The Excavation of Hob’s Barrow turned out to be one of the best horror point-and-click adventure games released in 2022. Its mix of folk horror with a solid narrative and the usual Wadjet Eye stamp of quality voice acting proved to be an effective experience without jumpscares and cheap graphic scenes, which is why we were keen to interview The Excavation of Hob’s Barrow developers to see what went into creating the game.
Developers of the game are the studio Cloak & Dagger, who have previously released other adventures the likes of Football Game and Sumatra – Fate of Yandi. Hob’s Barrow was also the first time the studio got to work with an external publisher, instead of self-publishing.
For The Excavation of Hob’s Barrow interview, we got in touch with Shaun Aitcheson, to pick his mind about the game and what were its inspirations. We thank him for his time.
Interview with The Excavation of Hob’s Barrow studio Cloak & Dagger
How did the idea to work on a game based in the English countryside come about?
I’ve always been a fan of classic British folk horror and love stories related to old folklore so it was something that had been in the back of my mind for a while. Then, one day, a colleague at work (myself, John and Laurie all have full-time jobs and work on the games in our spare time), said she was travelling to Derbyshire with her partner to go for some nature walks. She mentioned “Hob Hurst’s House”, a local barrow with a colourful backstory. I was intrigued and did some research. Soon, the basic outline of the game was fleshed out. Incidentally, my colleague and her partner ended up not going on the trip!
What would you say were your major inspirations for the atmosphere and the story?
Initially, the game was going to be a bit more “Lovecraft” in tone, but we moved away from that. The narrative was very much inspired by M.R. James ghost stories – it seemed a cool idea to create an “M.R. James-style point and click adventure”. So we sort of took it from there. His work was adapted into the classic “Ghost Stories for Christmas” TV films by the BBC in the 1970s, the aesthetic of those was also an influence. Other inspirations include the TV film “The Stone Tape” written by Nigel Kneale, the classic folk horror film “The Blood on Satan’s Claw” directed by Piers Haggard, and the great contemporary point and click adventure “The Last Door”, developed by The Games Kitchen. There are plenty of other inspirations, but those are the ones that come to mind first. I could go on all day!
What kind of experience from your previous games did you reckon was useful in completing Hob’s Barrow?
We’ve learned a lot over the last 10 years or so. Making any size of game with such a tiny team is a huge undertaking, so we’ve learnt how to best work with each other in order to get a game over the finish line. We are great believers in “once you’ve started something, you have to finish it” – so once we make the decision on what our next game is going to be, we are committed to it, from beginning to end. We try to use the lessons learnt from previous games and apply them to the next one, hopefully refining the process and making the new game better than the last! We’ve learnt more about the order and structure in which to approach a new game.
Releasing quite a few games over the years has also helped us manage expectations for new releases, slowly improve our promotional and marketing skills, and helped us develop a thick skin to deal with any critiques or negative reviews that come along – you certainly can’t please everyone and that’s OK! That previous experience also really helps when it comes to things like scope creep – we only have very limited time and resources, so have learnt not to bite off more than we can chew. In saying that, Hob’s Barrow ended up being quite a bit longer than initially intended!
Were you satisfied with the final product or was there something else you would have liked to do differently (a longer game, for example)?
There’s always something that could be tweaked or changed, but I think that’s also something we’ve learnt to accept over the years. You could carry on tweaking and changing your game for a long time and it ends up never coming out, or you reach a point of diminishing returns. So we’ve sort of learnt to recognise the moment when you realise “this is finished!”. We wouldn’t want to make the game any longer, we are happy with the length.
Would you say Excavation of Hob’s Barrow belongs to that tradition of “pastoral horror”, in the same vein of movies like The Wicker Men and Soon the Darkness?
I would like to hope so. I loved The Wicker Man, and even had a soft spot for the Nicolas Cage remake! I must admit though, that I have not seen “Soon The Darkness”. My hope for the game was that it would reach a wider audience in the folk horror/horror community, so far feedback has been really nice!
I will skip a joke about the bees… Were you happy to work with Wadjet Eye? Is it your first time working with a publisher?
Working with Wadjet Eye Games has been an absolute privilege and delight. Having Dave Gilbert’s expertise at hand allowed us to tighten up the game and of course without him on board, we would have never had such terrific voice acting! Having the Wadjet Eye seal of approval allowed us to reach many, many more people than our previous games have – getting “the word” out there about a game has never been our strong point as we have very limited time and resources. We’ve worked with another publisher in the past, but that was different in that it was to port our existing games to consoles.
Would you have liked to still go with Incantamentum as a title or do you think it doesn’t really change much?
I’m very happy with The Excavation of Hob’s Barrow. It was actually the original title of the game, so it was easy to return to. A lot of people found Incantamentum too hard to remember/spell/pronounce, so we were happy to take this feedback on board.
Would you ever consider making a sequel in the future?
I would never say never… not sure how John and Laurie feel about it though, haha
As for a more general question, what are your favorite adventure games, anything obscure/indie you would like to recommend to the readers?
Now that Hob’s Barrow has been released I can soon finally get back to “Nightmare Frames”, an exceptionally good recent release from Postmodern Adventures. I would certainly recommend this. Other great recent adventure games include “If on A Winter’s Night, Four Travellers” by Dead Idle Games and “Strangeland” from Wormwood Studios. Moving away from point-and-click adventures, you can’t go wrong with “Mundaun” or “Paradise Killer” – probably my favourite narrative games from the last couple of years. Growing up I loved Sierra adventure games – Quest for Glory being my number one Amiga 500 memory! I spent weeks trying to find “green fur”!
How do you see the future of Cloak and Dagger?
We have so many more ideas. Once the dust settles from the Hob’s Barrow release, we are going to have a much-needed break. We absolutely love making games but devoting all our spare time to game development is getting harder as we get older and commitments, responsibilities and ailments increase. But after a few weeks, and a few pints, we’ll feel inspired (and hopefully rested). And it will begin all over again…
If you enjoyed our The Excavation of Hob’s Barrow interview with Cloak & Dagger, then perhaps also you’d be interested in checking out our interview with the developers behind Songs of Conquest.