Art house Massive Black has helped provide illustrations, animations, and more to some of the most notable video games of recent years — everything from BioShock to Infamous to Silent Hill. But the company also has a desire to branch out and do its own thing; that's where Mothhead comes in. The odd creature came from the mind of noted concept artist and art director Peter Konig — who helped co-found the company before moving on to other projects, and whose credits include Cloverfield, Left 4 Dead 2, and Halo 4 — and recently Massive Black released a short game demo to provide a taste of the unique world. If things go well, there could be a lot more to come. "He's given us free reign with the Mothhead universe," says company president Chris Hatala.
The demo begins with players taking control of a moth, floating around an eerily-lit grotto. But the moth is only one half of a creature — eventually you discover a small, human-like body and the moth joins with it to become its head. The result is a being that could easily be one of the terrors from Pan's Labyrinth. And while the brief time you'll spend in the game's world doesn't provide much insight into exactly what Mothhead is, it's hard not be curious.
"Working on our own intellectual property didn't generate revenue."
The Mothhead mythos began with a few of Konig's sculptures, and over the years the team expanded on the idea with additional art and story ideas. They even took the sculptures and turned them into animated 3D models, and later tried to put all of these assets into a game engine, with limited success. It was a slow process, though, as Massive Black's focus was often on other projects. "Working on our own intellectual property didn't generate revenue," says Hatala, "so we would get back on client jobs." At one point one of those clients introduced the team to the Unity game engine, and within just a few hours they managed to get Mothhead walking around a virtual world. "I was sold."
Hatala, who previously worked as an animator at famed visual effects company Weta Digital, says that the demo wasn't necessarily meant to wow players with its gameplay. In fact, there's very little gameplay at all — it's a short experience that lets you wander around, interacting with and exploring the strange virtual world. It's a teaser for what could be. "Our goal for the project wasn't to make a great game, just to make something that looks cool and runs well," he says. "Personally I think that if the art demo makes you feel even the slightest bit inquisitive, then Mothhead might just have legs — pun intended. Mothhead as a fully realized game was always meant to instill a sense of wonder and mystery, and hopefully to inspire exploration."
Whether we see the Mothhead universe expand into something bigger remains to be seen, but Massive Black is jumping into the world of video games either way: earlier this year the company successfully Kickstarted an action game called Zombie Playground, that will let players experience the zombie apocalypse from the eyes of a child. But the company is still hoping that the demo for Mothhead will be able to garner the right kind of attention. "Hopefully the right eyes will see it and lend a hand in making that a reality."