Skip to main content

Why one dev left 2K Marin to create a Lovecraftian indie game

why one dev left 2k marin to create a lovecraftian indie game eldritch art
Image used with permission by copyright holder

A roguelike with face tentacles. That’s what Eldritch is. Minor Key Games‘ debut is a first-person action game that populates an ever-changing assortment of randomly generated levels with the twisted creations from H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu universe. No two trips into the game’s maddeningly designed dungeons are the same, save for the fact that, sooner or later, something, somewhere is going to kill the crap out of you.

David Pittman, co-founder of Minor Key Games
David Pittman, co-founder of Minor Key Games Image used with permission by copyright holder

Welcome to Eldritch

Minor Key Games is a two-man operation, but Eldritch is actually the product of just one of them: David Pittman. A former 2K Marin programmer who worked on AI code for BioShock 2 and The Bureau: XCOM Declassified, Pittman left his safe industry job to form Minor Key as a product of the fatigue he was feeling with the AAA development process.

“A lot of people that I really respected and learned from had left the company and that was causing the creative direction of the studio to diverge from what I was interested in,” Pittman tells Digital Trends. He’s talking about guys like BioShock 2 creative director Jordan Thomas and Minverva’s Den DLC lead level designer Steve Gaynor, both of whom left to pursue their own creative endeavors; Gone Home for Gaynor and his crew at The Fullbright Company and something unannounced for Thomas, who left his 2K gig during summer 2013. Pittman noted these departures and started to feel the pull to leave as well.

“It was kind of a gradual thing where I was losing interest in what they were doing and then I had the financial opportunity this spring to finally make the jump and become independent, so I did.”

Eldritch screenshot 1
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Minor Key Games is actually a collaboration between David and his twin brother J. Kyle Pittman, who left his own job at Gearbox Software after a successful run working on Borderlands and Borderlands 2. Their new studio is unconventional in that it exists as a collective, as opposed to the team-oriented development approach in place at most studios. David and Kyle are working on their own, separate projects. Eldritch is David’s, and Kyle’s remains unannounced for the time being. Both brothers then shoulder the business responsibilities of running a studio.

“We started programming with BASIC. We went to college together, we went to grad school together.”

The collaboration comes easily for two brothers who have walked very similar paths through much of their lives. “We both learned to program when we were really young, like six years old,” David Pittman tells us. “We started programming with BASIC. We went to college together, we went to grad school together. And then when we got our first jobs in the industry, he stayed in Texas where [he went to school] and I moved out to California. That was six years ago. Now we’re back together at least in the company if not physically in the same space.”

Eldritch is a product of David’s interest in games like Spelunky, the wildly popular 2D roguelike, coupled with a fascination for the fictional creations of H.P. Lovecraft. It’s a first-person action game in which each new playthrough serves up new map layouts, enemy locations, treasures, and so on. The blocky graphics and destructible environments are reminiscent in some ways of Minecraft, but the enemies you face – cloaked beings with glowing eyes, squid-headed monstrosities, and other nightmare beasts – are distinctly carved from the horror mold.

Eldritch screenshot 3
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Pittman tells us that it was never his goal to directly adapt the works of H.P. Lovecraft, but rather to channel the creative sensibilities of the horror author. “I’m certain there are Lovecraft purists who will find things to nitpick about the way that I adapted it [in Eldritch],” he says. “I also find Lovecraft to be a little bit difficult to be a fan of, just because he had some very problematic viewpoints. He was well known to be a racist. So I definitely tried to distance Eldritch from the problematic aspects of his writing. But in terms of the world he created, the monsters, that kind of stuff, it makes for a really great video game.”

“In terms of the world [HP Lovecraft] created, the monsters, that kind of stuff, it makes for a really great video game.”

If Lovecraft informs the visual and (loose) narrative identity draped over Eldritch, games like Spelunky and The Binding of Isaac, with their randomly generated levels and replay-driven mentality, inform the overall design. It’s more than just a love for roguelikes, however. Pittman’s background as both a gamer and a developer leans toward less rigid narratives, and an emphasis on player choice. No surprise for a guy who came out of a studio like 2K Marin; the team there didn’t create the BioShock universe, sure, but they managed to deliver a crowd-pleasing take on it.

“I’m a huge fan of the immersive sim genre of games. The stuff that came out of Looking Glass Studios in the ’90s, Thief and System Shock 2,” Pittman says. “I was playing… the first Deus Ex, again late last year – because it’s one of my favorite games of all time – and I had this feeling that I really like the systems in the game, but I’ve played it so many times that I know the levels by heart. That kind of planted the seed in my head. What if there were a game that had these kinds of systems, but where you could go through randomly generated small scenarios?”

Pittman was still at 2K Marin when the original Deus Ex inspired him, but the idea stuck and never went away. When it finally came to a point where he was ready to leave the relative comfort and security of a corporate studio job and go indie, an immersive sim colored by these “randomly generated small scenarios” was the natural direction to go in. BioShock is an obvious, and intended, touchstone, right down to the weapons-plus-magic combat, but the element of randomness is always there to keep things feeling fresh.

Eldritch screenshot 2
Image used with permission by copyright holder

All of those pieces are now assembled, and Eldritch is nearly ready for public consumption. Pittman tells us that the game is currently feature-complete, and being put through the final polish and bug-fixing process before its October 21, 2013 release. The game is up for voting right now on Steam Greenlight, and you can pre-order it now at to get in on the beta period.

