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Birth of Bones: Conceptualizing Ossuary

"Where do you get your ideas?" It's a question asked of every writer, artist, or designer at some point. The answer is often complicated, but it's far easier to answer where the ideas came from for a certain work.

At its core, Ossuary's ideas come from me. It has a number of inspirations including Discordianism, White Wolf Publishing's Underworld setting, and a few different visual references.

(Ossuary is also on Steam Greenlight, and I'd really appreciate it if you'd go there and click "Yes.")

The Second Is Not Worth Getting

In my design notebook, the Ossuary section starts with the headings: "Narthex 2" and "Ossuary." I always liked the feel and style of my experimental joke game "Narthex (NB: waiting is not worth it). That game was made primarily as a test for the conversation engine later used in "The Day" and Ossuary.

However, "Narthex's" dark mood, brooding music, and stark black-and-white-and-red art stuck with me. When I was looking for a quick project using the existing conversation engine, making a sort-of-sequel to "Narthex" was appealing. It ended up taking me almost three years to finish.

There Are No Rules Anywhere

Ossuary opens with a quote from the Principia Discordia: "Hell is reserved exclusively for them that believe in it. Further, the lowest Rung in Hell is reserved for them that believe in it on the supposition that they'll go there if they don't."

The Principia is the holy text of Discordianism, a religion that's been called postmodern, a bad joke, and Zen for Westerners. It's a complicated philosophy and one that's had a strange impact on 20th century American culture (for more information, see Historia Discordia, which has recently talked about Discordianism's connections to the JFK assassination investigation).

Ossuary isn't a Discordian religious work, but it uses a lot of concepts and terms from Discordianism. The five Orders, the character of Grayface, the idea of sin and virtue being fuzzy concepts, and even the cabbages disguised as people are from Discordianism. Many of the concepts from the demo, "The Hodge-Podge Transformer," also come from Discordianism, including the five elements, the concept of conceptual windows, and the Transformer itself.

The Great Below

When I started Ossuary in 2011, I had just finished my term in charge of a local live-action roleplaying game of White Wolf's Geist: The Sin-Eaters. That game uses the idea of the Underworld, where ghosts go when they've lost the anchors to the world. The Underworld is created by — or maybe the source of — humanity's funereal rituals and stories about death.

The Ossuary is not the Underworld, of course. As you can discover in the game, it was never a place for people to begin with. Still, it's got a similar sense of stagnant hopelessness and its residents have an unhealthy interest in death and the physicality of their own bodies.

I drew on a lot of the trivia I've picked up about death and horror over the years. Mellification, razor blades inside walls, and the weight of the soul. The Ossuary isn't a place of death — death is change, and the Ossuary is stability — but it's a place that makes people think about death.

Death Masks

The color scheme of Ossuary, like "Narthex" before it, is inspired by chiaroscuro, Guernica, and Black Velvetopia from Psychonauts.

Ossuary NPCs

The NPC sprites are meant to evoke masks, whether traditional designs or something more modern. I sketched out a design for a console-style RPG in high school that used similar art for images of gods, and I like the bizarre abstractness of their bodies and how it maps to the character portraits.

The environments are all deliberately simple, meant to present some ambiguity about whether the Ossuary is embedded in solid rock or floating in an eternal void. Each region of the Ossuary has different accents that give it a distinctive look. In retrospect, I should have given each area a red accent, but in the finished game only the Temple and the Hall have unique red scenery. In the game you can learn that the Temple banners are died with carmine. The pigment of the Hall has less clear origin.

A Green Light in the Darkness

If you found this summary of Ossuary's inspirations interesting, please help us out by voting "Yes" on Steam Greenlight. If you want to buy a copy of Ossuary right now, you can do it on our website, Desura, or IndieGameStand.

If you have any questions, please ask them in the comments below.

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