[Interview] Black Tabby Games Discusses The Horribly Delightful World Of Scarlet Hollow
Scarlet Hollow is a visual horror novel sure to be a cozy horror haven with each spooky new episode on Steam.
We sat down with the creators of Black Tabby Games to discuss their debut game that transports players to the Appalachian mining town of Scarlet Hollow for the funeral of an estranged aunt. While in the sleepy town, you'll find yourself at the center of a generations-old mystery that threatens to ruin your life and doom an entire town. Scarlet Hollow is a horror visual novel where your choices matter and ought not to be made on a whim. Hand-drawn backgrounds and sprites work together with a complex relationship system bringing to life to an immersive world of charming and often terrifying characters. Who lives, who dies, and the fate of an entire town rests on your shoulders.
Black Tabby Games was founded in the 2019 by Abby Howard (she/her) and her partner Tony Howard-Arias (they/them/he/him, then Arias). In addition to her work in video games, Abby has been working as a horror cartoonist for nearly a decade and is the acclaimed cartoonist behind works like The Last Halloween and The Crossroads at Midnight. Before co-founding Black Tabby Games, Tony worked a variety of positions for a variety of publishing and tech companies.
Abby has been a horror novelist and creator for nearly a decade. During our chat, she said that horror has always been a part of her when describing how she fell in love with it. She grew up with Stephen King influences and horror films in the house and horror is still a big part of how she bonds with others and we can relate.
We were thrilled to chat with them about Scarlet Hollow, it's wonderful characters and what's coming next!
Slay Away: Scarlet Hollow is the first of we hope many games for Black Tabby Games. Tell us what players can expect from the game?
Abby: Hopefully a very engaging story with true branched to endings and I hope a little scary sometimes. It's so hard for me to gauge. A lot of people have been saying that they got scared playing the first two episodes. Hopefully, people will be heartbroken by our story.
Tony: So, Scarlet Hollow is a "choose your own adventure" narrative horror game set in a dying coal town in the mountains of North Carolina. It is a horror game, so there should be spooky things abound. There are romance options, but it's not a dating simulator. I would describe the options as something much closer to the romance options in something like a long-form Western RPG like Dragon Age or Mass Effect. It's a very funny game on top of being very scary. Abby of course has a background in horror and humor writing in her retired web-comic Junior Scientist Power Hour. I also did comedy screenwriting in my undergrad, so that is something we both lean on. We believe that something can be both funny and terrifying and dramatic and heartfelt all at the same time. I feel like a lot of the best horror media encompasses all of those things.
"Hopefully, people will be heartbroken by our story."
Slay Away: What peaked your interest in writing a horror mystery game like Scarlet Hollow?
Abby: Horror is just my favorite genre to work in. Horror is every aspect of my life. I'm constantly consuming it. It's what I love.
Tony: I don't know how the mystery part happened. It just kind of came together.
Abby: At first it was we were planning different vignettes that would be separate games basically and then Tony was like, "What if we tied them all together somehow?"
Tony: At New York Comic-Con in 2019, we'd been joking around with a couple of friends about how someone should make a dating simulator, but they're all demons. Like you'd go on dates and then they'd go like horribly wrong and it becomes monstrous. Then Abby and I started talking about doing something like that. We knew we wanted to do a small town. You'd wind up in a small town, meet people at a diner, go on dates and then my editor brain was like, "No! we need to make everything connected. We need an overarching narrative with mystery."
Slay Away: Paint a picture and tell us about the world of Scarlet Hollow?
Tony: Like a sad Bruce Springsteen song, but there's magic!
Abby: Tony likes to talk about how Bruce Springsteen influenced them, which is wonderful. Tony's from New Jersey. I personally came at it from the direction of, "I want to be Stephen King for North Carolina." Like what Stephen King does for Castle Rock, Maine, I want to do that for the state of North Carolina, which is where I'm from. I have deep roots in Southern horror. Like, basically everyone in my family loves horror. It was handed down to me. I came by it naturally and a lot of that is Southern Gothic. Scarlet Hollow is definitely a Southern Gothic town, but the modern version where everything is just kind of old and busted.
Tony: Yeah, the world's forgotten about the town, even though it used to be a major part of the state's economy. Even thought it's forgotten, they're are still people there.
"I want to be Stephen King for North Carolina."
Slay Away: Scarlet Hollow like you mentioned is a branching narrative where our choices matter as the protagonist and the relationships that we forge and the decision that we make dramatically alter and impact our journey. The cast is very diverse with characters of different races, body types and gender identities all represented in the story. Who can we expect to meet on our journey?
