Hollowbody, a survival horror from Chasing Static developer Nathan Hamley, is the Bristolian Silent Hill we didn’t know we needed. Set in a near-future Britain (of course – it’s a horror), Hollowbody follows a freelance smuggler who finds herself stranded in an abandoned cyberpunk city. If it sounds good, you’re not alone – Hollowbody is currently several thousand pounds over its £15k goal on Kickstarter, and Hamley is thrilled with the internet’s enthusiastic reception to his game.
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“It’s been great,” Hamley tells NME. “The outreach of support for the game has been fantastic and is a real motivation boost. I’ve been quietly working away on this project behind closed doors for the past 8 months and it’s been a real treat to finally get to show it to the world.”
With £21k thrown at Hollowbody and counting, it begs the question: what’s got backers so amped up? Perhaps it’s because Hamley’s 2021 horror Chasing Static left an impression on horror fans, or maybe the trailer – which captures Silent Hill‘s quiet menace in a way Konami hasn’t attempted in years – oozes promise.
Hamley, who grew up with point-and-click adventure games before discovering the original PlayStation‘s litany of horror, sees Hollowbody as a way to recapture the magic of Silent Hill.
“I’ve tried to capture the core aspect of Silent Hill that makes those early titles special to me,” explains Hamley. “The thing about Silent Hill that really makes them stand out for me is this looming sense of melancholy, usually followed by a crushing sense of dread. The games are inherently sad but not only that, they have this sort of blanket of apathy layered on top, often channelled through the protagonist and the limited cast they encounter.”
“The game isn’t concerned with making the player feel fear, it wants them to feel that apathy that is so tightly woven into the narrative,” he continues. “They break your guard, make you emotionally vulnerable and only then do they hit you with the suffocating dread of the otherworld. It’s something no other game series has really managed to pull off since.”
Though Silent Hill played a huge part in influencing Hollowbody, Hamley says his upcoming game also channels some themes that are often attached to the cyberpunk genre of fiction.
“Through my environments I’m aiming to reflect upon the striking class conflict brought on by the division of wealth, something we are all acutely aware of in modern society. And secondly I wanted to explore the themes of what it means to be human, what makes us who we are and how that impacts those around us.”
Despite Hollowbody shaping up to be a cyberpunk Silent Hill, Hamley wanted to keep his story grounded. A fan of horror and sci-fi, Hamley says it’s “very rare” to see sci-fi stories grounded in something that its audience can recognise. It’s a trend that Hamley is keen to buck: While the developer dropped players into rural Wales for Chasing Static, Hollowbody delves into English territory, and will be particularly familiar to any Bristolians.
“I find horror that experiments with familiar settings or themes to be the most effective. There are many narrative reasons I wanted to frame this game in a near-future setting, but to hit home with the horror elements I wanted to be able to ground it in something familiar. So I’ve modelled the environments after various buildings and locations in my home city of Bristol.”
“You can call it a metaphor for post-Brexit Britain if you like,” adds Hamley. “It wouldn’t be far off.”
Unlike Brexit, Hollowbody is a relatively short and tidy affair, and is planned to wrap up within two or three hours of playing. It’s a similar run-time to Chasing Static, which he describes as a “short story” on Steam. When asked about his habit of sticking to shorter run-times, Hamley says it’s a deliberate choice and outlines his reasons for sticking to it:
“The most crucial [reason] relates to keeping motivation up during development. The final stretch of developing a game is incredibly hard on a developer, it often feels like the finish line is moving further away with every step you take forward. It can be rough! You tend to severely underestimate the amount of work involved in shipping a polished game and this can be a huge drain on you throughout the development.”
“I make these games solo and the best way for me to keep my motivation in check is to move the goalposts closer,” continues Hamley. “It’s a bit of a brain-hack – if I tell myself the finished game is going to be two hours long I feel more satisfaction after each working day because I’m getting proportionately closer to that goal than with a longer game.”
Hamley explains that his first commercial release – Guard Duty – also pushed him to keep projects shorter. While it still sits with ‘Very Positive’ reviews on Steam, Hamley says the game’s seven-hour length took up a “huge portion” of his life, and since then the developer has been “very cautious not to fall into that trap.”
“Besides,” adds Hamley, “if I get to the two-hour mark and I feel motivated to make the game longer, I always have that option.”
Thanks to Hollowbody‘s successful Kickstarter, fans can expect Hollowbody to launch in 2024, though Hamley’s estimate is subject to change. Looking ahead, there is so much of Hollowbody that Hamley is excited for players to get their hands on. “With the game being third person I’ve put a focus on delving deeper into Mica’s character (the protagonist) than I have with any character before,” shares Hamley. “She’s a really interesting personality to project the player upon. It’s very satisfying working in this narrative and I hope that will shine through in the finished game.”
Though he avoids giving away too much, Hamley is also looking forward to players discovering some of the game’s “really fun narrative beats” and a mysterious ending, which Hamley says will be a “ton of fun” to make.
So far, Hollowbody has attracted over 632 backers who have paid money to make Hamley’s Bristolian Silent Hill a reality. Yet as Hamley answers each question at length, you get the feeling that Hollowbody is as much for him as it is his fans. Far from fighting just to get Hollowbody made, Hamley’s Kickstarter is now fundraising for a series of additional stretch goals before it finishes on September 30. For Hamley, the success of Hollowbody‘s Kickstarter comes as a relief.
“When working on a project like this there’s always a nagging feeling at the back of your mind of ‘will people actually like it?’ and it’s been tremendously reassuring to see the game hit a chord with fans of the genre.”
You can check out Hollowbody‘s Kickstarter here.