Founded in 2015, Cult Quiet is an indie game development collaborative
with the mission of developing artful, educational, and socially-relevant works.
Cult Quiet began operations in January 2015 with a small team working out of a Forest Hills living room. Since then, the Boston-based collective has begun development on a number of projects, including Hollow Beat, a Zelda-like puzzle adventure posed to teach players about the struggles, symptoms, and treatments associated with clinical depression.
Born out of a need for bleeding edge creative media, our congregation of artists, designers, writers, poets, engineers, and psychologists came together to bridge the gap between interactive design and public awareness. Our collaborative focuses on bringing poetry, theatre, education, social justice, youth culture, and queer identity in contact with digital games. When it comes to games for change and games as art, we're here to kickstart the conversation—to create consumer experiences that are more interesting, more thoughtful, and more poignant than anything that's come before.
Innovation & Potential Award, Game Demo Day @ Northeastern University (2015)
We're in flux. With cultists working remotely from coast to coast, we're hoping to set up shop in Boston or Seattle.
William Wolff Herbert
To the vast majority of the world’s citizens, video games hold little to no cultural authority. They exist in the dominion of children, of Hollywood entertainment, and they hold little value outside of this spectrum. Hollow Beat, an adventure game exploring clinical depression, envisions a future where interactive works foster thought, dialogue and cultural representation. Following a design philosophy that treats game systems like traditional metaphors, Cult Quiet has begun development of a series of episodic narrative experiences with the potential to promote player engagement, empathy, and education.
In the words of veteran game designer Raph Koster, the human brain can be succinctly described as a “voracious consumer” of patterns. It’s a “soft, pudgy Pac-Man of concepts,” where games just happen to be “exceptionally tasty patterns to eat up.” Some academics even go as far as to place play on the same pedestal as storytelling: a learned, evolutionary method of communal survival. So in more ways than one, that’s what games are: “teachers” of the experiential. Unfortunately, many of today’s blockbuster hits forego this potential. That’s why Cult Quiet has set out to change the landscape, to utilize a popular, albeit misunderstood medium to educate players on the deeply stigmatized effects of mental illness.
Games aren't just for fun. They're a form of kinesthetic learning.
Games, despite conventional understanding, work much like metaphors. They’re abstracted replicas, models of real-world systems built for entertainment, training, education, and more. If you’ve ever played Chess, Monopoly, or Risk, you’ll understand. These games simplify topics such as war and economic hardship in order to make these systems accessible to larger audiences. In this way, the mechanics of these games become metaphors, scenarios where the play, rather than the verbal or written content, tells the story. More importantly, they allow the player to explore ideas and complex relationships firsthand. Such is the design philosophy behind Hollow Beat, a game that strives to emulate the difficulty of living with depression. As designers crafting meaning with mechanics, we aim to create what the game analysts at Extra Credits refer to as “a space of possibility.” Our primary goal is to choose “the bounds” of the experience, and to allow users as much “freedom” to explore an idea as we possibly can.
Our artists and designers were the first collaborators on task. After studying the history of depression in visual media, they began a process of experimentation wherein color, line, composition, form, light, and texture were put rigorously to the test. Our sound designers and composers followed suit, researching musical history from past to present. What resulted, after months of labor, was the beginning of an aesthetic that would challenge the conventions of similarly-styled adventure games. Tropes and models were pulled from countless sources, everything from Goya to Rothko, from Mozart to Son Lux. Sounds were created to imitate horror films and rap music, while months were devoted to crafting relevant lighting and color schemes. As resident art director Nolan Manning often puts it, “playing on expectations is what produces the most profound work.” Despite adapting a nostalgically retro style for the title’s art direction, he, along with audio director Jacob Farber, are constantly answering the following question: what happens to user experience when a player expects one thing, but gets another?
Much of the same can be said for our design and production teams. As technical director Michael Rinaldi explains, “evoking a feeling in a player starts with music, visuals, and storyline, but through coding it can be implemented in a whole new way.” That’s our philosophy of interactivity, and it imbues everything we touch in-game. For example, Rinaldi says, “I program objects with their metaphors in mind. So because we wanted to exemplify the idea that depression doesn’t just go away, we created enemies that can’t be killed or removed. Instead, the player’s only options are to push them away, or to replace them with positive thoughts.” Unfortunately, creating a game to explore these concepts is a grueling endeavor. “There’s a big difference between ideas on paper and those same ideas in implementation,” says Rinaldi. “So we created a sandbox - a place where we could experience our own ideas. There’s nothing more important to us than game feel.”
Are you a talented artist, engineer, or psychologist? We're looking for passionate creatives to build up our team in the pacific Northwest. Our small venture is still in bootstrap, but if you're willing to take charge without quitting your day job, we're ready to scale and accelerate into a fully functioning design collaborative. With the right team in place, the west coast provides ample solutions for funding, publishing, and mentorship.
For those looking to get in on the ground floor, the following positions are open for application:
Technical Director (Unity)
Graphics Programmer (2D)
Gameplay Designer (Engineering)
Art Director (2D)
Pixel Artist (Animation)
Resident Psychologist (Research)