, do you try to emulate that through your games? How?

PC: Home video and the slasher craze seem to go hand in hand since they were both taking off around the same time. I think it’s a period where everything complimented each other – the box art, the wide availability of movies that reached audiences they never would have without rental stores, the amateur shot on video boom, the genre style, music, and sensibilities of the era. Throwing a VHS filter over a game is easy, but I try to include the whole package of 80s and 90s style as authentically as possible to invoke the same feelings as an actual movie or game from the era.

BD: Do you have any core philosophy to your game design? What is your process like when it comes to writing and designing?

PC: Since I often try to design games fitting into relatively untapped game genres, I generally aim for generic – something that strictly follows the rules of a slasher with simple storytelling and plain characters. 

My philosophy is to make something I’m proud of first and foremost. 

After that, the design process: A game document is essential; it doesn’t need to be intricate, but some form of understanding where your development is going can be the difference between a canceled project and a released game. It depends on the project but testing the game out to see if the flow is enjoyable comes first, then possibly collaborating with some writers to see if the world or story elements fit the type of game.

BD: What continues to drive you in creating games? What creative challenges do you seek? And what are you looking forward to in the future of your career?

PC: There’s a love for the horror community that drives me forward. This last year has been exciting because there’s been the chance to work with other game developers and publish some great games via Torture Star Video [a new publishing branch of Puppet Combo]. It has been a real positive thing and something definitely worth pursuing further.

A big thank you to Puppet Combo for their time and for speaking with us! If you are interested in playing Puppet Combo games, you can find their titles on (I personally recommend The Glass Staircase) including their latest release Murder House.


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