I'm unashamed to say that I get obsessive when I find good stories, so when I fell down the Magnus Archives rabbit hole, I was extremely happy to find that its writer and lead voice actor Jonathan Sims had tons of other projects for me to enjoy. While I've yet to pick up a copy of his novel, 13 Storeys (working on it!), I have been able to pick up the demo for a little indie game to which he recently lent his voice.
And boy was that a wild and wonderful decision.
Slay the Princess is a terrifying, fascinating, darkly funny experience from Black Tabby Games, a small Canada-based indie game studio that produces unique "tragicomedy" roleplaying games. It's run by an award-winning cartoonist and a tech veteran (and mascot-ed by their snake, cat, and axolotl), and has been around since 2019.
Their style is reminiscent of hits like Don't Starve and Sally Face. Their previous project, Scarlet Hollow, won runner-up and gamer's choice awards for AT&T Unlocked Games and has Overwhelmingly Positive reviews on Steam. The studio is quickly gaining popularity and international support, with the current community for the studio on an active Discord with more than 600 members.
Slay the Princess itself relies on the fact that the player is going to die. Lots and lots and lots of times. From the devs:
"In this fully-voiced roleplaying game, the player is tasked by a mysterious voice to kill a princess who has been imprisoned in a cabin hidden deep in the woods. If the player doesn’t fulfill their task, the voice alleges, the princess will bring about the end of the world. But can the voice be trusted? Can the Princess be trusted? Can anyone be trusted?"
Obviously, this was more than enough to get me to play the demo, and WOW am I glad I did! I'd rather not give away any spoilers for the game, so I'll just say that I played my first runthrough the way that I would make decisions in real life, and ended up...dealing with some rather gruesome consequences. The princess was stunningly calm and eerie to chat with, and the various voices in my brain played their roles perfectly - I was both concerned, confused, and very excited to see what happened next.
I have now seen most of the game, from ending to ending, and every strange voice and choice in between. This game is equal parts funny and terrifying in just the right amounts to keep you giggling on the edge of your seat while making you turn the lights on in your gaming setup.
An Interview With the Creators of Slay the Princess
I can't wait for the full release of the game, so I thought I would take advantage of my excitement and reach out to the creators (Abby Howard and Tony Howard-Arias) to see what they had to say about the game - and they responded!
SJ: Where did you get the inspiration for the game? Why did you choose to subvert the "save the princess" trope?
Tony: So the initial inspiration of the game was actually Daniel Mullins' latest Ludum Dare entry (Claim Your FREE BitBuddy™ Today!) Specifically, I remember playing it and being really impressed with how much he managed to accomplish in terms of emotional storytelling within the confines of a game jam, and it inspired us to play around with the idea of telling a horror story within those sorts of confines. What would we do if we only really had a tiny handful of locations and a single character on screen at any given time?
I don't want to get into too many spoilers for the twists and turns of game but we settled pretty quickly on the core concept you see in the demo: you're sent to kill a seemingly innocent person who is "dangerous" if left alive, you're not given any specific details, and you have to decide on what you're going to do over the course of a conversation. There's of course more to it than that, and a lot of the other mechanics you'll see in the demo (time loops, voices in your head, shifting characters and environments, etc.) sprung up pretty organically to support that core concept.
I think we settled on the Princess motif when Abby suggested "Save the Princess" as a bit of an ironic name for the game, and we realized "Slay the Princess" would be a fun play on that, and to our shock, there wasn't anything out there already called "Slay the Princess," so a lot of the specific aesthetic of the game actually sprung up around the title!
SJ:The art style for STP is reminiscent of games like Don't Starve and Sally Face. Did Abby take inspiration from these games, or from other sources?
Abby: We're both big fans of Sally Face and my style has gotten a lot of comparisons to Don't Starve, but I think this probably has more to do with shared inspirations! Growing up I was an avid fan of Jhonen Vasquez (Johnny The Homicidal Maniac in particular) and Edward Gorey, and would pore over their art to learn everything I could about how it was made, which had a huge influence on my style and technique.
I think the fact that I come from a black-and-white goth-flavored comics background has a lot to do with the way our games look, and then for Slay the Princess there was the added impact of the time crunch that influenced the style most of all-- since we were using a quasi-game-jam model of development, trying to finish as much as we could in what little time we had so as not to delay our upcoming Scarlet Hollow release, I skipped the time-consuming inking process and went with a pencils-only style.
And I managed to finish all the art for the demo in about a week, so it worked!
Tony: I also just want to add that Abby is always so modest about her art and I think the pencils are incredible. We might have first tried them out as an experiment to see how much time we could save by making Slay the Princess pencils-only, but I can't imagine the game having any other style than the one we settled on. It's so well suited for the story of the game too, since it has that dreamy, ever-shifting aesthetic, just like the Princess herself!
SJ: How did you go about casting Jonathan Sims and Nichole Goodnight for the Voices and the Princess, respectively? How do you think their performances affected the development of the characters.
Tony: Nichole was an instant pick for the Princess-- we watched her play Scarlet Hollow on her Twitch channel, and were blown away by how good a job she did reading for almost every character. If I remember correctly, after the stream she also hinted that she would be extremely jazzed to be hired if we ever needed voice acting, so we'd honestly been looking for an opportunity to cast her!
We are also both big fans of Jonny's work (The Magnus Archives helped Abby survive the Scarlet Hollow episode 3 release crunch), and when we were starting to figure out casting for a narrator, he was our first pick. It turns out he'd been following Abby's work for a while, so we cast him almost right away!
Both of them have done such an incredible job with how demanding the roles are — Nichole and Jonny are each voicing seven or so different "characters" which is so much to ask from our performers, but they've really knocked it out of the park. I think their performances are definitely going to inspire how the characters get written moving forward since at this point it's hard not ti imagine their voices while writing the script. Nichole's performance for the version of the Princess you meet if you go into the basement with a knife definitely shaped the direction of that segment too — she came up with this really cold and slightly alien reading of that part of the script that we really jived with.
SJ: How is the release of this game different from the release of your previous piece, Scarlet Hollow?
Tony: It is very different — it's been a much faster turnaround, for starters, since it's a more contained story and doesn't have 1,000,000 words worth of sprawling worldstates and player choices. We love the intricacy of Scarlet Hollow's narrative, but it was nice to be able to break away from the behemoth of that script and work on something a little more loosey-goosey.
It's been easier to market, too, since the pitch is a lot more straightforward, and we have this mountain of exceptional voice acting we can use for trailers. I think both games complement each other well, too — they both deal with themes of player choice and morality, and there's enough of an overlap of vibes that the fan theory community on our Discord has a dedicated thread about both metaphorical and literal crossover theories between the two titles.
SJ: What has been the most fun part of the process of creating Slay the Princess?
Tony: I think it's probably been getting to work with such talented voice actors! I don't think we can express enough how cool it is to hear words we wrote read out to us by actors whose work we admire so much!
Abby: I second the voice acting, I really cannot express how cool that is, but another fun aspect has been seeing my art in a way I've never seen it before. The parallax on the backgrounds adds depth, and the boil effect on the lines (the thing that makes them all squiggly) really brings everything to life in a way that makes my art look waaaay cooler. It's given me a lot of ideas for the sorts of future projects I'm capable of making! Also, I like designing the different Princesses :3
Try Slay the Princess for Yourself
The epic demo for Slay the Princess is available for free on Steam right now - I highly recommend downloading it and giving it a shot, then hopping into the community Discord server to chat with other players, see the fan theories, and get excited for the release of the full game. The full game is tentatively priced at $14.99, and set for release in late 2023.
You can find more about Black Tabby Games on their website.
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