You might be surprised to find out that Nikki Kalpa, the solo developer behind upcoming queer horror dungeon crawler They Speak From the Abyss, was afraid of basically everything as a kid. She describes having a sort of “constant anxiety” when she was younger. But despite this, she still found herself dipping into the horror genre at a young age — the Saw franchise, in particular, stands out to her — and soon she had a fully fledged fascination with horror media on her hands.
The aspect of the genre Kalpa tends to find most interesting is body horror, which is a primary element of They Speak From the Abyss. This is automatically apparent upon finding out that some of the inspirations for the game are the works of Clive Barker and Junji Ito. But to Kalpa, body horror is meaningful because of how directly it ties into queer and trans experience.
“The concept of your physical body being used against you in one way, shape or form I just found really resonated with me, you know, being trans and all that,” Kalpa told Gayming. “And I just kind of find that to be the most interesting aspect of horror as a whole. It’s hard to talk about body horror without talking about identity.”
The game’s lead is a queer woman named Vanessa Rivera who feels lost in her life. After moving to a new city to be closer to her partner, a strange feeling of dread starts to come over her. Alongside this feeling of dread comes visions of a familiar seeming woman that Vanessa can’t seem to place. She is eventually thrown into a world of nightmares by her chain-smoking, demon therapist, where she has to fight or talk her way out of encounters with terrifying abominations. According to it’s developer, it will be “very unapologetically queer.”
Kalpa’s early interest in horror went hand-in-hand with a creative itch, one that she realized she might actually be able to scratch with the recent rise in visibility for solo and small development teams.
“I know whenever I heard that Cave Story was a one person endeavor, that was kind of like a switch that flipped for me like I didn’t need a giant team to make an interesting looking game,” Kalpa said.
They Speak From the Abyss features a pixelated, PlayStation 1-era graphical style that is arguably more than interesting looking. It’s simultaneously gooey, fleshy, and crunchy, giving a surreal, horrific landscape to the nightmare you’re trying to escape. Kalpa went with this style not only because it was cool looking, but because she already had a base of knowledge in pixel art.
“I was into pixel art for a couple of years before I started They Speak and I guess that was already a foundation that I had,” Kalpa said.
When it comes to why she went with a dungeon crawler, her answer was fairly simple:
“I gotta be honest, it’s just a genre that I liked. And I just figured that I would make the game fit around it that’s just the kind of game I was interested in at the time and I’m still interested in.”