Abby: Well, there are five datable characters. The main posse you can choose to spend time with. I love to talk about them. Stella is kind of the main character. She's kind of stuck in this town, like everybody else's and she's a YouTuber who hunts cryptids in the mountains of North Carolina. Kaneeka is kind of her foil, the Scully to her Mulder. Then you've also got Oscar, the librarian. He's a Dad with a Dad bod and he's a sweet guy. A little bit of a Giles from Buffy the Vampire Slayer the series. Then there is Avery from Charlotte who works at the diner. The mysterious fifth romance option is Reese, the dreamy emo boyfriend.
Tony: One of the first characters you meet in town is your perpetually grump cousin, Tabitha whose Mom just died. The funeral is the reason you're in town. Tabitha is kind of alike a foil to Stella and foil to your character. She's sort of the agonist in the story. Then there is the myriad of animals you can talk to if you take the trait.
Slay Away: You mentioned before that something about Scarlet Hollow draws people in and pulls them back. Will that be a theme in a future episode?
Abby: Oh yes, that might be a major theme coming up, but it's a secret and we can't talk about it.
Slay Away: Do you favor a particular character among the residents of Scarlet Hollow?
Abby: Tony loves Tabitha. I also love Tabitha, she's easy to write and fun.
Tony: She's a richly complex character. A terrible person that you sympathize with.
Abby: I am very excited for Reese. I'm very much writing Reese for like, middle school me and honestly current me. A person who likes Kylo Ren types if you will, but less bad, you know not evil. Dark hair, brooding eyes, big circles.
Slay Away: What horror influences might we discover during our playthrough?
Abby: It's hard for me to say what influences these particular monsters. I have a background in biology so, some of it comes from that. Some of it comes from the horrible things I subject myself too, like what I'm reading and listening to. Just the worst things I can imagine. Nonfiction is very helpful to lay bare the horrors of humanity. That I think is one of my biggest horror influences; just actual real-life things that I find upsetting and terrifying.
Tony: I think a big influence for both of us that we're pulling from too is the Return of the Obra Dinn which was a horror-lite mystery game developed by Lucas Pope. We're making sure that the horror has a lot of human and character driven ties to it. That it's relevant to the story instead of a thing that happens to the characters from some external perspective. There's also a lot of influence from that in the piecemeal way we're laying out the mystery for the players.
Abby: There's also folklore influences. It's based in a very folklore heavy region.
Slay Away: The horror community had a hand in bringing Scarlet Hollow to life with a crowdfunding project on Kickstarter. What has the response from the community been like since the release of the first episode?
Abby: It has been so good.
Abby: Yeah, I've just been blown away by how much people enjoy it.
Tony: it's been better than we possibly could have anticipated.
Abby: We're only on episode two and people are already so invested and begging for more. It's just a really wonderful.
Tony: There has got to be something like, 2000 or more messages in our fan theories channel in our Discord since the release of episode two.
Slay Away: Scarlet Hollow boasts dozens of fantastic creates including cryptids and we hope to possibly encounter Mothman based on where the story is located, but it won't include any of the typical spooky fare like zombies, vampires, etc. Can you give us any hints as to what other myths or creatures will be explored in the game?
Tony: Something worth talking about is that there are a couple of supernatural creatures that are directly plucked from the mythos, but other creatures are more inspired by individual cryptids. We have some creatures that are homebrewed called Ditchlings. They are thematically inspired by Mothman in the sense that seeing them is an omen for impending disaster.
Abby: Visually, they are inspired by the Fresno Nightcrawlers because I've always like those, but they're not one-to-one. There is another creature that is very much a cryptid called Tommyknockers. They're so spooky and rooted in something real like the experience of the Cornish miners working in the western Pennsylvania coal mines in the 1820s. We took some interesting liberties.
Slay Away: Once Scarlet Hollow's final chapter releases, are there any current plans you can share with us for your next game?
Tony: We have a very loose idea right now, but it's very much in the ideation phase.
Slay Away: Any plans to bring the game to consoles or mobile platforms?
Tony: I'll be focused after the full game is released on ports and likely the first port that will be completed is for iOS and Android. Then we'll probably be looking for a publisher to help us bring the game to Switch, PlayStation and Xbox consoles. If publishers are reading this interview, our DMs are open!
Scarlet Hollow is being released across seven episodes. The remaining episodes will follow as free chapter updates once completed. Abby and Tony plan to spend extra time on the seventh episode and final chapter to ensure that player choices receive the best possible rewards and outcomes. We can expect a haunted house and more spooky additions in future updates. The first two episodes are available to play now on Steam.