“It’s going to be open beta before the end of September,” Pittman says. “It’s kind of a soft release at that point. There won’t be any new content being added. I’m just giving myself a little bit of a window in case there’s compatibility issues, because I’m one guy and I have one computer to test on.”

Once Eldritch is out, the brothers Pittman will continue to work on growing Minor Key Games. There’s still the question of Kyle’s unannounced game, along with whatever else the brothers cook up for their new indie label in the future. “We have a lot of shared values in the kinds of games we want to create,” David says. “In particular, we’re not interested in doing really linear, story-driven narratives. We like things that invite the player to be a part of authoring the experience. So that doesn’t mean we wouldn’t have a game that has a strong story, but it would be something where the player is at least making meaningful choices in that game.”

Editors' Recommendations

Adam Rosenberg
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Previously, Adam worked in the games press as a freelance writer and critic for a range of outlets, including Digital Trends…
An indie dev made a full version of The Simpsons’ fake Waterworld game
indie dev recreates waterworld game scene from the simpsons arcade

The scene from the 1997 episode of The Simpsons where Milhouse plays one second of the Waterworld arcade game based on the Kevin Costner film of the same name has been given new life thanks to an indie developer.

The long version of the fake Waterworld game was unveiled Sunday evening for fans of the series to see what lay beyond the one-second gameplay Milhouse wasted $10 worth of quarters on. In the game, you can explore the atoll and fight Nords, trade dirt, make a water purifier, and sail aboard the Deez to find dry land.

Read more
2K warns users to beef up cyber security after support team gets hacked
Borderlands 3 characters preparing for a gunfight.

Borderlands and BioShock publisher 2K Games has been hacked. The company announced the breach on Wednesday, and it is warning customers to change their passwords and not open any emails from its support page.

The 2K Support Twitter account, which was not affected by the hack, posted the following message, saying that the hacker was sending seemingly legitimate emails to certain players containing malicious links, and strongly advised customers not to click on those emails if they happen to receive them. As a result, the company's support page has gone offline while it resolves the issue.

Read more
Before Your Eyes devs explain why Netflix works as a gaming platform
The Ferryman points to a blink symbol in Before Your Eyes.

Most developers like to make their games as widely available as possible. For large companies that need to make a profit, it makes sense to put a game on as many platforms as possible and ensure that it has the type of gameplay people might already be familiar with and are interested in picking up. GoodbyeWorld Games and Skybound Games' indie title Before Your Eyes bucks that trend in many ways.
Before Your Eyes' primary method of control is blinking. It's a game about someone remembering their life after they died, but they can only stay in a particular memory until they blink. On PC, the player's webcam tracks their eyes and moves the story forward every time you blink. The player's body commands the experience, even if it's not always possible to control blinking. It's a poignantly emotional experience that will have you in tears by the end, but it's also a game that only works on specific platforms and isn't comparable to much else.
Before Your Eyes - Launch Trailer
That's why its arrival on iOS and Android via the Netflix app on July 26 is a logical evolution for GoodbyeWorld's underrated gem. Ahead of Before Your Eyes' Netflix Games release, Digital Trends spoke to creative director and writer Graham Parkes and game director and composer Oliver Lewin to learn how they brought Before Your Eyes to life and how its bold rejection of gaming norms is the key to this atypical experience's success.
Seen on mobile
Before Your Eyes started as a capstone project at USC. Parkes admitted that they didn't really think about if the game needed to have broad appeal and compatibility with every gaming platform. The PS5, Xbox Series X, and Nintendo Switch don't have built-in webcams, so GoodbyeWorld couldn't put Before Your Eyes on those platforms with their desired controls. As a result, there are only specific platforms to which it can expand. Mobile was the most logical place to go next from Parkes' point of view.
"We always knew that mobile was a great fit and wanted the game to come to mobile because we're using a mode of control that everybody is inherently familiar with," Parkes explained. "Everyone has eyes and everyone blinks, so we always wanted to design the game to be played by gamers and non-gamers alike. We feel like mobile is a perfect home because you can get those casual gamers who might check something out on their phone but don't have a Steam account or console."
Of course, bringing the game to phones presented a unique set of challenges. Modern phones all have high-quality cameras, so that wasn't as much of an issue. Still, GoodbyeWorld and the port developers at BKOM Studios did have to account for things like arm positioning and phone rotation. 

Before Your Eyes on mobile can seamlessly switch between a horizontal and vertical perspective if someone turns their phone so that people can play in the most comfortable position for themselves. This feature presents challenges with localization and camera framing, though.
"The way text appears on screen actually requires a ton of programming and design work, and to be able to just completely change it from vertical to horizontal means we need a pretty robust solution for how that text is going to swap smoothly, so it doesn't look jumbled," Lewin said. "Another challenge was camera framing and getting it to flow cinematically. The PC version has a traditional landscape ratio, and while we liked the comfort of playing it vertically in your hand, it felt too zoomed in and claustrophobic. We had to find ways to pull the camera back a little bit when you swap to vertical, so it retains that cinematic, lifelike quality in the look."
"Netflix is a platform that's known for stories."

Read more